Tips

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Learning is easier with structure and planning. Click your way through our suggestions to decide which learning style suits you best. You may rediscover old methods or try out new ones. We are not reinventing the wheel, but simply igniting the learning process!

Time

If possible, meet up with your Tandem partner once a week at the same time. This way, you don’t have to find a new suitable time every week. Such a scheduled regularity is also a good incentive: (almost) everybody is motivated by time pressure.  

Language

Each time you meet, speak in one language only and then switch to the other language at a previously arranged time. Don’t give in to the temptation of staying with the language that both partners speak and understand best! To be fair, pay attention that both partners get about the same amount of speaking time in their target language (the language they want to learn), so that both partners can benefit equally from the meeting.

Topic

What you talk about with your Tandem partner is each time to be decided by the learner (the one whose target language is being spoken). You can find lots of material and ideas on our website for stimulating discussions; we hope that you will find there what you need. Make sure that the speaker who speaks his mother tongue adjusts himself to the level of his partner. Our topic sheets and handouts will be helpful here (see MATERIAL).

Correction

Especially at the beginners’ level one should try not to correct too much. When for example your partner is searching for words, it will not be helpful to correct his grammar. The way of correcting each other (what should be corrected when?) should in principle be determined by the learners themselves. Try to agree on how you correct each other before each new meeting.

Comprehensive feedback

At the end of your conversation, give your partner some valuable feedback. Emphasise the positive aspects you have noticed – some motivation always helps. You could also correct some common mistakes. During your conversation, take notes on comments and suggestions you would like to make at the end.

Selective correction

If your partner wants to practise specific expressions or sentences patterns, he can ask you for selective correction only. Since it is difficult for inexperienced Tandem users to understand the content of what is being said, to concentrate on the mistakes, and to simultaneously write them down, you should bear in mind the following:

1. Arrange a short length of time during which you will correct your partner in detail; depending on your level, this can be somewhere in between five minutes for beginners and about 20 minutes for advanced learners.  

2. Do not interrupt your partner, just note down the mistakes he makes (this requires some practice). Then discuss the mistakes at the end.

3. In case your partner makes many mistakes, limit your correction to certain recurring error patterns (for example, word order).

4. Remember that you do not need to explain why something is incorrect (which you may not be able to either!). Tandem partners are conversation partners, not language teachers. To acquire grammatical knowledge, every learner should attend a language course parallel to doing Tandem, or systematically learn the language from a textbook or learning software. This is very important!

Writing task

At the end of each topic sheet you can find a writing task. You may also like to try to write other short texts and have a go at short translations. Since correcting texts can become quite time-consuming, discuss with your partner how much time you are willing to spend on written corrections.

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Learn systematically

Few learners can improve their language skills just by listening and speaking. Most learn more efficiently by self-study, practising their newly acquired language knowledge independently and then applying their skills at the Tandem meeting. To assess which of the available learning activities are most effective for you, it is helpful to note down what you actually want to learn, and how you learn best. Also don’t forget to note down afterwards whether you have reached your goal! When after a week you look back at your notes, you can safely cross out those learning activities that haven’t been helpful for you. Make a new plan for every week. Here you can find an example of a learning plan for the target language German A2: LEARNING PLAN.

Learn methodically

While at your Tandem meetings you mainly practise your speaking and listening skills, you can also take advantage of this opportunity to have your Tandem partner correct short texts that you have written. With writing it is easier to concentrate on the correct grammar and to practise patterns that we don’t pay attention to while speaking. Choose the learning material that you like best and that most fits your interests. It is worth allowing yourself some time to search for the right learning material. By all means, use more than one textbook or learning software. Variation and different ways of experiencing a language are important for storing – and especially, retrieving! – the language knowledge independent of context. When you repeatedly encounter words and sentence patterns at different places, you will be better able to remember them.

Phonetics

Overcome your shyness for having to speak in an unusual intonation. Pay attention to a correct pronunciation right from the start. Search for suitable audio material on the internet, listen to it and repeat the sentences. Train yourself in concentrated listening and try to imitate the sounds. It may also help to read short texts aloud. Record your voice and listen to it afterwards. You’ll be surprised how good it sounds!

Vocabulary

First learn the vocabulary that you need most. When you encounter too many unknown words when reading a text, be selective. Only translate those words that seem familiar to you and with which you can understand the content of the text. Ignore all the others. As you progress, fewer and fewer words will be unknown. You will find your own way to learn the vocabulary. The most important is that you actively work with the material, make sentences with the new words and have your Tandem partner correct you. For example, you could look for photos and think of suitable captions, make up dialogues to accompany expressive images, and compose vocabulary sets by finding suitable adjectives, synonyms and antonyms to certain words. You’ll find ideas for working with pictures in the category  PHOTOS.

Grammar

Invest in an up-to-date (!) grammar textbook. Languages change, so it is possible that grammatical forms in old textbooks are no longer used today. Try to find instances of the grammar rules you have just learnt in texts or dialogues. Try to understand why and how these rules are applied here. Then make sure you apply those rules yourself!

Listening

Thanks to the internet, hearing foreign languages is not a problem. Understanding them, however, requires practice. Start with small steps. If you are using a textbook with audio material, listen to this material often! You can find additional material on the internet (see LINKS). Advanced learners can have a go at music lyrics or try to understand the news on the internet. The advantage of news programmes is that the pictures help you to understand what the news is about. An additional benefit is that you may already be aware of the content through the news in your own language. Listen to a piece several times. Try to note down words you don’t know and look them up in a dictionary. Learn the new words and listen to the same piece again after a couple of days.

Speaking

Read a text, underline the keywords (together with the accompanying adjectives and prepositions) and tell your Tandem partner about the content of the text. You can use the keywords as an orientation, but you have to reorder the words and make new transitions between sentences. Although this may not be easy, it will help you learning to speak freely and correctly.

Writing

Pay attention to writing the words correctly. Also learn the comma rules of your target language: putting a comma in the wrong place can change the meaning of the sentence! Write dictations: listen to a short audio track, pausing the track after some words or after a sentence and write them down. Then look up in a dictionary whether you have spelled the words correctly. This way, you also practise your listening comprehension, apart from focussing on sentence structure.

Learn actively

Prepare as well as you can for every meeting. Since your Tandem partner does not give you language lessons, but rather functions as a conversation partner, the input should come from the learner himself, you. The more time you spend on the language beforehand, the better you can formulate specific questions, try out new sentences and bring new words into the conversation. Take notes during your conversation and have a look at them afterwards. Use the words and expressions you have learnt as much as you can, so you will better memorise them. Write for example a short text based on the topic of your conversation. You can find a suitable writing task at the end of each topic sheet.

Learn continuously

It is better to spend 20 minutes learning every day, than two hours once a week. Also engage in the language at the weekend and on holiday. There is always time for little exercises, short audio tracks, interesting texts and entertaining videos. In the LINK COLLECTION you can find freely available useful links to practise material for each language.

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Don`t worry about gaps in your knowledge

If you do not understand a grammatical structure, don’t dwell on it for too long. Just continue. It could be that a crucial piece of the puzzle is missing now, but you may discover it later and certain grammar rules will become clear. The same goes for words and sentences that you do not fully understand now; don’t get lost in details, but rather concentrate on the overall meaning of the text.

Dare to ask questions

Take advantage of the opportunity of speaking with a native speaker, because he can tell you better than any textbook which expressions are used in everyday life, why people in his country may behave differently from what you are used to, and also what customs in your country may astonish foreigners. The more you ask, the more you learn. In the category GLOBAL ISSUES – QUESTIONS we have put together interview questions relating to a variety of topics. These can assist you in obtaining information about the country of your Tandem partner, its inhabitants and culture. Do not hesitate to ask!

Dare to make mistakes

Even when you make mistakes, stick to the foreign language and do not switch to your mother tongue or another language you have in common. Practise with your Tandem partner how to deal with silences in the conversation that come up when you are searching for words. Also work on how to solve misunderstandings that originate because you cannot express yourself clearly. The more you survive difficult situations that occur while speaking a foreign language, the more confident you will become in this language and the easier it will become to speak it. You can only learn from your mistakes if you make some!

Dare to change

Keep track of a learning journal, to find out how you learn a foreign language best. Trust your own experiences and change your leaning style when necessary – even if this seems to contradict the established methods. Your learning success will prove you right. 

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