When I invest in a relationship with a person who speaks a different language, I’m forced to communicate and motivated to learn that language better. It works.
Combine the pen-pal concept with collaborative learning methodology and call it e-tandem. You get matched up with a native-speaker of the language you want to study, a person who also wants to study your native language. Then you work together via email and/or video-conferencing so that both of you have an opportunity to speak/write in your 2nd language. The native speaker gives corrections or feedback to the learner, according to what the learner is looking for.
You take turns acting out the role of the expert/adult and the role of the child/learner. This puts you on equal footing and makes it fun. The relationship and the learning can be as formal or informal as you and your tandem-partner want it to be. The two of you work together to set the pace and choose the format.
Here’s where to sign up–
What happens: The more information you supply, the closer match you will find in a partner. If you leave your age, sex and occupation blank, you could be matched with anyone. If you give that information, they will match you to someone your age, your same sex, and your general level of education. I fill out all the information. They don’t ask me to disclose anything that poses a privacy/security risk; and a University handles the matching. No one tries to sell me anything. I love that.
There are plentiful tips and smart suggestions about how to build a successful tandem partnership. Read them; they help.
To qualify, you ought to have studied the equivalent of a beginners’ 1-year course in your second language. You have? Then we’ll assume you’re a polite and responsible person, meaning you can organize yourself to set goals, schedule commitments & keep appointments. You can? Good. Sign up.
I’ve had four tandem partners, all German women my age. The first, Sabine, is now a personal friend–we no longer talk about language and culture, instead we talk about our lives, our children, our hopes and dreams. I know her whole family. I love her. Someday we hope to share a vacation together in Provence, where she travels regularly to shop the markets for her ebay business. (She’s a professional market warrior, reselling her French finds in Germany, for a profit).
The second, Ilse, is a family therapist, world-traveler and multi-linguist, always jetting off to somewhere. I learned a lot about traveling to Thailand, Cuba, the Canary Islands and Australia from her. After about a year, our partnership ended amicably because she wanted to invest more time in learning Spanish. We had agreed to re-assess our goals/plans after a year, so it was no problem.
The third, Christiane, is someone I have almost a scary amount of commonality with. We both have read too much poetry and philosophy, both practice Pilates, and she, a certified instructor (much more advanced than I) was able to coach me along in my practice by giving helpful hints. Last September we decided to suspend our weekly Skype meetings because both of our schedules changed dramatically, making the weekly appointment burdensome. Ours was a friendly and enriching relationship. We laughed a lot together.
Now I’m working with a new tandem partner. She wants to improve her English because her daughter met the man of her dreams and is moving to Australia. Of course she’ll visit them. Since my German proficiency is more advanced than her English, we’ll speak mostly English for fifteen minutes once a week, to give her a chance to practice that. I’ll write an essay in German to her once a month, and she’ll correct any grammar or word usage errors I make. My goal is to publish some essays in Germany, composed while I’m thinking in German (not translated from English) with a German audience in mind.
Improving my language skills through a tandem-partnership is my small way of negotiating world peace, one diplomatic conquest at a time. Do you want to be a diplomat, too? If you decide to sign up, consider dropping back by my blog and letting me know how it goes…