A German Tandem Partner is hard to find.
One of the most common complaints of German learners is that it is so hard to get to know Germans to practice with. And they are right. But let’s be honest: would you want to be abused for language practice? Read on to find out how to get in touch with Germans.
Would you like to talk to someone that staggers around for seconds until s/he finds the right word or phrase or constantly makes mistakes that require a lot of concentration from you? Don’t mistake this as a blame on your language skills. We all start a new language like this. And you have my absolute compassion and support. I guess you understand what I am aiming at.
Search for Purpose
If your main aim was just to get to know someone with whom you could exchange ideas and views, emotions and experiences than you’d look for someone speaking English. Now many language learning experts recommend to find a German tandem* partner to practice with. I did that, too, before and if you like it, go for it. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it. But I often find that learners either don’t have the time nor the desire to meet someone just for this purpose. And also half of the time would be speaking in your mother tongue and be lost for you (while the other half is lost to the other person). There are a few other flaws that I would like you to consider:
Tandems are boring
Conversation needs common interests. Simply wanting to learn a language is too little exciting to hold a relationship on an interesting level for a longer period of time. Even if you pick some topics to discuss with limited conversational skills it would still be artificial and feel unnatural. I once had a Turkish-German tandem but she was only interested in Turkish soap operas, tennis and complaining about the bad weather in Germany. And I simply wasn’t too much into sports. For a tandem to be efficient you would have to meet at least 2 to 3 times a week. Imagine meeting someone you don’t have much in common with that often.
Using Tandem partners are not for free
Then there is the time and money you will need you would have to meet somewhere and most likely spend half an hour going there and another half hour going back. So assuming you meet for about an hour -plus 15 minutes not to end the conversation abruptly – a tandem meeting would take you 2 hours and 15minutes. Assume you drink two coffees during this time you’d spend 5EUR + 5 EUR for the train tickets. Supposed you would meet in a café half way, that would make up to 100 EUR monthly if you met 2-3 times a week as recommended before.
Tandems need to match
If your foreign language skills are not the same level, your tandem is doomed to bore the more skilled one of you very quickly while making the slower one feel bad. Also what level you think you need to be to be able to have a conversation? Or are you going to (ab)use your tandem as a teacher? Is that his or her special skill then? Having a bad teacher is worse than having none, unless you try to learn all by yourself without really knowing how. The result of that can be seen in this video
From B1 on you will be able to have slow but more interesting conversations. Anything below that is a strain for all who take part in it.
Tandems require a lot of discipline
Not only needs the speaking time to be under control but also switching between languages has to be kept to a minimum. It can and should never be totally avoided as it is natural to use one’s own language as a helper in times of need. And after an exhausting workday, keeping your appointment with a tandem is much more difficult than with a professional that charges you for his or her time. Also the professional has a better ear for what needs to be worked on and should have the appropriate material for you at hand to work it out.
So what are the alternatives, then?
We have a saying in Germany and I can only state its validity when it comes down to German learning: Was nichts kostet ist nichts wert. If it’s free, it isn’t any good. Pay someone to listen to your still broken German and make them tell you when you make a mistake. And you shall become aware of things you use wrongly repeatedly and look them up later on.
Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have to pay 30 EUR or more for someone professional. There are platforms where people are giving away their time for 12 EUR or even less. These might not be the most experienced ones but they might be motivated to become one of these. And they are interested in improving their skills as teachers. But at least you wouldn’t have to talk English for half of the time making one lesson with the paid folks twice as valuable as a tandem session. And remember the costs for the drinks. That’s 8 EUR alone, not counting the trip-costs. Also these session could take place via Skype and you would also save the way time. On the next page you will find several links that will help you to find a practice partner.
UPDATE: Especially when you are a beginner, you will not need more than 15-20 minutes of speaking from your side. So you should try to arrange shorter meetings with your paid or your German tandem partner. That is not only way more efficient, costs a lot less in case you chose the paid option but also makes and keeps the meetings more interesting.
Many professional tutors might not be keen on just spending 15mins per day with you but don’t give up. Plus you don’t need the best tutor in the world for this. Anyone willing to talk and correct your German every now and then will do. Natives are a must though.
You might want to take a look at the following platforms and let us know about your experience one day.
Berlin Zems of the Technical University Berlin
That should do for the beginning. You might also look for a “cheap” [anything from 5-20 EUR is cheap] teacher on these pages:
iTalki.com (very affordable tutors and enthusiasts and the option to network with other German learners, affiliate link)
Online German Tutor
Either way. I wish you success and that you find a way to practice and improve your German quickly and satisfyingly.
- A language exchange partner with whom you meet to speak 30mins of German and 30mins of English (or other available language)