Find a German tandem partner

5 Reasons why Tandems Don’t Work

Find a German tandem partner
die Wippe – the see-saw / Image by Pixabay

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.

Tandems 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

http://youtu.be/CPVhEwIQP0U

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.

Tandem.net

Speaktalkchat

Palabea

Buddyschool

Conversation Exchange

Toytown Germany

My Language Exchange

Erste NachhilfeTandem

Partners

Intercambio

Sprachenzentrum of the Free University Berlin

Tandembörse of the Humboldt University

BerlinSprach- und Kulturbörse of the Technical University

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)

Verbling

Verbalplanet

Easy Languages.com

German Online School

Online German Tutor

Fiverr

MIXXER

Livemocha

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)

15 thoughts on “5 Reasons why Tandems Don’t Work

  1. Thanks for the detailed article. I agree with you on some points. But overall I completely disagree. And I think you’re giving people a very discouraging (and wrong) message!

    I came to Berlin with a German level between A1 and A2. The things I could say, I probably said very badly. In spite of that, I signed up for a free Tandem partnership. I met a girl my own age whose English was about B1 level, and we spoke whilst walking through Tiergarten, asking basic questions like, “What are your hobbies? Where did you grow up? How many siblings do you have?”

    I didn’t understand everything she said. I just nodded and smiled and answered to the best of my ability when I thought she was asking me a question. I stumbled through my sentences and asked things like, “Ahh…wie sage ich was wie…’Ich finde die – das – der – Strand…traum-haft’? Es ist wie ein Traum? Ich finde es traumlich?” (My partner probably had little idea of what I was trying to say there!). But we just made it work. We met once a week and spoke about university, hobbies, our families – simple stuff that everyone can talk about. She showed me her native city. Why did it work? Because I didn’t let myself get discouraged, because I wasn’t afraid to sound like an idiot, because my Tandem partner was a kind and patient person, because we both had a stake in helping one another. That’s what makes Tandem such a wonderful relationship!

    My German is probably around C1 now. I can understand virtually everything and say anything on my mind, although not always correctly. I have a Tandem partner over Skype with whom I speak 2-3 times a week. I have to speak slowly and sometimes repeat myself, often explain what words mean, or wait while he looks a word up. But I’m happy to do it! He is helping me so much with my German, it is nothing to me to help him with his English. That’s the point of Tandem.

    I agree, however, that you oughtn’t begin a Tandem when you can’t yet say *anything*. For example, I’m learning Danish now, but I wouldn’t begin a Skype Tandem because I can’t yet say much more than, “I am a woman,” and “We eat in the evening”. I believe after one has completed, for example, DuoLingo, one could begin a Tandem partnership. I will however find a Danish Tandem partner over Whatsapp/some chat client. I learned a lot just from texting people when I was in Berlin.

    The reason I feel this article can be detrimental to language learners, is because it implies that one should be considerate of those listening to their broken speech. In the beginning, you can’t waste energy being considerate! You have to dive in and not care how stupid you sound, you have to rely on the selflessness of others to want to help you, to try to understand you!

    Tandem is a barter. You are already paying something far more valuable than money when you take on a tandem with someone else – your native expertise.

    1. Dear Samantha,
      I’m happy that your tandem worked for you. I’m never against anything that works. And if my article is discouraging anyone from seeking a tandem, chances are high that they wouldn’t have the discipline to see a tandem through anyhow, including the search for the right one and I will have saved them a lot of time. In addition to that, people have to make their own decisions no matter what others – including me – say. I never speak “the truth” just give a thought through point of view that stands on solid grounds of two decades of experience in the field as learner and studied and working professional. My point is that the amount of time and energy needed to find and then establish a tandem is not worth the effort especially (!) if there are affordable alternatives like e.g. iTalki. A tandem also strongly depends on your mother tongue. Not all my readers are English speaking natives and their language might not be sought after that much. But even for English the tandem-“market” is most likely saturated in a bigger city like Berlin. And you also assume a native expertise. This might be true for a fraction of language learners. But the vast majority of native speakers are lousy teachers, that’s why I and quite a few others can make a living as a language tutor.

      Also the “broken language” issue is a marginal side note in my article. Of course it is ok to use broken German, otherwise you most likely will never learn German, and if you find someone who is willing to listen to it with patience and goodwill, I congratulate you on having found the right person for your aim.

      To summarize:
      A working tandem requires a solid portion of chance to come into existence and a great deal of patience and discipline that will put more weight on your already challenging learning process. You have been lucky in having made such a lovely experience and everybody is free to try their luck. I’m the last to tell anyone how to waste their time but I seriously advise against a tandem from a very rational point of view. And I also advice anyone to make up his or her own mind and take responsibility for his or her actions.

      Herzlichst,
      Michael

      1. Dear Michael,

        With all respect to you and your energy invested in this article, I hope and believe that most people will use their own mind to decide what way works for them best. There is nothing like “Tandem is bad or good” – it is all about people and communication. Also a very individual experience based on your personality and your partner´s personality. Therefore I find this article biased and of very low value too.

        If you want to support new learners of your native (or any other) language, there is no need to discourage them by articles similar to this.

        Liebe Grüße,
        Mi

        1. Dear Mireck,
          thank you for your engagement. My articles are just there to make learners become aware of the downsides of what is commonly rather “blindly” (=solely based on anecdotal reference or personal experience) referred to as helpful. Everyone makes his or her own decisions and is responsible for their own course of action. I advise against Tandems for the given – and good, logical, not anecdotal – reasons. And I provide plenty of links for readers to try and prove me wrong. I’m happy to be wrong, when it helps someone to succeed. I can’t see any discouragement here.

          The purpose of sG is to save people precious lifetime and not to encourage them to waste it on looking for free Tandem-Partners because of unprofessional, anecdotal advice of which there is way too much in the internet. But if you decide against my advice, what is it my concern?

          My readers are thinking beings and capable of making their own decisions and I’ll keep on sharing my knowledge and experience in this way.
          Herzliche Grüße aus Berlin
          Michael

    2. Have you ever thought that the causes of the challenges you paint so starkly might be in your attitude ? So one thinks when reading your review.

  2. I mostly agree with you. I have had > 15 tandem partners. Some were completely useless, but a few were great and we are still friends.
    The thing that bothered me most is the immense waste of time waiting for yet another tandem partner not to show up.

    One thing that helped me was to insist on a more formal setting. So not just walking around with them and chatting a bit while they text their friends, but sitting down at a table, and jotting down important comments on a pad.
    If they are not willing to seriously learn, normally it is not worth meeting with them either. Maybe to make friends, but not to learn a language.
    Most flaked out right away after I told them that I don’t want to meet and go watch a movie or go shopping, but sit down in a quite place and learn.

    Note: I’ve also had professional teachers as tandem partners, and they did not do much better than average. One was really good though, and she taught me the trick of correcting your partner and taking notes for him. It is really really important to find someone who actually corrects you, but most people don’t want to do that.

    Overall I have the impression that all ways to learn a language cost about the same, you can go to the VHS (community college), it is cheap, but you learn little, you can go to a professional language school, and you’ll learn much more for proportionally more money.

  3. Thanks for the great article! I think all the points are right on. I’ve had several language exchange partners and only a select few actually played a significant role in my language development.

    My opinion is, if you can afford a teacher/tutor, especially someone online, it saves a lot of hassle. Also my skills improved very quickly when the whole session had me submerged in my target language.

    Thanks for all the great tips!!!

  4. Hi!
    I love Tandem, I wanted to learn Spanish and German. I had prior knowledge of a bit of German, but signing up I had a gut feeling that I wouldn’t find many German-seeking-English compared to Spanish-seeking-English. The reason is pretty simple- The average German knows English way better than some one in Latin America.
    I have met a nice German musician, we had a fun chat. But I meet 30 Spanish speaking folks for every 1 German. 🙂

  5. I have some experience with tandems by myself and understand Your points made. To me it seems You totally miss the main aspect of learning a language, miss the deepest reason why human speach has evolved at all: It is about meeting people on eye level, exchanging about facts, thoughts, dreams; getting aquainted.

    1. I doubt that I’m totally missing any point in my field, Walter. That’s never a nice opening and puts the other side always in a defense position. But I’m not interested in defending myself. I only always share my experience and expertise and my points regarding tandems stand unshaken until today. It is and remains a time consuming and questionable investment of time and effort.
      Those things you mention are indeed part of inter-human communication. That is not the point of my article. It is the reason why you meet someone. Basically a tandem is like using Tinder to find real love. That might happen but is rather rare and therefore a questionable investment.

  6. Compeet nonsense. If you are tired of listening broken German than imagine how other person is bored about you abusing his/her mothertong. But that’s the beauty of tandem. Gretae calculation…. It’s not for free because you have to pay for train ticket and for coffe ?? Sorry but it’s you that is drinking that coffe, so if 5eu is to much for you take “leitungwasser”. Right, someone can pay 15eu per hour via skyp to learn German, but tandem partner is not about finding teacher. If you are not interested in learning other language only to tech someone your language than put Anzeige and charge 15eu.

  7. I for one do agree with you. You get what you pay for (at least until both sides of the tandem are pretty advanced). But aside from verbling and italki I don’t see many good paid options. And secondly, I believe that while speaking at all stages is important, reading and writing are most beneficial at a very early stage since comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary are still lacking. Do you agree with this opinion? Do you know of any “paid” chat rooms or chat partners out there?

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