Why Getting a Tandem Language Partner Was the Best Decision of my Year Abroad

By Lily King

A tandem partner is someone who speaks the language you want to learn and who wants to learn a language you speak.  Like a tandem bike, you both work together to get further with your language skills. Though it sounds a little bit lame, finding a tandem partner was the best decision of my year abroad – read this article to find out why you too should get a tandem partner if you are planning on living in a non-English speaking country!

When I set off on my year abroad to study in Berlin, I was nervous that I wouldn’t have any German-speaking friends and that I’d spend the whole year speaking English (sounds silly, I know, but Berlin is a VERY English speaking city). In an effort to prevent this, I began to search on Google and soon came across the concept of tandem partners. There are two main ways of finding a partner:

  1. Online: There are various websites that specialise in tandem partnerships, where you select the language you want to learn, the language(s) you speak and where you are located (so you can meet your partner in person). You might also be able to do so on social media pages for the local area you are moving to.
  2. At your host university if you are studying abroad: start by checking the university website or getting in touch with the languages department.

I took the online route to find my tandem partner, and soon found a girl called Jessi, a student from Berlin. I was really nervous to meet her, particularly as we had met online, so I took the standard steps to stay safe: we met in the university canteen, as it was a busy area with lots of people around, and we met during the daytime (for more tips on staying safe abroad, visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/safer-adventure-travel-and-volunteering-overseas). We spent two hours chatting, with half of the conversation in English and half in German, and soon realised we had a lot in common!

We met weekly after our first meeting and became really close friends rather than just tandem partners, sometimes speaking German and other times English. Rather than meeting at the university canteen we did more fun activities together like kayaking and hiking. She gave me an invaluable insight into German culture, taking me to parties with her friends and most importantly showing me the best kebab shops in Berlin! I know that not all tandem partnerships are this successful, but regardless you can still get a great insight into another language and culture from one. 

Now I’ve been back in the UK for 6 months, Jessi and I are still close friends and speak to each other every week, and she is planning on visiting me next month at uni.  As an added bonus, it is a great way to keep up with my German!

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