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Over the last two years, I have worked with tandem partners from China who come to Germany to study at university. Before they can attend courses at university, they first need to prove their proficiency level by reaching level 4 in the TestDaF test, which corresponds roughly to C1 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

Many Chinese students participate in TestDaF as soon as they have level B1 and repeat the test 4 to 6 times before they pass. (The TestDaF Institute cleverly allows people to participate as many times as they like.)

There are many preparation resources available, typically with past exam papers that students can use to practice the specific activities that are part of the test. Some Chinese students focus rather heavily on these materials; they buy several books with past exam papers and practice every test in them.

However, I have been noticing a discrepancy in skills or level between the language they use during this type of exam practice on the one hand, and the language used during freely flowing conversation. Students learn many language chunks that are useful for these exams but that are much less relevant outside that context. I think that this can hold back their progress in their exam preparation and that they would benefit from alternative activities.

What alternative exercises or activities may be useful and how can I motivate these students to do them?

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Building on what lordingtar said, you could try to get them involved in whatever media consumption/ cultural activities you can find. For instance, you could invite them over to watch movies in German (I assume that's the target language). You could also bring them to fun events where you know the language will be spoken. If you have friends who speak German you could invite them and your Chinese language partners to the same event/activity/party and encourage them to interact. All of these methods involve a social component, which is the strongest motivator for many people (remember, they are in a foreign country: they may be feeling lonely or lost, even with their Chinese friends).

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Speaking from personal experience, I tend to consume as much foreign media as I can. For example, since I'm currently learning Mandarin, I listen to mandopop and mandarin podcasts, watch Mandarin shows and read kids books. It took a while because I wasn't fully immersed in it, but I now have a decent level of fluency.

What helped me the most is that I told my Chinese friends to only respond to me in Mandarin, and only if I speak to them in the same. In this way, I learnt idioms and improved

  • Your answer describes what you are motivated to do, but bypasses the question about how to motivate a language partner to do other types of activities. – Christophe Strobbe Mar 30 '17 at 10:17

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