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Since the early 2000s, it has become quite fashionable to do a tandem language learning. You find a native speaker who wants to learn your language, you meet and talk about anything. In ideal case, you split the conversations, so that both can profit from it.

Supposedly, it's a cheap and entertaining way to learn a language.

My own experience wasn't really satisfying. If the two members are not at the same level in each other's language, it becomes very frustrating to use one of the language, so one becomes predominant, which causes the whole session to lose its' main purpose.

But are there any studies on the result of tandem studying? Alone or in complement of other forms of studying?

  • Even though only your experience, could you add some detail why it "wasn't really satisfying"? – user3169 Apr 8 '16 at 21:18
  • @user3169 The statistics are very poor, so it isn't very conclusive. My experience is that if the two members are not at the same level in each other's language, it becomes very frustrating to use one of the language, so one becomes predominant. Losing its main purpose. – bilbo_pingouin Apr 8 '16 at 21:22
  • I agree. I added your comment to your question. Of course review it and edit if needed. – user3169 Apr 8 '16 at 22:04
  • You needn't be at the same level to benefit from tandem learning if you are flexible. If you can agree that you spend one hour on your own language and one hour on your tandem partner's language, and that you can be flexible regarding how you fill each hour, tandem learning can work quite well. For example, for a while I focused on Chinese grammar exercises from a book without an answer key, and my language partner did not object to correcting them. In return, I helped him prepare for a German language test, which including discussing written exercises. It's all up to you, really. – AModHasNoName Aug 5 '16 at 15:29
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After about 30 minutes of searching, I've come up empty-handed in terms of finding a suitable scientific reference in answer to your question.

However, according to this resource, in tandem learning:

Both partners are responsible for their own learning - in other words, they both decide on the goals and methods for their part of the exchange. Two learners will rarely have exactly the same objectives and approach, so it is important that they discuss their goals and needs with each other, and then set about achieving them in their share of the tandem time. Tandem partners are both experts for their respective language and culture. Together they may choose to read aloud, discuss particular topics that interest them, correct mistakes, suggest improvements, practise conversations or undertake any number of other activities. One of the most important aspects for successful tandem learning is that the partners meet as often as possible. This helps learners to become familiar with the foreign language more quickly, increases learning frequency, and makes sure that they get plenty of practice. To make tandem sessions as interesting as possible for both partners, they should deal with topics that are of equal interest to both learners. In other words, it is important that tandem partners find shared interests to discuss. While goals may vary, tandem language learning itself should first and foremost be an enjoyable experience!

This passage provides a basic overview of what is needed for a successful tandem learning session. Thus, by working backwards, we may be able to find out why you had an unsatisfactory experience. Here are some possible reasons I can decipher from the quote above:

  1. Your partner may not have been upfront about their goals and objectives, and may not have asked about your own goals, so by generalizing, your partner did not cater to your own learning style/approach.
  2. Your partner may not be extremely knowledgeable in their language or culture, even if they are a native speaker.
  3. You may not have had consistent and regular meetings. Often consistency is the key to learning a new language.
  4. You should be discussing topics that are interesting to both of you to prevent one of you falling asleep in the middle of the conversation.

Keep in mind that although, I couldn't find many opinions on this, tandem sessions are essentially just immersion techniques. It may be possible to learn a language through only immersion, but if you want to expedite that process and also retain a better understanding of the language, studying and practicing regularly will go a long way.

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