Language tandems and how to make them work :)

I’ve been thinking about language tandems for a while. I’ve started using them even more these days, in order to start practicing Hungarian in a more alternative and relaxed way. Curiously, many people have told me that they’ve enjoyed our tandem since the topics never die out or that we rely in a less strict schedule.

I’ve thought it’d be a good idea to share what has really worked well with my tandem partners and I during our exchanges and hopefully know what has worked for you as well:

  1. Try to set a topic beforehand. It will make conversations less awkward and more relaxed. If you both like movies, for example, talk about the latest movie you’ve seen. If your partner seems to have an interesting job or so, ask about it! Most people are afraid of making the first move in tandems, but honestly, this is one of the few moments when it’s totally okay!
  2. The 30-30 approach. Several times, you are going to meet the perfect language tandem partner. You want to learn his/her language and he/she wants to learn yours! It can be both a positive and a negative thing. You might not know how to start or when to talk in one language or other. Thus, splitting your tandem time in halves can be a thing that can help you both. Remember, time can fly so, if you see you’ve been talking in one language for a long time, don’t be afraid to yell SWITCH! or simply reply in the other language.
  3. Corrections and feedback. This is probably the hardest part. You and your partner will eventually make mistakes in each other’s languages. Awkward pronounciations, wrong spelling/conjugations, whatever. If you’d correct every single mistake, most of your tandem time would be wasted. Thus, the best attitude for it is to prioritize instant corrections. Unless they are really but really awkward/wrong/funny, keep them to yourself until the tandem is about to be over and you can give your partner his/her feedback. You can use a piece of paper and a good pen to write (hopefully, he/she won’t notice). Ask your partner to do the same, and you’ll get a smoother language exchange without several interruptions.
  4. No time, big time differences, different schedules??? NO PROBLEM! No one said that language tandems must be done live, with a webcam and mic and in your room. Since both of the languages I learn are from another continent, with a big time difference included, I cannot talk 100% live with my language partners. By the time I get home, several of them are about to go to bed or resting after a hard day at work/school. So, this is where technology helps. Most of my language tandems have been done during some dead time at work, while commuting or even at friends’ parties. Yeah! I make great use of mobile apps that not only allow text messages, but voice messages as well. Sending each other voice messages is a great tool in order to have feedback on pronounciation, fluency and other language abilities. And the best thing, you don’t have to be online together or commit yourself to a schedule you might not able to obey every time.

Online resources for language learning: Don’t rely on only ONE

Online language learning materials have revolutionized learning. They have managed to generate democratization of knowledge, as well as inclusion. 20 years ago or so, it would have been impossible for me to learn the languages I am learning right now or meeting people from almost all over the World.

In fact, many of those language learning materials found online are well thought to suit any learners’ needs: people with not much spare time available, people who prefer a more interactive approach, books, audios, among others. You can look up words on online dictionaries or pronounciation guides. Even Google Translate can help in some instances for isolated pronounciation 😮

However, to be honest, I am wary of several methods, especially the ones in which people tend to get so enthusiast for and exclusively rely on them, without considering that you need to spice up your learning (i.e. use different resources to practice different aspects, ask for feedback from educated native speakers, getting in touch with local media and culture, etc.). Maybe the problem isn’t the method, to be honest… it is the attitude people partake with them. Learning a language is a hard job. Even if you choose to learn it with free sources. Those free, self-studying sources, in my opinion, require probably 3-4x the effort, time, dedication and discipline than people who decided who go with a more classroom-like instruction in languages. Lacking one of them would probably make your learning not effective. In this particular issue, I will consider DEDICATION.

Dedication is, besides your own will to learn a language, the time you spend gathering materials and informing yourself about them. Their strengths, weaknesses and what you can achieve by using them; if they are useful for your goal (whether it is being hold to hold small conversations, learning about the grammar, learning to communicate or read, or have a working competence in it) or so. Maybe, if you want to hold small conversations back and forth, having a tandem friend is probably the best thing you can have along with a small book that explains phrasal constructions and a dictionary to look for vocabulary, as well as informing yourself about the cultural expressions (music, films, et al). Those different resources can make my knowledge boost and learn different things that aren’t covered in X, Y or Z method-

Now, you may wonder, what was my inspiration for this post?

I have been practicing Hungarian phonology lately, especially vowel distinction. Hungarian has a more complex set of vowels, and many foreigners do get them confused, including myself. In order to work with it, I tend to look for videos on YouTube with the explanation and repeating common expressions with it.

One of the apparently most complicated words for Hungarian learners is egészségedre, the informal expression for cheers!, to your health! or bless you! Anyone may get scared with the amount of vowels and consonants.

If you ever type that into Google, you may get this as a first result


A video with pronounciation, interesting! This is the actual video

My Hungarian friends and fellow Hungarian learners would probably want to smash their heads to the keyboard right now. I guess someone used Google Translator’s voice generated software the wrong way or forgot to set it in Hungarian. Yet, this was the first result of it.

So, don’t be afraid of spending a lot of time researching for the right material. Look at comments, experiences from other learners, ask for advice, among other things. Maybe it’ll spare you one or two headaches while actually learning your language.

By the way, the right pronounciation for egészségedre is [ɛɡeːʃːeːɡɛdrɛ], that is to say:

Video: How to conquer certain Polish sounds

First of all, HAPPY 2016!

Then, I have uploaded a video to explain how to do certain sounds that seem hard for Polish learners, but once you learn and understand their difference, you will understand the reason behind Polish spelling. I plan to upload a similar one targeted towards Spanish speakers.

My main piece of advice to understand the difference: watch your tongue and be motivated.