Tandem Partners: How to make it work/success stories

Hi there.
Just a week ago I’ve decided that I need to practice speaking. So I signed up on a platform by the Volkshochschule (some kind of adult education centre) where you can meet tandem partners. I’ve found three tandem partners and we scheduled our first meetings for the next week. I thought it’s possibly better to say yes to everyone in case we don’t get along at or something fizzles out.

I never did any kind of tandem and I’m not sure how to make the best use of it. My plan for now is to make a list of topics I could ask them to prevent awkward long silences. But that’s about it.

I’m sure a lot people here have or had tandem partners. Do you have any tips? Success stories or funny stories would also be appreciated. I’m quite nervous.

Also in case there are some german speaking people are interested in finding tandem partners: Tandempartner finden | vhs-tandem.de . It’s free so signing up doesn’t hurt.
I guess you can also use it as a not german speaking person but nearly all japanese people on there want to learn german.


I can tell you a bit about my Tandem partners and the sessions we have.
I have one female partner living in Japan, and she is very very organized about this. I think she does this already for a long time. (We are tandem-ing for a bit more than 2 years now, I think.) We chat exactly one hour, and it’s exactly half an hour in Japanese and half an hour in German. In the beginning she was super organized and basically held a monologue in “her” time (and I think she prepared this a good bit and looked up words and stuff) while I usually go in unprepared, and then she asks me whether I have any news, and usually I can come up with something (or maybe I reflected on my week like the 15 minutes prior to the session). And granted, it sometimes takes a long time to even convey a little thing that happened to me :sweat_smile:
Recently I noticed that she opened up a little and sometimes continues the conversation we had when switching to German, and sometimes she also listens to a longer passage that I say or ask in German, so it has started to feel more like a conversation, which makes me quite happy.

Funny stories include the fact that she has another German tandem partner who is from Southern Germany, and sometimes I am pretty busy weeding out issues she got through him that are typical Southern German, like the convoluted usage of “sein” (e.g. “ich bin gestanden”) :grin:
Sometimes she also catches a phrase in a video or something and then uses it in a really out-of-place context, like recently she said something, maybe it was “ich habe keinen Bock” but in a very normal sentence, and so I had to explain that this is a pretty colloquial expression :sweat_smile:
(And of course she would be able to add a myriad funny stories where I made a blunder in Japanese, but I don’t remember anything off of the top of my head.)

Then I have another Tandem partner with whom I was planning to do Japanese-English and/or Japanese-German but he is too busy to really study either language, so we usually only talk in Japanese. About the craziest of topics! I guess I have never in my life talked to one single person about so many crazy topics. As he really wants to improve his English despite not being able to take lessons, I suggested we read a book together. He is interested in medieval knights and stuff, so at first I picked the most medieval story I could come up with, which is Robin Hood. But it turns out that the version I suggested (which is the original story, I think) is written in a very stylized medieval-ized English so he was struggling to the point of dropping the book. We switched to Astrid Lindgren’s Brothers Lionheart which was much better for him and which he liked a lot.

Long story short, reading a book together makes for a good and recurring conversation topic without getting boring.

BTW I also have another friend with whom I read a book on a semi-regular basis; he reads it in English (the language in which the author wrote it) and I read it in Japanese, which is lots of fun! He sometimes sends me a summary of what he read, and occasionally he even uses the same words as the Japanese translator! We even joked that he should drop his current job and become a translator instead :rofl:


I’d really love to try something like this. I wonder if there is some way we could organize a bilingual book club on the forums with Japanese readers reading the English version and the forum people reading the Japanese version? And everyone talks about it in whichever language they can manage :joy:

A bit off topic though, sorry

As for myself it honestly comes down to chemistry and how much the other person wants to keep learning. I’ve found people who aren’t shy about sharing their interests are much easier to talk to than those who are reserved or …perhaps just don’t have interests? That’s a sad thought though. But if you’re passionate about motorcycles or movies or cultural differences or medicine or really most things I am happy to talk to you and I’ve found good language partners are similar. We’re just happy to have some area to have a lengthier conversation. So I guess from that: don’t be shy about introducing lots of topics until one sticks, and realize it’s not always your fault if it does fizzle.


Have fun listening to me talking about my rigorous construction of geometric algebra…

Sorry, more off-topic bilingual book club discussion...

From my (admittedly not very large) sample size of Japanese people, I found that most of them are not into reading books :face_with_raised_eyebrow:
(and the two I mentioned here only read the books because I somewhat force them to :grin:)

But! I found one Japanese person (you’ll never guess how I found her - we met at an international reading club (online) and we discovered that we live 20 km apart from each other :rofl:) and she loves to read! (She crunches books at breakneck speed - I’m sooo jelly! :sweat_smile:) I have no idea about her English level but I will meet her tomorrow and I could ask whether she’d be interested in such a thing. And maybe the friend with whom I’m already doing the English-Japanese book reading thing might also be interested… and maybe I can find one or two others as well… looks like we could maybe actually pull this off :rofl:


I’ve got a friend who is really into math and physics and I happily listen to him babble about it :joy: But yes, some topics, for some people, simply won’t work. I have some that just won’t do as well.

Off topic book club stuff

I’ve noticed this too! It’s so strange given the absolutely massive beast that is the Japanese book publishing industry. But I also have a friend or two I can reach out to about it, they might be temptable with the promise of language exchange.

Oh that’s amazing! I actually live near a pretty decently sized population of Japanese people but I’ve yet to meet anyone in real life from online :sweat_smile:


I’ve made life long friends with Tandem partners, that alone is pretty fulfilling to language learning. Some were very strict about a the 50/50 and wanted to practice their English in almost a monologue on whatever they wanted to talk about. Others are very loose and can easily turn into a Japanese only conversation…sort have to make an effort to keep it fair or just mix in Japanese on the English side which is ok if that is what they want.

I met a few partners that didn’t work out too and that is ok. Some of women I’ve met had bad experiences meeting people as well, essentially their language partners were treating it like a dating site and not what they wanted at all, it’s probably a common problem. And some people I met were no where near conversation ready for their English or ended talking about themselves the entire time with no ability to read the air on basic social courtesies…that was not going to work either. A few were dialect heavy too which is good to experience. Everyone is different, some people are very talkative and have alot to say. Others, I have to initiate the conversation a bit more to get it rolling but usually the most mundane topic sparks an unexpected conversation turn that makes an hour fly by.


This sounds like a great idea. Thank you! One of my tandem partners studied german literature in Japan (which is apparently the reason why he wants to learn german) so I think this is something he’d probably enjoy.


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