Tracy Lee Karner
The Way I Was

How to win friends, influence Europeans and learn German (or French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian…)

Tracy Lee Karner
Reading with a friend is more fun (so is speaking and writing).

When I  invest in a relationship with a person who speaks a different language, I’m forced to communicate and motivated to learn that language better. It works.

Combine the pen-pal concept with collaborative learning methodology and call it e-tandem. You get matched up with a native-speaker of the language you want to study, a person who also wants to study your native language. Then you work together via email and/or  video-conferencing so that both of you have an opportunity to speak/write in your 2nd language. The native speaker gives corrections or feedback to the learner, according to what the learner is looking for.

You take turns acting out the role of the expert/adult and the role of the child/learner. This puts you on equal footing and makes it fun. The relationship and the learning can be as formal or informal as you and your tandem-partner want it to be. The two of you work together to set the pace and choose the format.

Here’s where to sign up–

What happens: The more information you supply, the closer match you will find in a partner. If you leave your age, sex and occupation blank, you could be matched with anyone. If you give that information, they will match you to someone your age, your same sex, and your general level of education. I fill out all the information. They don’t ask me to disclose anything that poses a privacy/security risk; and a University handles the matching. No one tries to sell me anything. I love that.

There are plentiful tips and smart suggestions about how to build a successful tandem partnership. Read them; they help.

To qualify, you ought to have studied the equivalent of a beginners’ 1-year course in your second language. You have? Then we’ll assume you’re a polite and responsible person, meaning you can organize yourself to set goals, schedule commitments & keep appointments. You can? Good. Sign up.

I’ve had four tandem partners, all German women my age. The first, Sabine, is now a personal friend–we no longer talk about language and culture, instead we talk about our lives, our children, our hopes and dreams. I know her whole family. I love her. Someday we hope to share a vacation together in Provence, where she travels regularly to shop the markets for her ebay business. (She’s a professional market warrior, reselling her French finds in Germany, for a profit).

The second, Ilse, is a family therapist, world-traveler and multi-linguist, always jetting off to somewhere. I learned a lot about traveling to Thailand, Cuba, the Canary Islands and Australia from her. After about a year, our partnership ended amicably because she wanted to invest more time in learning Spanish. We had agreed to re-assess our goals/plans after a year, so it was no problem.

The third, Christiane, is someone I have almost a scary amount of commonality with. We both have read too much poetry and philosophy, both practice Pilates, and she, a certified instructor (much more advanced than I) was able to coach me along in my practice by giving helpful hints. Last September we decided to suspend our weekly Skype meetings because both of our schedules changed dramatically, making the weekly appointment burdensome. Ours was a friendly and enriching relationship. We laughed a lot together.

Now I’m working with a new tandem partner. She wants to improve her English because her daughter met the man of her dreams and is moving to Australia. Of course she’ll visit them. Since my German proficiency is more advanced than her English, we’ll speak mostly English for fifteen minutes once a week, to give her a chance to practice that. I’ll write an essay in German to her once a month, and she’ll correct any grammar or word usage errors I make. My goal is to publish some essays in Germany, composed while I’m thinking in German (not translated from English) with a German audience in mind.

Improving my language skills through a tandem-partnership is my small way of negotiating world peace, one diplomatic conquest at a time. Do you want to be a diplomat, too? If you decide to sign up, consider dropping back by my blog and letting me know how it goes…

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17 thoughts on “How to win friends, influence Europeans and learn German (or French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian…)”

  1. How awesome that Uni Bochum is offering this! I had no idea. I should find myself an Italian to polish up my Italian…

    And, after reading your story, I so want to hook you up with my mother!! Although she doesn’t have a formal year of courses, she does speak some but is always too embarrassed to talk with Nina. So Nina speaks German, which is not the worst thing in the world.

    And I totally agree about the personal investment part in your opening section. Nina did not speak a word of German when we met, but decided to take a German class pretty much right after we did. We weren’t even thinking of dating then. I took her interest not as a testament to my horrible English skills, but to her wanting to understand me and my culture better. It was one of the reasons we lived in Germany for a bit, because she needed to see (and hear) where I come from. Now she is pretty much fluent, by no means grammatically correct, but she can converse about any subject with anyone. Pretty impressive to me. She likes to point out that I have spoken English for the whole duration of her life…which is kinda scary…and hilarious.

    I admire you for your determination to publish something in German. It is such a tricky language to figure out (as I have learned through Nina and my Korean friends). If I can help you with anything, please let me know. I would gladly do.

    1. I can’t even remember how I found this, but it sure has made a difference in my life. The thing I like most, but forgot to mention–it’s free!

      I sure will let you know when I’m ready to make connections with editors. At this point, I know a couple of people in Hamburg in the writing/publishing business, and that’s all.

      It’s always amazing to me how easily someone learns a language, once there’s a personal relationship involved. The will to communicate leads to communication.

      I’d love to meet your mother–let me know if she’s really interested in exchanging emails/skypes.

      My tandem-partner Christiane started tandem with an Italian partner. They’ve become good friends, and visit each other yearly now. So if you’ve got a few minutes every week, (I’ve committed to 30 total minutes a week with my new partner) by all means do it.

      1. I guess I will bring this summer behind me before I will endeavor to get anything else done…but will keep an open mind for after September…the winters here are long, and I don’t want to talk Italian with our Italian friend here…

        About the editing: I am by no means a professional, but have done a lot of editing in my life due to my jobs. So, whatever works best for you, just know I am ready to help any way I can.

        I doubt my mother will really want to get into this. She can be quite stubborn. Which I find amazing, given that she has a full family-in-law in one of the most amazing places, Alaska. I don’t get it…but then again, I don’t get her in so many ways…:)

          1. I know, I know. Europe is having much more success getting American’s to fall in line with the 35 hour work-week and 6-8 weeks of vacation yearly than the other way around…

            I wish.

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