The advantages of having Native Tandem Partners9/20/2016
In my opinion, learning multiple languages is almost inevitable in the modern world. Learning a second language will introduce new opportunities not just in your personal but also in your professional life. As Frank Smith said, “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way” and I totally agree with him. However, language learning can be daunting for some or may seem time consuming to others. Of course, if you want to pick up a new language it will take some time but it does not necessarily have to take years and the process should not be boring at all.
Here I would like to share with you my own experience of how I tried to practise the Russian language. I believe that the best way to immerse yourself into a language is to practise with native speakers. This is why I decided to go on an exchange to Siberia, where I was sure not many people would speak English with me. Those seven months of my life changed my mind-set significantly and the life in the city of Tomsk introduced me to some remarkable cultural differences. Russia and especially Siberia are associated with some scary stereotypical images. Most of us imagine Russian as a country of vodka and threatening bears. Not to mention Siberia… the former land of gulags and a region of harsh winters. However, on my exchange I encountered radically different aspects: welcoming local people, who made my stay unforgettable, and four months of marvellous winter. On one hand, staying warm during the winter was quite challenging. The temperature occasionally dropped below -30, which meant that I had to invest in a super-warm coat. On the other hand, the shiny snowy fields and the beautiful ice sculptures around the city were unspeakably enchanting and I will miss this magic for sure.
However, let us get back to the point of how I pursued to practise the Russian language during those seven months, before I get too much into nostalgic memories…
Getting to know tandem learning
On my exchange, I was lucky that I could attend a language course at the University of Tomsk. However, from the beginning I felt those lessons were not enough for me. The class environment created a bit artificial setting for language learning and the size of the group made it difficult to focus on individual language learning difficulties.
I never heard about tandem learning before my Russian exchange. The whole story started with meeting a Russian student who invited me for their first language exchange event, where I found many language enthusiasts, who already had experience with tandems. After the first-ever tandem session I got really into it and I believe I could not have practiced Russian in a better way.
What are the perks of language tandems?
Firstly, it is very flexible with time and location. You can do it whenever you and your partner have time and the setting only depends on your creativity. I actually had sessions in various places: cafés, parks, while doing shopping or on the way to the cinema.
As tandem exchanges became friendships, we became even more creative with settings. Sometimes we even went to see Russian ballets together, and every cold weekends we organised trips to traditional Russian banyas (saunas), where we were “whipped” with birch tree branches according to Russian traditions … I started to celebrate Russian holidays together with local students. Almost without noticing, I became a member of the local community.
On top of this, everybody benefited from tandem learning. For the international students it was a great way to make Russian friends and it gave them a good insight into real Russian culture. And for the locals it was a valuable chance to improve their language skills and to explore other cultures, because for the general population of Siberia, travelling abroad is a luxury that’s hard to afford.
There are countless other reasons why I can only recommend language tandems. Just some to mention: individual treatment, instant correction, real life situations and present-day vocabulary.
How did I keep practising language after leaving Russia?
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. In May, my exchange finished and I left Mother Russia. Nevertheless, if you learn a language you have to bear in mind that continuous practise is important. This is why I decided with my tandem friends to continue the sessions over Skype. I was lucky to be able to learn a language in the native country. However, not all of us have the time or the money to undertake such journeys. This is why I think Langademy is a great platform to start your adventures with languages online.
The bab.la team and I wish all of you good luck on your journey of learning new languages!