Frequently Asked Questions

What is the UBC tandem Language Learning Program?

Basically, it’s a program to pair people who want to learn each others’ languages. The tandem Program supports the pairs by giving them space, advice, and ideas for activities.

What does tandem mean?

“Tandem” means that you work with a partner. “Tandem language learning” is an approach to learning a language that relies on a partner.

Who can participate?

Anyone in the UBC community. Students, faculty, and staff are welcome.

Are there any requirements to join the program?

Yes.
•      You must be able to commit to meeting your partner 1.5 hours every week, for 10 weeks, no exceptions.
•      You must have a basic level in the language that you want to improve.
•      You must have a basic level in English.
•      You must be in the UBC community (student, faculty, or staff).

What languages are offered?

That depends on who applies. In the past, we have had participants who offered English, Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese, French, Cantonese, Farsi, Korean, Russian, Tagalog, Arabic, Swedish, Danish, German, Italian, Turkish, Hebrew, and Ukrainian.

Does one of the languages have to be English?

No. While we do our facilitation in English, we hope that this does not discourage partners from choosing other languages.

Can I try the program without committing to the whole 10 weeks?

No. This would be unfair to your tandem partner. We expect all partners to communicate with each other when they cannot make a session.

Do I have to do the activity each week?

Short answer: No. They are always optional.

Long answer is that it all really depends on the level of each speaker. The activities are designed so that you and your partner can practice the two languages while learning about your partner. It is recommended, especially early on in the program. If you find that you have a lot to talk about, and your don’t need the activities, then you are free to do your own thing.

When does it start?

The program usually starts in the third week of the term.

When can I register for the tandem Program?

In the first few weeks of each term. Please check our Registration page.

How can I register for the tandem Program?

Visit https://tandem.ubc.ca/, log in using your CWL, and fill out the Registration Form.

Where is the Simon K.Y. Lee Lounge (the Global Lounge)?

Find more information here: http://www.students.ubc.ca/international/get-involved/ubc-global-lounge/

How many people applied each term?

In January-April, 2011: about 115 people

In September-December, 2011: about 400 people

In September-December, 2012: about 700 people

In September-December, 2013: about 800 people

In January-April, 2014: about 850 people

In September-December, 2014: about 860 people

In September-December, 2015: about 830 people

In January-April, 2016: about 920 people

Do I have to offer a language?

Yes.

Can I offer a language even if I am not a native speaker?

Yes. If you are confident speaking a language, and you think you could help a beginner or intermediate learner, then please write that you can “offer” it. You do not need to have a native speaker accent, and you do not need to know all of the vocabulary, grammar, etc. However, make sure that you feel confident with the language. Your partner will want you to correct mistakes, and provide new words and expressions.

I only want to learn from a native speaker. Can you make sure I get one?

No. This program is not based on the importance of speaking like a “native speaker.” It is based on improving in a language, feeling more comfortable and confident speaking, and learning about someone who speaks another language. It is possible your partner will not be a “native speaker” of the language that they offer.

Can I offer more than one language?

Yes, definitely. A lot of the people who sign up offer more than one language.

Can I request more than one language?

Yes, as long as you have a basic level, then you can look for different languages.

Can you give me more than one partner?

No. You will only receive one partner.

How much does it cost?

Nothing!

Is the tandem Program part of a department at UBC?

No. It is connected to the Centre for Intercultural Language Studies. It is also connected to the Global Lounge, the International Student Association, and the English Language Institute.

When did the tandem Program start?

January, 2011.

Who started it?

Mary Leighton. At the time, she was a graduate student in the Department of Language and Literacy Education.

Are there programs like this at other universities?

There are tandem programs at universities in Europe and Brasil, but this is the first program that we know of that offers ANY language. Not too long ago, a tandem program started at a university in Malmö, Sweden, based on this one at UBC. UBCO now has a tandem program as well.

Do I have to commit to the whole term of 10 weeks?

Yes.

Can I change partners?

If there is a problem with your partner—for example, your partner isn’t showing up to meetings—then you can talk to your facilitator, and they will try to find you a new partner. However, we can’t promise that you will get a new partner.

How often do I meet with my partner?

Once a week.

Where do I meet with my partner?

It depends. If you and your partner can come to weekly group meetings, then you will come to the Global Lounge at the same time every week. If you can’t come to the weekly meetings, then you will do “Independent Meetings.” This means you choose the time and place each week. We will give you some suggestions for good places on campus to meet.

How long are the meetings with my partner?

1.5 hours. You spend about 40 minutes in each language.

Can I meet my partner more than once a week?

Yes. If your partner has the time, you can meet as often as you want.

I am not a language teacher. I have never taught my language. So how can I help someone?

You can listen; you can provide new words and expressions; you can speak slowly and clearly; you can say, “That doesn’t sound right. I would say…”; you can encourage your partner when they say something well…You can help in many ways. Most people never have an opportunity to get one-on-one help, so you are providing an amazing and rare service.

Is it really necessary to have a basic level in the language I want to learn?

Yes. We have tried pairing people with no experience in the second language. These pairs often fell apart, because people felt too frustrated and disappointed. So we recommend that you take a class or study by yourself, until you have a basic level. Then you can get more from your tandem partnership.

I need help with my homework. Can I ask my partner to help me?

Yes. But be careful. You are not just in the program to learn about the language; you also want to learn about your partner, and to share something about yourself with your partner. So feel free to get help, but also spend time talking.

How do I know what to do with my partner?

We will give you advice for how to  structure your exchange language, as well as a weekly activity. Some partners love the activities; others prefer to do their own activity, or just talk freely. All of these options are fine.

What happens if I have to stop?

Tell your partner and tell us. If you partner wants to be re-matched, then we will do our best to find someone. If it is late in the term, though, then we probably will not re-match them.

Is it better if my partner and I are both at the same level?

In the past, some participants said that it was better when they were at the same level. Other participants said that it didn’t matter if one person was more advanced. Every pair is different. Our advice is to do the best you can with your partner, and don’t worry about the levels.

Do people sometimes have problems with their partners?

Sometimes, but very rarely. If you ever have a problem or feel uncomfortable, please tell one of the facilitators or contact the program coordinators at tandem.program@ubc.ca. Your comfort and safety is our number one concern and any issue will be taken seriously.

Is this the best way to learn a language?

We don’t think there is a “best” way. But we can tell you that people say really good things about this approach. They say that it creates a comfortable space to speak. They say that they can get corrections from a partner. They say that they can ask questions that they can’t ask in a class.

I want to volunteer for this program. What should I do?

We post volunteer applications at the beginning of every term on our website and on our Facebook page!

Does everyone get a partner?

No, it depends on how many speakers of each language are available.

When will I know if I get a partner?

You will receive an email shortly after the registration deadline.

Full Text of Questions

What is the UBC tandem Language Learning Program?
Basically, it’s a program to pair people who want to learn each others’ languages. The tandem Program supports the pairs by giving them space, advice, and ideas for activities.

What does “tandem” mean?
“Tandem” means that you work with a partner. “Tandem language learning” is an approach to learning a language that relies on a partner.

Who can participate?
Anyone in the UBC community. Students, faculty, and staff are welcome.

Are there any requirements to join the program?
Yes.
•      You must be able to commit to meeting your partner 1.5 hours every week, for 10 weeks, no exceptions.
•      You must have a basic level in the language that you want to improve.
•      You must have a basic level in English.
•      You must be in the UBC community (student, faculty, or staff).

What languages are offered?
That depends on who applies. In the past, we have had participants who offered English, Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese, French, Cantonese, Farsi, Korean, Russian, Tagalog, Arabic, Swedish, Danish, German, Italian, Turkish, Hebrew, and Ukrainian.

Does one of the languages have to be English?
No. While we do our facilitation in English, we hope that this does not discourage partners from choosing other languages.

Can I try the program without committing to the whole 10 weeks?
No. This would be unfair to your tandem partner. We expect all partners to communicate with each other when they cannot make a session.

Do I have to do each week’s activity?
Short answer: No. They are always optional.

Long answer is that it all really depends on the level of each speaker. The activities are designed so that you and your partner can practice the two languages while learning about your partner. It is recommended, especially early on in the program. If you find that you have a lot to talk about, and your don’t need the activities, then you are free to do your own thing.

When does it start?
The program usually starts in the third week of the term.

When can I register for the tandem Program?
In the first few weeks of each term. Please check our Registration page.

How can I register for the tandem Program?
Visit https://tandem.ubc.ca/, log in using your CWL, and fill out the Registration Form.

Where is the Simon K.Y. Lee Lounge (the Global Lounge)?
Find more information here: http://www.students.ubc.ca/international/get-involved/ubc-global-lounge/

How many people applied each term?
In January-April, 2011: about 115 people
In September-December, 2011: about 400 people
In September-December, 2012: about 700 people

In September-December, 2013: about 800 people

In January-April, 2014: about 850 people

In September-December, 2014: about 860 people

In September-December, 2015: about 830 people

In January-April, 2016: about 920 people

Do I have to “offer” a language?
Yes.

Can I offer a language even if I am not a native speaker?
Yes. If you are confident speaking a language, and you think you could help a beginner or intermediate learner, then please write that you can “offer” it. You do not need to have a native speaker accent, and you do not need to know all of the vocabulary, grammar, etc. However, make sure that you feel confident with the language. Your partner will want you to correct mistakes, and provide new words and expressions.

I only want to learn from a native speaker. Can you make sure I get one?
No. This program is not based on the importance of speaking like a “native speaker.” It is based on improving in a language, feeling more comfortable and confident speaking, and learning about someone who speaks another language. It is possible your partner will not be a “native speaker” of the language that they offer.

Can I offer more than one language?
Yes, definitely. A lot of the people who sign up offer more than one language.

Can I request more than one language?
Yes. As long as you have a basic level, then you can look for different languages.

Can you give me more than one partner?
No. You will only receive one partner.

How much does it cost?
Nothing!

Is the tandem Program part of a department at UBC?
No. It is connected to the Centre for Intercultural Language Studies. It is also connected to the Global Lounge, the International Student Association, and the English Language Institute.

When did the tandem Program start?
January, 2011.

Who started it?
Mary Leighton. At the time, she was a graduate student in the Department of Language and Literacy Education.

Are there programs like this at other universities?
There are tandem programs at universities in Europe and Brasil, but this is the first program that we know of that offers ANY language. Not too long ago, a tandem program started at a university in Malmö, Sweden, based on this one at UBC.

Do I have to commit to the whole term of 10 weeks?
Yes.

Do I have the same partner for the whole term of 10 weeks?
Yes.

Can I change partners?
If there is a problem with your partner—for example, your partner isn’t showing up to meetings—then you can talk to your facilitator, and they will try to find you a new partner. However, we can’t promise that you will get a new partner.

How often do I meet with my partner?
Once a week.

Where do I meet my partner?
It depends. If you and your partner can come to weekly group meetings, then you will come to the Global Lounge at the same time every week. If you can’t come to the weekly meetings, then you will do “Independent Meetings.” This means you choose the time and place each week. We will give you some suggestions for good places on campus to meet.

How long are the meetings with my partner?
1.5 hours. You spend about 40 minutes in each language.

Can I meet my partner more than once a week?
Yes. If your partner has the time, then you can meet as often as you want.

I’m not a language teacher. I have never taught my language. So how can I help someone?
You can listen; you can provide new words and expressions; you can speak slowly and clearly; you can say, “That doesn’t sound right. I would say…”; you can encourage your partner when they say something well…You can help in many ways. Most people never have an opportunity to get one-on-one help, so you are providing an amazing and rare service.

Is it really necessary to have a basic level in the language I want to learn?
Yes. We have tried pairing people with no experience in the second language. These pairs often fell apart, because people felt too frustrated and disappointed. So we recommend that you take a class or study by yourself, until you have a basic level. Then you can get more from your tandem partnership.

I need help with my homework. Can I ask my partner to help me?
Yes. But be careful. You are not just in the program to learn about the language; you also want to learn about your partner, and to share something about yourself with your partner. So feel free to get help, but also spend time talking.

How do I know what to do with my partner?
We will give you advice for how to  structure your exchange language, as well as a weekly activity. Some partners love the activities; others prefer to do their own activity, or just talk freely. All of these options are fine.

What happens if I have to stop?
Tell your partner and tell us. If you partner wants to be re-matched, then we will do our best to find someone. If it is late in the term, though, then we probably will not re-match them.

Is it better if my partner and I are both at the same level?
In the past, some participants said that it was better when they were at the same level. Other participants said that it didn’t matter if one person was more advanced. Every pair is different. Our advice is to do the best you can with your partner, and don’t worry about the levels.

Do people sometimes have problems with their partners?
Yes, but very rarely.

Is this the best way to learn a language?
We don’t think there is a “best” way. But we can tell you that people say really good things about this approach. They say that it creates a comfortable space to speak. They say that they can get corrections from a partner. They say that they can ask questions that they can’t ask in a class.

I want to volunteer for this program. What should I do?
We post volunteer applications at the beginning of every term on our website and on our Facebook page!

Does everyone get a partner?
No. It depends on how many speakers of each language are available.

When will I know if I get a partner?
You will receive an email shortly after the registration deadline.