Was sprachen Sie? Tandem Language Learning

When I would envision living in Austria, images of frantic hand-motion communication with only-German-speaking bus drivers on days when I might be late to Uni would ensue. Expectations of having to meander through the bureaucratic process of opening an Austrian bank account with German-only instructions. Perhaps–God forbid–an instance or two of having to search through my English-Deutsch pocket dictionary for the phrase, No, no Herr Doktor. Please don’t amputate my arm, it’s only a rash.

I thought I would only be able to make friends if I knew German; why would the Swedes and the French and the Bosnians speak English in Austria? It’s neither their mother tongue nor the tongue of Austria.

When I actually arrived in Graz and made my way around for the first couple of weeks, low and behold I came to realize that everyone here speaks near flawless English. The Swedes and Frenchies and Bosnians included.

Now it’s uncomfortable imagining myself adapting to the life I had expected to live in Austria; one of complete lingual helplessness for the first while until my brain magically kicked in a threw me a bone by learning German. I am so grateful to be able to make friends and communicate with them, to be able to talk with bus drivers, to open bank accounts and understand what’s happening.

It’s a bit of a problem, actually, that everyone speaks English. The German language learning that I expected has taken quite the back burner and requires a lot more motivation than is currently at my disposal.

Because of the relief and the amount of comfort that has come from me being able to communicate with those around me, I have developed quite the soft spot for individuals who have come to Graz without any knowledge of either English or German, rendered unable to communicate with anyone as I had expected myself to be.

There is this organization in Graz called Tandem Language Partners, where one is able to exchange knowledge and instruction of one’s mother tongue for the native tongue of another. Slovakians can lend assistance to the Slovakian language in exchange for instruction in Finnish. Germans can lend assistance to the German language in exchange for extra practice in Spanish.

It’s a beautiful flow of intrinsically motivated language learners; no assignments, no quizzes, no let’s-write-out-subjunctive-sentences-over-and-over.

In order to “give back” for all of the assistance and patience and aid I have received in German instruction from my Austrian friends, I decided to sign up for this program in hopes that I could benefit a non-English speaking individual to maintain a more satisfying international experience.

The organization is maintained online, very openly and very securely. Messages are relayed through the site, no personal contact information other than email expected. One can simple search for the language speaker that would suit their fancy and send a quick message, asking to meet up maybe once a week or so over a cappuccino or a schnitzel.

Volunteering my services as an English speaker helped restore feelings of self-efficacy and of giving back. I no longer felt so indebted to the society that is helping me better learn German, because I am also contributing what I can. It has given me a wonderful, marvelous opportunity to meet new individual and experience more culture than I can bear to imagine.

Participating in this organization has also given me the chance to spread it’s message to other language speakers interested in contributing their services of language knowledge. I can direct others to this outlet of sharing, as well as give advice to those with the need of practicing a language.

-Josie Rozell, Austria

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