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New this Semester: TandemPlus Care Packages, just for you

This semester, TandemPlus has been sending out e-mail Care Packages as a helpful guide for language exchanges. In the past, participants have had trouble navigating various aspects of their exchanges, such as thinking of topics appropriate for discussion in a language exchange, finding good meeting places, and handling communication problems that might arise. The weekly Care Packages are meant to help with these issues, since they contain tips, advice, reminders, and ideas for new conversation topics and meeting places. Participants have found them to be helpful in getting started and continuing with their new language partnership. If you have any ideas or suggestions about topics for future Care Packages, please let the TandemPlus staff know at

As an example, here is the first Care Package we sent to participants during the first week of the Spring program.

Week 1:   Before Getting Matched -- Judge Your Level

How do you rate your own language level? Knowing this will help you decide what you should discuss with your partner and what skills you should try to improve.

If you are a beginner, you can:

  • Say a few things, but get stuck frequently, either because you don't have the vocabulary or you don't always know how to communicate in sentences.
  • Reproduce memorized chunks of language, but in controlled conversations.
  • Understand some basic questions/comments on personalized topics, but you need the speaker to repeat himself/herself quite often.
  • Give personal information: your name and age, where you're from, talk a little about your family
  • List your classes, and some of your likes and dislikes (interests, foods),
  • List objects (things in your house or things you need for school), colors, months, seasons

You are at an intermediate level if you:

  • Can carry on a simple conversation, especially on concrete topics such as home, family, work, school, and leisure time.
  • Your sentences may not always be grammatically correct, but you can usually communicate your intended message.
  • In everyday conversations with native speakers, when they speak slowly, you can usually get the gist of what is being said (even if you miss a word or a phrase)

You are at an advanced level if you:

  • Say just about anything you need to say. If you don't know a word, you can get around it with the vocabulary you have
  • Participate in conversations on a wide variety of topics, both personal and more general or abstract
  • Understand most if not all of what a native speaker says. If you don't understand, you have the language to ask for clarification.

In general, the lower your language skills, the more you will need to prepare for your Tandem exchange. You can do this by going over vocabulary in advance and prioritizing what you want to work on most, i.e. listening skills, pronunciation, or vocabulary. When you have assessed your own language level, you can decide what you'd like to work on in your exchanges.

If you are a beginner, you have many options. You can:

  • Practice pronunciation of common phrases
  • Learn new vocabulary
  • Learn about the target culture (in your first or your second language)

Most intermediate level learners can:

  • Extend and build vocabulary, especially for familiar or frequently-used topics or items
  • Learn about the diversity of cultures in the country/countries that speak the target language
  • Perfect use of simple verb tenses, and work on becoming more comfortable using complex tenses (present perfect, past perfect, conditional, subjunctive) or cases
  • Improve ability to talk about a topic for several sentences (1 paragraph)

Many advanced level learners can:

  • Learn idiomatic expressions
  • Learn about dialectical differences that exist within the language
  • Perfect grammar, including complex verb tenses and less-commonly-used cases
  • Become comfortable expressing hypothetical situations
  • Improve ability to converse about a topic at length (over the course of several paragraphs)
  • Develop your ability to speak and write in different registers, i.e., formally or informally, and to people of different social status

For more information about proficiency, see the ACTFL proficiency guidelines.

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