Thoughts on Tandem Learning

market-piazza-delle-erbeby Emily Forgione

During my time abroad not spent doing coursework, traveling around Europe, exploring Italy, or stuffing myself full of delicious Italian food, I have been participating in a unique and rewarding program called “Tandem Learning.” Every semester, the University of Padua runs a language exchange program in which students of Italian are paired up with a native Italian speaker who is learning the other’s native language—in my case, English. “Tandem partners” are then supposed to schedule casual weekly meetings during which they can chat and get to know each other, alternating between languages. After submitting a brief “diary” about their weekly meetings during the semester, students receive a Tandem Learning certificate from the University—an excellent addition to any resume.

The Tandem program definitely ranks high on my list of favorite things about my semester abroad. In addition to greatly improving my conversational Italian skills, I have developed a lasting friendship with an Italian peer outside the nightlife and “discoteca” setting. Our meetings have ranged from coffee and lunch dates to birthday parties, to more structured tutoring sessions. Through conversations with my tandem partner, I have not only learned a lot about Italy and Italian culture, but have also gained a deeper perspective into my own culture. It often takes someone’s outside perspective to make you realize something to which you had previously not given a second thought. For example, my partner made a comment one day about how he would feel “unsafe” in the U.S., especially in Texas, because of the prevalence of guns. I am aware of our Second Amendment right to bear arms, but was shocked to hear that a non-American had an image of the U.S. as a dangerous place where everyone walked around with guns. That insight is just one of the many I have gained through listening to my partner’s ideas about the U.S.

prato-della-valleI have also realized how important learning English is to non-English speakers. For many people studying English around the world, learning English is a career objective and an invaluable tool for functioning in today’s global economy. I think the status of English as the current dominant international language does Americans a disservice. The vast majority of Americans do not have any real need to learn a second language because they can safely, and often correctly, assume that English will be the default common language wherever they go. The language of the American pop culture industry and many types of technology is English—therefore English is a necessary career tool for people around the globe. I, on the other hand, am learning Italian for the love of the language; there is no necessity for me to learn it unless I want to be a translator or move to Italy one day. I would not be aware of this difference in mentality regarding language acquisition without talking to a native Italian about to enter the workforce. This realization, among many others, is an example of the subtle ways in which I have come to understand the U.S. and American culture more deeply. Tandem Learning is an invaluable cultural experience and I would recommend it to anyone seeking to gain a unique perspective on Italian vs. American culture outside of the classroom.

Read other students’ testimonials on their experiences in Padua.