Speaking French with the Section Next Door

When instructors contemplate setting up a class-to-class TandemPlus exchange, their first question usually is how they will find a partner class? Next come the questions about time differences, how the semester schedules between the two institutions align, and how reliable the partners might be. Planning for all these aspects of the exchange can feel overwhelming and getting started can be hard. 

How is it, then, that EVERY student in all seven sections of French 1003 this semester has been meeting online with other French speakers for conversation practice and cultural exchange? 

The short answer: by matching them with each other! With the help of the TandemPlus staff and software, French 1003 students were assigned to a group of three, with each person in the group coming from a different section. Rather than looking across continents to find partners, the French program brought students from the same institution together into new constellations to practice and learn from each other. 

Student feedback is positive thus far. Students particularly enjoy meeting new people beyond their own section. They can practice discussing topics first addressed in class, but now with a new set of partners. They also report that speaking with partners at a similar language level lowers their anxiety level. For this initial pilot project, conversation topics were not assigned, leaving room for student interests to lead the way. According to the curriculum developers, Marina Calas and Lauren Goodspeed, this openness was intentional in order to promote curiosity, discovery, and motivation, which lay the foundation for lifelong learning.  

Students write a short reflection after each conversation, noting important ideas or vocabulary, as well as their interpersonal communication strengths and weaknesses. In the future, the developers hope to include reflection questions on cultural similarities and differences, both among the university students as well as between the American and Francophone countries.

As the pilot semester comes to an end, the greatest challenge thus far has been a challenge familiar to anyone participating in a Tandem exchange: finding a time to meet with your partner or group! Even when students are within the same time zone and share the same semester schedule, making that initial contact and scheduling the first conversation can be hard. Students need encouragement and frequent reminders, but they do eventually figure it out, and look forward to their conversations. If you would like your students to have a language and culture exchange – either with other university students or with external partners – please don’t hesitate to contact Beth Kautz at tandem@umn.edu.


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