Introducing a tandem learning module (18 Nov 05)

Date: 18 November, 2005
Location: University of Surrey
Event type: Round Table presentation/discussion

Location map

Past event summary

This was led by John Morley from the University of Surrey who has a wealth of experience in tandem learning: he has been running tandem learning modules for six years at the University of Manchester and has published and presented widely on the subject.

This event is organised under the Subject Centre's guest speaker fund.

Event report: Introducing a tandem learning module

John Morley's presentation began with a definition of Tandem Learning as "a reciprocal language learning scheme in which students are paired with a native speaker of their target language to work on a series of learning tasks". The system of tandem learning was set in a historical context, beginning with the monitorial system for underprivileged schoolchildren in the 1800s.

The principles of authenticity, reciprocity, autonomy were outlined, followed by the specific benefits of learning in Tandem, which include:

  • extensive contact time with a native speaker of the TL;
  • greater potential to meet specific areas of need and interest;
  • greater flexibility of timetabling of language learning activities;
  • the chance to gain experience as a learner mentor;
  • the generation of more language feedback and error correction than is normally possible;
  • possibilities for learning and practising the TL in a low anxiety environment

John Morley reported the results of research he had carried out which demonstrated that both British and Erasmus Tandem students achieved, on average, greater mean gains in fluency than those learning in a class setting.

The presentation then moved on to consider in some detail the features of the Tandem Learning scheme at Manchester. This scheme has been running since 1999 and now has 180 students participating, in Spanish, Italian, French, German and English languages. Students meet their partner for around 2 hours per week, in a place and time of their own choosing. Some tasks may be negotiated with students' partners and/or course tutors, while others are compulsory. Students also participate in a virtual seminar on language and culture, and contribute to discussion groups in all the languages, in WebCT.

The process is very clearly structured, with clear guidelines given to students about each stage, including pre-task activities (preparation, prediction and planning), the tasks themselves (which are oral and written), feedback, and post-task (reflection and evaluation).

Students are supported by means of tutorials, email contact, WebCT discussions, an error correction workshop in Semester 1 and research task tutorials in Semester 2.

Assessment is by means of a dossier (50%), which includes two drafts of each written task, reflection sheets, copies of contributions to WebCT and of emails, and notes for interactive tasks; a written exam (20%); the recording of an oral interaction (20%) and peer assessment (10%).

The very thorough and illuminating presentation was followed by a lively discussion and a hands-on demonstration of the materials and seminars / discussions in WebCT.

Staff at the Centre for Language Studies wish to express thanks to John Morley for his visit and for his excellent and inspiring presentation.