European University Tandem (EUniTa)
1 Why tandem learning
Many university language centres have organised language tandems as an optional self-learning (and teaching) measure to support learners increasing their oral language proficiencies. Tandem learning has been a successful tool, as it takes the learning process out of the classroom context and offers a more relaxed learning atmosphere.
Since tandem learning always requires two complementary learners – one who offers to teach the language, the other who wants to study, and vice versa – having an equilibrium of languages offered and demanded is a prerequisite for a successful tandem organisation.
2 Balancing supply and demand
Like many other universities, the seven EUniTa partner institutions have been organising face-to-face tandems for quite some time. As the demand of foreign language knowledge has increased in the last 10-15 years, matching the local tandem requests has become more and more difficult. Usually, learners who are offering the local language by far outnumber those who can offer the demanded other languages in return.
3 First online steps
The logical idea was to go international and match e.g. German students who want to learn Italian with Italian students who want to learn German etc. First tandem international tandem projects were quite promising, but lead to other problems: How to organise the administration and matching process of the tandem requests online? How to deal with the increasing number of demanded languages? How to provide the necessary support? How to ensure a high level of data protection and privacy when matching students across borders and force them to exchange email addresses, skype aliases etc.?
4 Developing an one-in-all platform
The solution was to develop a platform, that allowed students from a theoretically indefinite number of partner universities to sign up for a language tandem, get matched automatically, and find all the necessary communication tools within the platform itself. This would allow to service a large number of students, balance the supply and demand of tandem languages, free staff of lengthy paperwork by automatically matching tandems, and avoid external communication tools by providing built-in video chat.
In order to make this vision become reality, seven European universities joined forces to create the European Union Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership European University Tandem – EUniTa. Between October 2015 and March 2018 the platform with its various functions and vast material library was designed and built, learning material produced and translated, and several surveys and tests conducted. The project members of the original partner institutions – Universitat Blanquerna Ramon Llull Barcelona, University of Exeter, Università degli Studi Firenze, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, University of Liverpool, Université de Poitiers, and Université Paris Sorbonne – are mostly recruited from the language centres of the these universities and comprise of a vast know-how in foreign language and tandem learning in the EUniTa languages.