Edinburgh Global

Encouraging language exchanges in a restricted world

The eTandem Global programme launched in 2020 to offer students a practical language exchange in the wake of restrictions introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme, coordinated by the Study and Work Away team, is a fully digital opportunity for Edinburgh students to partner with students from other institutions around the world.

The concept was developed over the summer in collaboration with the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures with the key aim to facilitate students to develop their language skills in a meaningful way, as well as to provide a space for social and cultural exchange, during major disruptions that have affected physical student mobility.

The programme has been running through Semester 1. It saw around 350 students from Edinburgh signing-up and pairing with students from 50 other universities who were invited to participate. There are 13 languages being practiced by the participants including Arabic, Norwegian and Japanese; the most popular have been French, Spanish and Chinese.

The demand was high and with many parts of the world still facing restrictions the SWAY team are preparing for a new round of applications so that the programme will continue to provide opportunities for students who would like to participate during Semester 2.

 At a time where physical mobility has become a challenge, due to the Covid-19 health crisis, students signing up for eTandem are matched with a language partner, allowing them to improve their skills in a fun, informal environment, while learning about another culture first-hand.

Adele DavidEuropean Programmes Advisor, SWAY

How does the eTandem programme work?

A welcome event for all kicks things off then, with support at hand, every student pair is matched, makes their introductions privately, agrees how they’ll meet, and can implement their own ideas about what works best for them in the exchange. They’re encouraged to explore the different ways to learn together while having the SWAY team ready to help with tips and tools to guide them. This includes academic guidance, rules of engagement and online safety guidance, but the interactions, topics, and choices for each pair can be tailored to suit their own interests and requirements.

The first meeting between the pair allows them to agree on their goals and arrange how they’ll organise their time; how and when they’ll meet (usually once a week), whether they are focused on serious learning or social exchange, how to balance time for each language, whether to spend more time talking or writing. They’ll also get potential topics or themes and tips from the SWAY on the programme’s Facebook group, but can decide what they want to talk about in their next meeting, in order to prepare in advance.

Students are encouraged to keep a reflective log and those who complete 8 or more sessions in total will receive a certificate to commend their participation. The SWAY team are also running additional events during the semester to offer a different dynamic – Language cafes – which group students together by the language they’ve chosen. With the time split between English and the other language, these larger meetings offer exposure to different viewpoints, accents and cultures.

What are the benefits?

Reciprocal language learning online has a proven record of benefits. Technology and connectivity provide a space for engaging and authentic interactions. These benefits apply especially (but not only) at times when in-person communication and travel are restricted or challenging:

  • improve language skills
  • find out more about another culture
  • share things about cultural or linguistic background
  • get creative with online tools
  • practise autonomous (and reflective) learning
  • gain experience with interpersonal communication and co-operation in multiple languages
  • and make new friends

Adele David in SWAY said: “There is a real appetite for virtual opportunities that still offer a first-hand experience of another culture. eTandem will give students the opportunity not only to improve their language skills, but also to create a connection with someone from another country and gain a unique perspective on their culture and daily life.”