If you had any doubts by now, let me tell you that I love languages: from the analytic modern English with its changeable moods and unpredictable phonology, to the fusional Romances with their graceful inflections and clingy morphemes; from the agglutinative wonders of Uralic languages with their sesquipedalian utterances, to the intriguing logograms of Hanzi, Kanji or Maya glyphs.
But I digress. With such linguistic amalgamation swirling around in your head, it becomes necessary to actively keep your language skills in shape. That’s why every once in a while I pick one of the dormant languages and go on a reactivation mission: reading books, watching shows, listening to music, and so on. As far as passive skills go, we are good 1. But we all know that one doesn’t get better at a language through osmosis. It requires active practice of both written and oral skills 2. And that’s where the quest for a tandem partner comes in.
A language tandem is one way to boost said skills. It’s fun, it’s intense and it’s free of charge. It basically consists of one native speaker of X and one of Y who meet up in a coffee shop or alike in order to practice each other’s languages. There are many ways to find a tandem partner, from bulletin boards in your local library to online platforms aimed at linguistic and cultural exchanges. So far, so good.
The conundrum starts when language partners out there are more keen on the partner bit than the language exchange itself. This species of tandem partner, which I’m eloquently naming “the language predator”, desperately seeks a foreign partner for amorous or sexual purposes, and will immediately pull the plug as soon as he discovers that his female pray has no interest beyond the linguistic exchange 3.
Cognizant of the online language predatory fauna and its modus operandi, I’ve come up with a strategy myself: letting potential language partners know that I’m in a happy relationship within minutes of our first exchange. Ain’t nobody got time to waste. This is how it goes 9 out of 10 times:
Look, I get it. In all likelihood, you are into a language because you feel attracted to the places where it’s spoken, their people, their culture or their idiosyncrasy; and let’s be honest, having a romantic partner who is a native speaker of your target language is kind of the dream – I do, and it’s wonderful 4.
Still, dear language predators out there, you need to chill. Try dating sites, go to a club, join macrame camp. Anything you need until you come to the realization that finding a foreign partner could be a lucky happenstance, but shouldn’t be the goal of language exchange sites.