Multilingual practices in Tandem learning. An empirical study of German-Finnish Tandem conversations

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, lecture hall L10, Zoom link:

Topic of the dissertation

Multilingual practices in Tandem learning. An empirical study of German-Finnish Tandem conversations

Doctoral candidate

Mag. phil. Sabine Grasz

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Literature

Subject of study

German Language and Culture


Professor Eva Vetter, University of Vienna, Austria


Docent Leena Kuure, University of Oulu

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Multilingualism plays a central role in language learning in tandem courses

The influence of the mother tongue or other previously learned languages was until recently often viewed from a negative perspective in foreign language teaching. Today, multilingualism is understood as the totality of learned languages, language knowledge, language awareness and experiences in learning and using foreign languages and is seen as a benefit.

This dissertation shows how participants in a German-Finnish tandem course draw on their multilingualism in learning and communicating. Tandem learning usually involves two people with different mother tongues working together to learn the other language with and from each other. The learners are largely autonomous, i. e. they are responsible for finding ways to support their learning.

The thesis consists of two sub-studies. In the first sub-study, data from a survey with 34 participants in a German-Finnish tandem course was examined. In the second sub-study, eleven recorded conversations of four tandem pairs were analysed. This made it possible to capture both the participants' beliefs and the concrete multilingual practices in authentic communication situations.

The analysis showed that in the tandem conversations, in addition to German and Finnish, English, but also Swedish and other languages are activated in many ways. With the help of different languages, the participants fill lexical gaps, overcome comprehension problems, discuss complex topics and deal with linguistic questions. The occasional use of English also facilitates participants' conversation, reduces inequality due to different language skills and has a stress-reducing effect, which the participants saw very positively in the survey. At the same time, however, it became clear that the participants are strongly oriented towards learning German and Finnish and, in their opinion, English should not dominate the conversations.

The research findings contribute to the understanding of the role of multilingualism in learning and using foreign languages. They show that multilingual practices should by no means be judged as deficits. On the contrary, they support learning, reduce language anxiety and strengthen language awareness and agency in foreign language learners.
Last updated: 1.3.2023