Tandem: language pairs with a twist

My latest language learning mission, Mandarin Chinese, is turning out to be quite an interesting experience (read: a monstruous mental workout), in spite of which I’m feeling like I’m lacking practice… reason for which I’m working them exchange apps like crazy!

One of them is Tandem, an interesting discovery from a few weeks back that I’m enjoying a lot.


A community app? An app with a community?

Tandem is an interesting find. In an era where language exchange sites and apps focus on adding so much functionality that it makes them into virtual Swiss knives, this app is actually rather unassuming and simple. I love it for this: it’s easy to use and understand, with every feature out there to be seen. (Excuse the “crime suspect” style pixelation of the screen grab–I figured users not involved in my reviewing of the app would prefer to have their identities kept secret.)

In the main (“Find Chats”) screen, as you can see, is divided into two bits:

 The top search functions. From these, you can edit two things: the kind of languages you want to exchange from other members (as well as narrow down from which countries you want to meet people), and the category or type of topic you want to talk about (more on this later). Under these two, there’s the search field, which helps broaden somewhat the kind of person you can look for: in here, you can write virtually anything and the system will return someone who will have created a topic with that word.

The profile screen. Tandem will show you links to people speaking only as many languages as you set in the search functions. The text under their names and ages is not their profile, but rather, it’s part of what makes Tandem interesting: the “topics”. You set these on your profile, and they’re essentially whatever you want to ask of the community, or give to it. Do you want a partner to discuss Hong Kong martial arts films? Do you need somebody to help you write a love letter to your international girlfriend? Just feeling like sharing your language with somebody? Any suggestions on how to be more eco-friendly? What’s the hottest party spot in Peru right now? Want to just practice English? I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of subjects one finds in this app. Quite literally one of the first suggestions I got was to discuss a relatively obscure festival film I helped subtitle about two years ago, which goes to show the large number of subjects Tandem’s members are thinking of.

The other buttons are pretty straightforward: Tutors is a relatively new section opened for members who’d like to earn a bit more by teaching, Messages is where you’ll find every message exchanged between you and another member, Following allows you to see and manage who you’re following and who’s following you, and Profile is… well, for managing your profile.

The chat function, as the rest of the app, is really straightforward. You have the chat, as well as the possibility of exchanging a video or audio call with your partner, a link to their profile and a “follow” button. Members who like each other can write about them (something called “good vibes”, which I personally think is a great idea to keep the community both safe and down to earth). Unlike other apps, there are no correction functions.

So what’s the deal with Tandem?

When I started using this app, I wasn’t all too sure about it. It seemed so simple I didn’t know what I could get out of it until I started realizing that Tandem’s wealth really is in its diverse (and at the same time, well moderated) community. It’s one of about two apps I’ve used where after signing up, you actually go through a human moderator’s check, and I think its management team can feel pride about the effort they’ve put into creating this community. Most members are constantly adding new questions and topics, and the community as a whole feels quite lively. Another thing I noticed, though, was that a huge

I have to say this app has meant harder work for me in regards to Chinese (because I need to cut and paste whatever I don’t understand, which is still a lot, to my dictionary apps), but it has been wonderful for all my other “riper” languages. I wouldn’t doubt to recommend this app to somebody whose control of the language is slightly above B1, because the grand goal behind Tandem seems to be breaking the ice between, and connecting, people interested in exchanging languages through good conversation.