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Why Use A Language Exchange App?
As a language student, you are probably familiar with language exchange events and websites. Both my Japanese and German classes organized such conversational events in the hope that people new to the country would integrate and make friends, and that their language students would improve their skills and confidence by chatting with native speakers in a less formal setting. In reality, it was hard to find a language partner with compatible interests, so the conversations always fizzled out quickly.
It was a little easier to find partners with similar hobbies when the first language exchange websites appeared over a decade ago. But, because we only could chat via email (and everyone’s inbox was always overflowing), these didn’t work well either. Responses were few and far between, and ghosting was common.
Speaking and writing in your target language as part of a natural conversation builds fluency much faster than attending language classes. Being able to integrate it into your normal day-to-day routine helps you improve quickly.
But now that there are many free apps for language exchange, it’s easier to keep in touch with your language partners! One of the better ones I have found is the Tandem app, available for both iOS and Android smartphones. Tandem’s aim is to give everyone the opportunity to practice languages for free.
Getting Started with Tandem
I joined the Tandem community a little over a week ago. While I can practice my German on family and friends locally, I had no regular contact with Japanese speakers. That has certainly changed in just a week!
The registration was easy, although I found it a little odd that paid accounts could skip the line and not go through the approval process. I think it’s a great idea that staff members check that new members have reasonable profiles and use their real name and photo – it makes the community feel a lot safer and more welcoming.
You can choose multiple languages to learn and you can set a level for each of these languages. It’s great not being limited to a single language pair, and suited my goals of improving my written German grammar, and chatting conversationally in Japanese.
The app has an on-boarding process with tips and mini-goals. They also provide plenty of advice on what to put in your profile and explain how you can use the App in the best way – these are useful features for people who are less comfortable with technology or language exchanges.
Taking Control of Your Language Exchange Experience
Once your registration has been approved, you’ll be automatically featured and listed in search results, before you’ve had a chance to change any of the default settings for who you want to meet. This caught me by surprise.
As soon as I joined, I was contacted by a guy in Germany who very quickly started flirting with the aim of meeting me in person. I would have preferred to remain unlisted until I had changed those settings. Unfortunately, unwanted flirting is a problem with all language exchange apps and websites. But it is against the Tandem Community Principles and thankfully, it’s very easy to report and block such people from their user profiles.
In the app settings, you can limit who you want to meet by age and gender, as well as customize your notification preferences. Limiting my profile in this way completely stopped non-serious users, those who try to use Tandem as a dating app, from contacting me.
In your learning preferences, you can specify how you’d like to communicate, how much time you can commit each week, what times you are available to chat, and how often you’d like to be corrected. Learning preferences are listed on Tandem profiles along with the topics the Tandem users are interested in and their goals, so you can find a partner with similar preferences and interests easily.
Find and chat with language partners
This works really well – simply type in any topics, hobbies, interests or even locations to find a list of potential partners. Check out their profiles, and when you find someone you like, start chatting!
The premium features are convenient – the translation tool is particularly helpful for understanding Japanese as I don’t know enough of the kanji yet. There is also a correction tool where you can correct what your language partner has written.
You can leave audio messages and even video chat with your partners, if you’d like to.
If you are overwhelmed by a huge number of chats, firstly – that’s brilliant! You can set your profile to offline (and not featured), and while your current partners can still chat with you, you won’t appear in any search results.
Engagement may vary based on your target language
I found few responsive German conversation partners who wanted to correct my German grammar and chat about a range of topics – most wanted to practice basic phrases and small talk in English. It was a stark contrast to my Japanese conversation partners, who have been very active and interested in discussing all sorts of things in both languages – we chat every evening around the time difference!
I could work on my German grammar by booking a Tandem tutor for 1-1 lessons, ranging from 20-90 minutes per lesson. This is similar to booking a language tutor in real life. Tandem tutors are better when you’d like to focus on grammar or improve something specific in your target language, rather than just improve your conversational language. All of the tutors have professional language teaching qualifications and have been approved by Tandem. Sessions are paid in advance, with the rates set by the tutors themselves.
The Tandem app, available on iOS and Android, is a great conversation practice tool to use alongside your other language learning apps. It’s likely many of your conversation partners around the world will turn into good friends!