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Calling All Language Learners! Use Tandem!

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSD chapter.

If you’re anything like me this quarantine, you’ve decided that rather than binge new TV shows the rest of this Covid time, you’re going to attempt to be productive. I’ve always been interested in languages, so with this time at home, I decided to throw myself into learning not one but TWO languages this quarantine. By day, I’m a grad student and part time financial agent assistant, by night I’m a full time language student throwing herself into hours of practice and notetaking and flashcards. Learning languages can be so much fun if you’re really passionate about it, but if you don’t have too many resources to practice speaking, it can definitely seem sort of dull with nowhere to utilize the language. I’m not Korean, nor Chinese, yet I’ve devoted so much time to build my proficiency in both languages. So after trying to figure out what to do about actual getting practical experience in speaking and typing these languages, I managed to find my saving grace. TANDEM!

What is Tandem?

For those who don’t know, Tandem is a free language learning app I’ve discovered that connects you to millions of people around the world just like you trying to learn a new language. Choose whatever languages you want, and you’re suddenly introduced to millions of people who are natives in the language you want to learn and express a need to also learn English or what your native language is. It’s amazing!

How It Works

When you first download the app, it’ll ask you to create your profile and add your bio with a couple questions asking what you are hoping to learn and discuss with other language learners. That way when people come across your profile, they can evaluate if your language goals align. I’ll admit, it felt very similar to a dating app, but I encourage you to remove yourself from that mindset as much as possible. This app is supposed to be a resource to facilitate and foster global connections and create relationships through language learning. So go in with a desire to learn and make new friends! And who knows. Maybe if you and your language pal get close enough, when you visit that country or they visit you, you’ll be fully equipped to have a full conversation with them!

This app has so many cool capabilities that include text corrections, audio messages, and video calling. It’s great because I can send my friends audio messages and they can reply with how I should better pronounce words and correct my texts messages similar to the editing or suggestion capability on Google docs. It’s a great way to make sure that you are actually learning rather than just trying to talk with a stranger and fumbling over a new language. You can even set what your current speaking level of the language you’re learning is so your language partners are aware of how proficient you are and if you’ll need things better explained. I’ll admit, I was very intimidated going into it.

My First Time

My initial experience with the app was definitely overwhelming. I downloaded the app close to 5pm in America and that time in Asia is 8am. So by 8am in Asia, dozens of people were already on the app requesting to start a conversation with me. My first suggestion, message about five people, and if you manage to have good conversations with about half of them, delete the rest because trying to keep up conversations with so many people at once can be extremely overwhelming. You’ll constantly get new requests and sometimes you’re just not feelin’ in the mood to chat with a certain person. So don’t feel bad if you have to delete someone. They probably have done the same. Unless you’re a pro with that then you do you. You’ll find that many language learners on the app are decently proficient in English which makes things a little easier on you if you’re a native English speaker. But once you put the languages you’re learning into practice, you definitely are in learning and application mode. My Chinese level is better than my Korean level, but both Chinese and Korean people were already messaging with me. I was constantly having to switch my phone keyboard from my Hangeul (Korean alphabet) keyboard to my Hanyu (Chinese characters) keyboard and switching from language to language definitely hurt my brain. Especially since both are so different and my proficiencies are different, it was a struggle at first. 

My suggestion if you’re learning two languages like me is to filter the app to only get requests and partner suggestions for people that are native speakers of one language you want to focus on. Unless you’re crazy like me and jumped into it right away constantly switching languages. I also suggest that once you start communicating with your partner, after greeting, it’s best if you both determine from the start how you’ll want to carry on your conversations. Trying to make conversations in languages you’re not proficient in is a difficult task, so best to gauge each other’s language levels and also determine how you want them to explain things to you and/or correct your messages. Deciding that from the start makes things more fluid and easier to carry on a conversation. 

For example, one of my friends in China is already pretty proficient in English. About 75% of the time, I’ll respond in Chinese and she’ll correct me if I need to use different characters or grammar. However, if there’s a word or phrase I don’t know how to explain in Chinese, I’ll type it in English. So in a way I’m speaking Chinglish?? Same with Korean. My Korean partner and I go back and forth correcting each other and filling in language gaps for words or phrases we don’t know how to explain. It definitely makes things a little less stressful since we know we’re both learning. There’s no pressure to be perfect at the language.  

Ending Thoughts

Having this app has really changed the language learning game for me. Finding ways to apply the languages I’ve been learning has been so hard until now. I hate to sound like an add, but this app has really helped me to finally have people to use these languages with and it’s exciting to know that I now have friends in other countries. So if you’re looking for an app to really help you up your language learning game, this is the app for you. Download it now! Happy chatting! 

Loralyn Narvaez is a California Native who previously attended UWB. Although she currently lives back in California, she served as Head Writer for the chapter publishing articles and writing her own. She recently graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and a Business minor and was Campus Correspondent for HC UCSD. She is currently attending CSU Fullerton pursuing her Master's Degree in Communications. Her interests include cosmetics, fashion, food, literature, linguistics, and Asian culture.