The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #17 September / October 2015
App Rev
by Brian Powers
September / October 2015 | 

Tandem - Language Exchange
By Tripod Technology
Reviewed by Brian Powers

Learning a language is an exercise in patience and perseverance; underscored by its sole purpose: communication. The idea that communication is and has always been the essence of language is sometimes lost to us amidst a tidal wave of software, super-secret learning techniques, audio lessons, mobile apps and other often over hyped products or services.

This is why it's important to remember that real communication with a real person is by far the most effective path to language proficiency. Conversing with a native speaker, especially when they may not speak your own language forces you to communicate to the best of your ability. The problem with an app is that you can just shut your phone off. Take out your headphones and say "I've had enough". With a real person it's not that easy.

In steps Tandem, an iOS based language exchange platform designed to connect you, to a world of other language learners.

Tandem is different from other language exchange apps or websites in that users must actually fill out profiles and apply for acceptance. The wait is very short, but this ensures that the folks you're interacting with aren't bots, and are usually there to actually learn rather than cause trouble or attempt to use Tandem as a dating site. It took me about 3 or 4 minutes to fill out my own profile and within a short span I was good to go.

Much like a social media site Tandem offers you the ability to "follow" other learners, a feature not unlike Twitter. You have a feed that is populated by the updates, changes of topic and other activity of those you choose to follow. I usually try to follow everyone I talk to, it gives them the impression that you enjoyed your conversations and that you're interested in speaking with them again in the future. Sometimes I'll even follow users I think I might like to speak to in the future, but perhaps don't have the time or availability for at that moment.

When other users browse the available partners list they are met with a sentence or two that you write - or choose from a pre-selected set of questions that might pertain to your interests - that describe what you're in the mood to talk about. This is a great way to zero in on partners with similar interests or to attract interesting people with your humor, wit or charm.

Engaging with another user is incredibly easy. You have the option to speak to others using text based chat or audio/video communication. In addition to these, however, I was pleased to note that Tandem comes fully equipped with an audio recording feature. This is great for learners who are perhaps still a little bit out of their element directly engaging in face to face conversation but would still like to enjoy the benefits of real audio communication.

After I finish having a voice or video conversation with another user I'm given the opportunity to send them "good vibes" and even write a review if I enjoyed our conversation. These "vibes" add up as a number on a user's profile image indicating their relative record as experienced or well received language partners.

The only really disappointing attribute Tandem expresses is its relatively low user retention rate. This seems to be an issue that most language exchange apps and programs have wherein users are interested in the system for only a short period of time before either growing bored, fed up or simply apathetic. While I have met and continue to converse with a few awesome individuals, the majority of the folks I've spoken with via text never end up becoming audio/video chat partners and many are never heard from again.

Still, this is a relatively minor issue. The users you manage to connect with can turn into great new friends and with an impressive user base of over 3 million people I've never felt as though the proverbial well was even close to running dry.

To Summarize:


  • Facebook authentication means you always get real people, not robots or (as many) creepy people trying to get into your digital pants as some competitor apps and programs.

  • Real communication with real people - the key to effective language learning and its application to real world scenarios, it's hard to argue with that.

  • It's free, so what do you have to lose?

  • Simple to use but fully stocked with all basic needs: text chat, video, audio, the ability to send pictures from your device along with recorded audio messages.

  • Cool "feed" feature that connects you with those you follow and keeps you informed of their activity, availability and interests.

  • A more complete profile page for each user than most competitor apps offer. Users can showcase multiple photos and a variety of interests. User's timezone is also visible - a very useful thing to have for anyone used to frequently communicating with a global audience.


  • Only currently available for iOS users.

  • Seems to have a low overall user retention rate.

  • Extraordinarily minor inconvenience of having to wait for your membership approval.

While it is absolutely essential to overcome the fear of using our new languages, Tandem really does offer a nice way for users to slide more comfortably into speaking without quite as much stress as they might face were they to be hurled headlong into face to face conversation in an immersion setting, though one can certainly make the argument that this trial by fire would be ideal. Considering the extremely small list of cons I think any dedicated language learner with an iOS device would be doing themselves a disservice to not take the time to check out Tandem. If you do decide to give it a shot you should give it at least a week or so before deciding whether the app is or is not a good fit for you.

Have you used Tandem before? What has your experience been?

Brian Powers is the creator and blogger at Languages Around the Globe, a social media community and website designed to promote language learning and cultural exchange. You can check out more of his work at

App Review
Writer: Brian Powers
All images are property of Tandem

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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