Review of Tandem: A Language Exchange App
Written by Tim Povel
Hello everyone! This is the second blog of the language resources series, which will be about Tandem. Tandem is a language exchange app that, as its name says, is built upon the idea of learning together, more specifically by chatting and talking. This app can probably not replace some kind of language course (unless you are really a “learning-by-doing” type of person), but it provides some useful (albeit not perfect) features for practising languages that can certainly enrich your learning experience. Since Tandem is a social app, I will not only talk about its technical features but also discuss the process of signing up and creating a profile. Just like in the blog about italki, a table of contents is provided to help you navigate through the different topics.
Editing personal information
Profile of Tandem members
Findings and conclusion
There is a particular reason for which I consciously call Tandem an app: although it has a website from which you can access your account, some functions are only available on the app. It even goes this far that you encounter the following page when trying to sign up through the website.
That is not quite convenient, is it? For these reasons, I will be discussing the app based on the mobile (Android) interface. I would recommend anyone who uses Tandem to stick to the mobile or tablet interface, as the web app lacks several functions, some of which may be used frequently.
Signing up goes through a wizard in the following steps:
Provide your full name and e-mail address. Tandem requires users to be active under their real (first) name, but I guess they also ask for your surname in order to identify you in cases of fraud.
Choose a gender. Unfortunately, you can only choose between male and female at this point. If you do not identify with either gender and still want to use the app, the best option is to choose the gender you feel closest with and describe your actual identity in your profile.
Add a profile photo. Tandem requires users to provide a photo of themselves with their face clearly visible. An automatic check will notify you if the photo does not meet this requirement, but you can bypass this check at your own risk: you may be warned if a moderator on Tandem notices that the photo does not meet the requirements, or even be banned directly if the photo is considered offensive in some way.
Provide some information that appears on your profile. This includes what you like to talk about, a description of your perfect Tandem partner, and your language learning goals. It is possible, however, to skip these questions until after signing up.
You may then have to wait for Tandem to accept your profile because in some cases they will first verify if there are enough potential language partners available for you. Once you are in, you are asked to do two more things before you get redirected to the main page of the app. The first one is checking and enabling your location, which you can choose to deny. The second one is creating a topic, which you can postpone. If you choose to skip these items, in both cases you will get a notification saying that this will negatively affect your Tandem experience, but only creating a topic is required to bring yourself into contact with other language learners.
Editing personal information
By clicking on your profile photo, you will be directed to a menu that allows you to view and edit your personal information, including your profile. In the first part, you can find the following options:
Settings: by clicking on the wheel at the top-right, you can adjust your privacy and notification settings, download your personal data, and delete your account.
About me: on this page, you can change your profile picture, edit your name and date of birth, choose a different Tandem ID (which is especially useful when it comes to sharing your profile), update your location, and edit the profile information that you were asked to provide during the signup.
Status: you can switch between Online and Offline. Setting your status to Offline hides you in the Community and disables your notifications of new messages. If the system detects that you are on a call, your status will automatically be changed to Busy.
Preview profile: this useful feature allows you to view your profile as it is seen by other people.
Share profile: through this page, it is both possible to generate a QR code of your own profile that you can share, as well as scan the QR code of someone else’s profile.
The second part of the menu contains the following options:
Languages: on this page, you can change the languages you speak and learn, as well as the languages to translate incoming messages and use the app.
The languages you speak are divided between your native language(s) and foreign ones in which you consider yourself fluent.
For the languages you learn, you choose one of the three different levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. A short description of them is available in order to help you choose.
For the languages you speak and learn, you can choose from the approximately 300 languages that Tandem has on offer, including a bunch of sign languages, several conlangs such as Emoji and Toki Pona, and numerous minority languages. Be aware that despite Tandem’s very large user base, some rarer languages might have few users on offer, making it difficult to find a suitable match.
As Tandem’s translation feature seems to be powered by or based on the interface of Google, the languages available for translation seem to be those for which you can use Google Translate.
The app itself is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, ‘Chinese’, and ‘Taiwan Chinese’.
Certificates: This page allows you to obtain a Tandem Certificate that has been “NEW” forever and offered with a 40% discount for € 2.29 almost just as long. It consists of tests in reading comprehension, grammar, and listening comprehension. The overall passing score is 70%; the minimum score for each part is 50%. The test is available at the levels of Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Fluent, but only for the English language.
Expressions: this feature is still in its beta phase and is currently only offered to those who learn English at a beginner level with a restricted number of native languages. As its name says, this feature consists of several expressions in different categories that help (beginning) learners with starting and maintaining conversations in the language they are learning.
Learning Preferences: by filling out this information, (potential) language partners have an impression of your learning style and can take this into account when contacting you. It consists of the following aspects:
Communication: whether or not you want to send text and audio messages, do video and audio calls, or meet in person.
Time Commitment: how many hours per week you commit to learning languages on Tandem
Learning Schedule: you can indicate your usual activity by part of the day (morning, afternoon, and/or evening) on both weekdays and weekends.
Correction Preferences: how often you want your messages to be corrected. Every single time, only when a mistake is being repeated, or only general feedback once in a while without correcting single mistakes.
My Topics: although you can create multiple of them, only one will be visible, on the top of your profile. This is essentially your capture for prospective partners, and briefly describes the topic you would like to talk about with them. You can find a list of proposals that you can use directly if you need some inspiration. If you do not have a topic, you will not be visible in the Community section, where potential language partners usually find and contact you. This can also be advantageous if you are not open to new partners but still want to remain open to existing ones.
Following: this page allows you to view the people you are following, the people who follow you, and the people you blocked. The main function of following people is to get notified when they post new topics. Besides, following people can come in handy when you want to send them images directly from your phone since trying to send a message from there on Tandem will direct you to your list of followers.
Visitors: this function, exclusively available for members with a Tandem Pro subscription, allows you to view who visited your profile in the past week.
Tandem Pro: on this page, you can manage your Tandem Pro subscription if you have one. You can also choose whether you want to show the Tandem Pro badge (a white lightning symbol in a red circle) on your profile picture and highlight your profile in the community.
This is the section in which you meet language partners for a one-on-one conversation. The main page shows a list of potential language partners based on your filters and algorithmic calculations. Of each partner, you see the profile picture (optionally with a Tandem Pro badge), their name, their topic, the number of languages they speak and learn with the most relevant one listed, and their amount of references. Below the first three profiles, there is a list of highlighted profiles with a Tandem Pro subscription, including the option to highlight your profile if you have a Tandem Pro subscription yourself.
On the right of the top bar are search and filter options. The search option allows you to look for specific names or topics of members. The filter option is more comprehensive. The first part allows you to filter potential language partners based on the languages you indicated as learning languages in your profile. By default, you will see partners from all your learning languages who speak them at a fluent or native level, because the company stimulates you to learn as many languages as possible with partners who are proficient in them. However, in the case, you prefer to only focus on a few languages at the same time, or when you would like to form a tandem with someone who has a similar language level as you in your learning language, you can change these filters.
The second part of the filter option allows you to filter more objective criteria. By default, you are shown members from everywhere, but you can also filter by specific countries and regions, or, if you are a Tandem Pro member, even a specific city. Besides, you can filter by age and choose to practice only with members that are new, have references, or are from your gender. In general, be aware that changing your filter options only affects the partners that you are being shown, not the partners that can find you. For example, if I would indicate that I only want to practice with Spanish speakers from Chile, speakers of different languages from other countries will still be able to find and contact me if I match their filters.
Next to the ‘All’ tab are the ‘Near me’ and ‘Travel’ tabs. The ‘Near me’ tab shows potential language partners based on the location that you provided. The ‘Travel’ tab allows you to find potential language partners by navigating on a map, which includes a search function and a location calibrator. Both tabs are only available for people with a Tandem Pro subscription.
Profile of Tandem members
If you click on the name of a Tandem member that appears in the Community section, you will be directed to their profile. Below are some screenshots of such a profile. You can find the following information there:
Name and age
Location on the map (if this is disabled, you see a world map there)
Profile picture and amount of references
Buttons to start a video call or audio call with this member, as well as to message or follow them
Languages this member speaks or learns, at which level
Tandem Certificates (if the member has one)
Personal information (location if enabled, current time, Tandem ID)
Learning Preferences (if indicated)
If you believe a member breaches Tandem’s community principles, for example by making you feel unsafe during your contact together, or by providing offensive content on their profile, you can report them. One of the ways to do so is by clicking on the button with the exclamation mark at the top-right of their profile. You are then asked to put the report in the most logical category according to a menu with multiple levels. Once you went through all levels of the menu, you are often (but not always) asked to provide additional information to contextualize the report. Once you sent the report, a moderator will review it and message you if action has been taken.
As its name says, this is the section in which you can access your chats. It is possible to have one-on-one and group chats. You can create group chats yourself with members you have one-on-one contact with, or you can be put in a group chat with a member who has contact with you and people you may not be connected with. As I am currently not active nor interested in any group chat, I will not discuss this feature in greater detail and only focus on one-on-one chats.
The chat overview of one-on-one chats shows the members you are in contact with, their status, and the latest message that was sent between you. On the right, you can see the message’s status. If your partner sent this message, you will see a blue beam saying ‘YOUR TURN’, including a blue dot underneath in case you have not read the message yet. If it was you who sent this message, you will see a curved arrow if the message was sent, and a check mark if your partner read it.
The chats themselves have a fairly typical look. Like with the profiles, the bar at the top contains a partner’s name and status. On its right, there is a button for calling, as well as three dots that indicate a menu. The menu contains the following options:
Follow [name member]
Leave a reference: references that you write appear on the profile of the respective member
Gift Tandem Pro: it is not only possible to buy Tandem Pro yourself, but also gift it to another member for a maximum of three months
Video: start a video call
Call: start an audio call
Report [name member]: report the respective member with help of the menu with multiple levels
Block [name member]
Sending messages is pretty straightforward and works similarly to other chat services. However, the ability to add attachments is limited, as you can only send images. On the other hand, next to the ability to send audio messages, you can translate both your own messages and those of your Tandem partner instantly. Translations are unlimited if you have a Tandem Pro subscription; otherwise, the limit is three translations (whether outgoing or incoming) per day.
As said earlier, the translation function seems to be built by or based on Google Translate. It is possible to leave the input language to be detected, and every input seems to result in the same translation on Tandem and Google Translate. The function in Tandem differs from the one in Google Translate in the sense that each translation has a limit of 300 characters, and that it is not possible to select just part of the translation. Instead of copying the translation, like in Google Translate, the translation appears as a message that is ready to be sent after you click on ‘CONTINUE’.
It is also possible to right-click (on desktop) or hold (on mobile) a message from your Tandem partner. By doing so, you open a menu that has the following options:
Correct: this allows you to correct a message on mistakes
Comment: similar to platforms like WhatsApp, this feature allows you to refer to this specific message
Speak: this button redirects you to a third-party platform such as Google Speech Services, that can read a message aloud with a computer voice
Below is an example of using the ‘Correct’ function. You choose the sentence that you want to correct, you edit it as you like, and the correction appears, with the corrected sentence below the original sentence, allowing you to add a comment if desired. Indications in the original sentence are not very detailed on the spelling level: if a word is being corrected, it will always be marked entirely red, even if the change concerns only one letter. However, changes in interpunction can be indicated without marking the word it is attached to. Besides, the software may automatically create gaps and crosswords. Although this usually results in a logical representation when the correction is relatively simple, the result may be chaotic if the structure of the original sentence is changed entirely. This even goes for sentences: the software may inadvertently cut a sentence if there is an abbreviation with a dot in the middle of it.
This example was not meant as an actual correction. To show actual corrections, I head to another chat in which I can also catch a correction of my own in a screenshot. If the software considers a correction of your message easy enough, it invites you to solve it on your own. If you decide to do so, you are remembered to change the highlighted words in the sentence. If your correction is wrong, you are told how your partner wrote it and advised to ask for explanations should you have any questions. Otherwise, you are confirmed that your correction is how your partner wrote it. You can always decide to skip the self-correction and show what your partner wrote immediately.
The ‘Comment’ and ‘Translate’ functions are more straightforward. The ‘Comment’ function allows you to respond to a particular message from your Tandem partner, whether or not with the help of translation. When done, your comment on that message will be indicated as such in the chat. The ‘Translation’ function is even simpler: the translation of a message will appear instantly below its original. Only if you have not indicated anything in the ‘Languages’ section of your profile, you will be asked first which language you would like to translate incoming messages to.
Language Parties differ from group chats in the sense that they can be created and joined by anyone. They can be filtered by language, which are ordered from left to right - primarily by the number of parties in each of them; secondarily by alphabet. In the overview, you see the language of each party, its title, its description, its host, and the amount of both speakers and listeners in the party. The three dots at the top-right of each party allow you to report it in the same way as you can report individual members and their profiles.
You can create a party yourself by clicking on the ‘+’ button at the bottom right of the screen. If you choose to do so, you need to provide a title and choose a maximum of two languages in which the party will be held. A description is optional but will help to clarify the purpose of the party to both yourself and potential listeners. Furthermore, you are expected to adhere to the Language Parties Guidelines, which include showing respectful behavior and taking responsibility as a host, as well as being careful with talking about sensitive topics such as politics, ethics and philosophy, race and ethnicity, religion, and relationships.
When you join a party, you will see - apart from the title and description - the host and speakers separately from the listeners. Typical of Language Parties on Tandem is that they are audio-only, and one of its features is that people can join as a listener. Besides, as Language Parties can be entered at any time and be attended by a lot of people, it is also reasonable to not allow everyone who comes in to speak immediately. If you want to speak, you can click on the hand sign at the bottom of the screen, after which the host can add you to the group of speakers. It is also possible to show appreciation for the conversation by clicking on the heart sign next to the hand sign, but the purpose of this is unclear to me. Finally, the information sign at the top-right allows you to review the purposes of Language Parties in general, whereas the ‘+’ sign next to it allows you to invite members you have one-on-one contact with.
The Pro section is only advertising a Tandem Pro subscription if you do not have one, or stating its benefits if you do have one. That said, it is still worth comparing its costs with its benefits.
I cannot verify the actual prices as they seem to be only available in the app and I already have a Tandem Pro subscription myself, but from what I remember, the available subscriptions are as follows:
One month for €6.99
Three months for €11.99
One year for €35.99
However, there are periodic campaigns that offer discounts of up to 40%, which allowed me to obtain an annual subscription for only €19.99. With a Tandem Pro subscription, you get the following benefits:
Being able to find members near you
Being able to find members at specific locations around the world
Being able to see who visits your profile
Unlimited translations rather than three per day
A highlighted profile in the Community section
An ad-free experience
Findings and conclusions
I have used Tandem with pleasure, especially when language learning was still exclusively a hobby for me. The value for money is great. You can essentially use the free version without considerable limitations. I mainly purchased Tandem Pro because of the convenience of in-app translations, and, to a lesser degree, the ability to find people wherever. Neither of these features is strictly necessary, though.
Speaking English, especially when combined with learning a popular language such as Spanish, likely makes you attractive to many people, so you are not easily short of messages. This is a major disadvantage at the same time because the number of messages quickly get overwhelming: if you are new, you will be prioritized in the algorithm, and you do not have to do much more than explore the app to receive messages from ten different people in ten minutes.
Likewise, I often experience that almost all messages I receive at some point are not much more than “Hello”, and maybe “How are you” - with similarly developed profiles of the people sending them - whereas it is not uncommon that people to whom I write messages do not respond at all despite me putting clear effort to write them. As a result, from the approximately 250 people with whom I messaged throughout my membership on Tandem, the number of people with whom I developed a serious conversation can be counted on two hands, and I currently still have contact with only one of them. Admittedly, this is better than nothing.
Personally, I do not think social safety is problematic: although I have received some inappropriate messages myself, reporting them always resulted in a ban or at least a warning of the respective person. In the case that I reported someone without being 100% sure of its righteousness, the moderators just let my report slide without accusing me of making a false report in such cases.
My overall conclusion is that I recommend everyone interested in online language exchanges with Tandem to use the app with care, and not shy away from shutting down temporarily if you feel necessary to do so.
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