Tandem: One part language learning, one part attraction

In an international German city like Berlin, most people can get by without speaking the language. But with an app like Tandem you will not want to.

Create a profile, upload a picture, select a language and wait. Within minutes the messages will start pouring in: cómo estás?, privet, parlons!

Tandem, a language-learning app, launched in 2015 by Arnd Aschentrup, Matthias Kleimann and Tobias Dickmeis, connects users with a language partner. Users can chat via text, audio and video, improving their language skills in real-time from anywhere.

Tandem evolved from the trio’s previous product, Vive, Aschentrup tells the Heureka. “A lot of people used [Vive] for language learning and we discovered how big of an opportunity there is for language communities,” he says.

tandemLogoNewVerticalThe app even includes games to help make practicing fun and topic suggestions like, “I want to share my thoughts on the meaning of life,” help users avoid tedious get-to-know-you messages that are all too common when chatting with strangers.

When the Heureka tested the app, our editor received 22 messages the first day; only one message came from a woman. This trend continued with 94 per cent of the messages coming from men.

This is typical, Aschentrup says. “It just feels a little more natural to speak to the other gender,” he said. About 70 per cent of conversations via Tandem are male-female. Twenty per cent are male-male and only 10 per cent are female-female. The reason why is open for interpretation.

“[Tandem] is not useful for dating, by design. It is very difficult to find someone in your location,” he says.

tandem-app-heureka-screen-frontendWith over 1.8 million downloads, it is clear there is something appealing about chatting with a strangers. Just look at Chat Roulette, Tinder and even further back to AOL chatrooms in the 90s. Talking with strangers, despite what our parents told us, is fun.

Alan, a 26-year-old Tandem user, says, “Tandem is a good tool to meet new people and to practice many languages. Sometimes it is hard to find native speakers.” He has been using the app for a month and heard about it on Facebook.

Even Apple recognized the app's potential: Ten months after launching, Tandem ranked number 12 of Apple’s 25 Apps of the Year. They were the only app from Germany and the only education app, Aschentrup shares.

Tandem also gives learners the ability to rate a user once a conversation reaches a certain number of messages, explains Susanna Wood, Tandem’s PR manager. Positive rankings acts as a badge.

Languages, of which there are 148, include Mongolian, Welsh, French – even Klingon. Approximately 40 per cent of all conversations are the “obvious language pairs,” like Spanish-English and English-Mandarin, Aschentrup explains. But the community is also incredibly popular for less obvious pairings, like Norwegian-Swedish and Lithuanian-Croatian.

These less obvious languages are underserved by other apps, like Babbel and Duolingo, Aschentrup says. By providing a platform for these language communities to form, they can now put their energy into further developing language curriculum, Tandem’s CEO explains.

For language learners, this is a great way to start slowly with minimal effort. Users interested in taking their language skills to the next level can book a lesson from a tutor, another service of the app which will be further explored in the coming months. “We are very happy with the growth we’ve been seeing so far, but still feel we are scratching the surface, given so many people are learning a new language today,” Aschentrup says.

It is projected that 1.9 billion people will be learning English by 2020, according to the British Council. “Our app is the logical next step after doing something like Babbel, Memrise or Duolingo,” he says.

Photos via Tandem and Bibi via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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