Tandem Review: Language Exchange Made Easy

Updated: June 24, 2022
Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm

Tandem matches global language learners so everyone can practise their language skills. You and your partner both work on the languages you're learning, and you may just come out of the experience with a new friend! So, should you start an account? Go premium, perhaps? Find out in this in-depth Tandem review.

Our Verdict

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Tandem feels like a well crafted language-based messaging app, which is precisely what it promises.  While you probably won't learn a language in the way you might from a service that focuses on teaching grammar and vocabulary, Tandem fills a critical need: unstructured practice with real conversations. With a sleek interface, useful translation features, great functionality on the free plan, and tons of learners on the app, you'll find fun conversations all over!

TL;DR Tandem Review

Scanning long reviews can get tedious, so here's a snapshot of the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Over ten million high-quality learners waiting to help each other out.
  • The free version provides the majority of the value.
  • Moderated profiles: high-quality conversations abound.
  • Stylish, intuitive interface.

Cons

  • Great for language practice, but it won't teach you a language.
  • The inbound messages can get overwhelming.
  • It almost feels like a dating app sometimes.

What is Tandem?

Tandem provides a messaging platform that pairs global learners to help each other through texts, audio messages, and video calls. Tandem essentially takes the language exchange model of learning and amps it up with a gorgeous interface and some key features that we'll discuss.

Founded by three Berlin-dwelling friends in 2015, the service has grown to boast over ten million users. With so many people available to chat, you're sure to find someone to talk to, no matter your time zone or location. 

So, what's it like? Let's dive into this Tandem review!

What can you do on Tandem?

An image of the tandem profile page

Create a Profile

When you first sign up for Tandem, you'll need to wait for your profile to get approved. That may sound like an obnoxious step, but it seems to pay off, with few, if any, bots or bad actors on the service. 

It's easy to import your information from Facebook or Google. Account setup from there consists of just selecting the languages you're native in, the ones you're learning, and filling out a brief bio about what you like talking about. 

Tandem allows you to select up to six images of yourself to display on your profile. Honestly, this gave the feel of a dating app to the service at times, although I never ran into anyone who seemed like they were overtly trying to use it for that purpose, and Tandem does state that this is not the intent of the site. 

Connect with People

With over 160 different languages represented on the site, chances are good you'll find somebody who speaks the language you'd like to practise! Especially if you're a native English speaker. 

Tandem tries to pair you with people around your age with similar interests, though you're more than welcome to branch out and try striking up a conversation with whomever you'd like. 

While many conversations stay fairly basic and peter out after an hour or two, you'll find a few people who have similar values and interests to you, and then the conversation takes flight. I did several audio calls and a video call with various Spanish speakers and found everyone incredibly pleasant and fun to talk with. 

The only potential downside? As an English speaker, many people will be excited to talk to you. So many that you might get 30+ messages from learners in your first few hours on the app! It can get overwhelming, but keep in mind you're not required to respond to everybody. 

I found an option that allowed me to change my status to ‘offline,' which stemmed the tide and allowed me to respond to those I felt excited to start talking to, so be sure to check this out if you decide to use the app.

Text, Call or Video Call!

Like most modern messing apps, Tandem lets you connect with people in multiple formats! 

While most of your conversations will happen through simple text messages, finding a partner who likes calls or, at the very least, voice messages is the gold standard. Tandem won't even give you the possibility of calling them until you've exchanged a certain number of text messages, so start there.

Hearing a native speaker speak the language in real-time and responding to what they say helps with the crucial speaking component that other language teaching apps often neglect or skip entirely. Tandem makes an excellent supplementary resource for any of these, like Busuu, Duolingo, or Babbel.

After a voice or video call, Tandem will ask you to say a few nice things about the other person, and they can do the same for you. This gets shown on your profile so that others know you're fun to talk with.

What Other Features Does Tandem Have?

Translation

Tandem's in-app translation feature is quite powerful and, from my experience over several months, does a pretty good job! Premium allows you unlimited translations, a nice touch.

Suppose you don't have its premium membership. In that case, you'll be limited to ten translations per day, which can get a little frustrating if you're in the middle of a fascinating conversation about the lockdown restrictions in Peru with a Mexican ex-pat. 

Hang Out In-Person

Tandem also allows premium members to look for people in their city (or a city they'll soon visit!) who might be interested in meeting up in person to do a language exchange. Pretty cool.

While you'd want to take some healthy precautions here, making a friend to practise language with can make a huge difference in your speed and trajectory when learning a language. Speaking a new language with an actual human engages all of the brain's language-building centres. It helps connect abstract words and grammar rules into the flowing fabric of a language. 

Language Certificates

Tandem also offers CEFR Level certificate tests you can take for a small fee. The fee is relatively modest, and the test takes around 45 minutes to complete. 

While certificates may say more about your test-taking abilities than your conversation skills, if you need to provide proof of a language to an employer, they can come in handy.

What Does Tandem Look Like?

Tandem focuses on its mobile app, which shows in the great design and thoughtful user experience they've created. I felt genuinely impressed by the tasteful colours, logical menus, and focus on getting people talking.

The company also offers a website that allows you to type your messages on a real keyboard, a nice touch for those long conversations. The site works in many of the same ways as the app but with fewer features, as expected from such a mobile-first brand. 

Who is Tandem Best For?

I would recommend Tandem for nearly everybody learning a language, especially for advanced beginners and intermediate speakers. You can find conversations at nearly any level, though as you become more comfortable with your language, things will probably flow faster.

Also, those who get a lot out of connecting with people will love this service. If you find yourself somewhat more anxious to connect, this may not be the language learning app for you.

What Languages Can You Learn on Tandem?

It may be shorter to list all of the languages you can't learn! With over 160 languages currently supported, Tandem boasts one of the larger language bases of any app we've seen. Here's a picture of just the A's and B's!

Of course, they don't teach that many languages; you'll just find speakers from that many languages available to chat with on the service.

Some of the more common languages you can find people fluent in are: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese, German, English and Arabic. With millions of users, you'll find someone to connect with no matter your language choice.

How Much does Tandem Cost?

Free Plan 

Tandem gives you most of the value of its service for free. That's great! 

You will see the occasional ad in the message feed on the free plan, but that's what pays to keep the proverbial lights on, and honestly, they're not too intrusive. 

You'll also find that the free plan limits the number of translations per day you can do with their in-app translator. This can get a bit tedious if you're having a long conversation and need lots of translating, but copying back and forth between Tandem and a free translator app works well. If that sounds like too much work, check out the premium plans.  

Premium

Tandem's premium plans give you several great perks if you're a power-user or if you like supporting their mission and don't want to see ads.

Tandem regularly experiments with their pricing and offers deals, so be on the lookout for good offers! I was able to get a 12-month subscription for $19.99, which seemed very fair for the bonus features.

The primary advantage of Premium lies in the unlimited in-app translations you can use. It makes checking your understanding a breeze and streamlines your writing too. Of course, don't get too attached to this feature! The goal is to understand the language you're learning, not rely on translators. 

Another Premium perk: the ability to put yourself at the top of the new learner's feed. This makes it far more likely for you to get a conversation going quickly. Premium also provides access to the “Hang Out” feature, which tries to pair you with someone nearby so you can have a Tandem conversation in real life. 

Lastly, paying Tandem's nominal subscription price helps keep Tandem free for most users, making it more likely that you'll find great partners from exciting places. 

What are the Pros and Cons of Tandem?

To reiterate:

Pros:

  • Millions of people to connect with.
  • Most of the value comes for free.
  • Moderated Profiles mean the success rate is high.
  • A beautiful, modern look and feel to the app.

Cons:

  • It doesn't teach languages; it just lets you practise.
  • English speakers may get overwhelmed with requests.
  • It sorta feels like a dating app sometimes.

Are There Any Tandem Alternatives?

Tandem vs HelloTalk

Tandem's main competitor, HelloTalk, works similarly. Both offer vast pools of learners to match with, and HelloTalk has been on the scene for a little longer. That said, HelloTalk's design harkens back to apps of five years ago, while Tandem has put a lot of time and effort into keeping their app as sleek and updated as possible. Since they're so similar, I give Tandem the edge for its superior design and usability.

A Round-Up of Our Tandem Review

On the whole, I'd give Tandem 5/5 Stars.

What they choose to do well, they do really well. The navigation and functionality feel like a thoroughly modern app, and everything works as it should. Connections lead to conversations, and these conversations push you to connect words and ideas in your new language in ways that will accelerate your learning. 

That's what learning a language is all about!

Tandem fills a crucial gap in the language learning world, allowing learners to bridge their study of the language into natural conversations. While it won't teach you the grammar (and we've reviewed plenty of services that will!), Tandem should hold a place in your toolbelt for achieving actual fluency.

Kris Broholm

Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.

Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.