App bridges language barriers through video chat

Anusha Vadlamani | Staff Writer

Pen pals are being reinvented by Tandem.

An application designed to create a language learning community, Tandem allows people from all over the world to connect on a single platform. When a new user first joins, they sign up under their own native language, as well as what languages they would like to learn.

Users are then paired together based on age, common interests and the language they want to learn. Using a three-bar scale, Tandem measures how advanced a user really is in the language they are learning; one bar means that they are just beginning to learn a language and three bars means they are fluent. Junior Nick Flood feels that Tandem has helped him improve from his starting level of one-bar.

“I started at the end of August: I was definitely a one on the scale because I wasn’t really confident in my skills in French, especially with speaking,” Flood said. “Now, I’m like a two or a three. I think I definitely had the skills to be a two or a three on the scale before, but I guess I wasn’t confident enough and I wasn’t actively speaking it. I would definitely say I’m closer to a two or a three now. I wouldn’t say I’m totally fluent, but it’s helped a lot.”

Tandem differs from other well-known apps such as Duolingo and Babbel because it allows users to directly message each other. Flood said this feature has been especially helpful because it allows him to learn about slang and nuances not taught in school.

“Honestly, it’s probably helped more than anything I’ve done in school,” Flood said. “When you’re texting a person who actually speaks the language and they speak the way they really talk, you’re learning more than the formal language; you’re learning how they actually speak.”

While Flood has felt that his French skills have improved immensely, his favorite part of the app is the people that he has connected with.

“I’d never really thought about becoming friends with international students, just because there’s a language barrier and they’re so far away,” Flood said. “But I’ve definitely made a lot more friends on the app, and it’s cool that I still talk to them today. This guy I met — Thomas — is really nice, and I think he was one of the first people I messaged on the app. Honestly, I think I’ve learned the most from Thomas, and he’s just really nice. I would definitely keep talking to him.”

Junior Nick Flood video chats with his friend, Thomas Buton, who currently lives in France.

For Flood’s friend, senior Thomas Buton, learning English on Tandem was an essential step in being able to communicate with people from all over the world.

“Before I used Tandem, I didn’t talk a lot in English so I made a lot of dumb mistakes and [my English] was missing a lot of vocabulary,” said Buton. “Now, I feel as though my level of speaking has increased greatly. I wanted to improve my English because I love traveling around the world and I want to talk with people from a lot of countries and discover new cultures.”

Through using Tandem, Junior Cara Baah-Binney has been able to focus on the similarities between American and French cultures that she otherwise said she wouldn’t have discovered.

“In France when they are trying to say ‘LOL’ it’s ‘MDR’ because ‘mort de rire’ means ‘die of laughter,’ Baah-Binney said. “They have a lot of slang that is similar to English. There’s a lot of phrases where the literal English translation is something completely different in French, but they still man- age to mean the same thing.”

One of the easiest ways for Baah-Binney to connect with people is offering to teach about English slang, in exchange for learning about the current trends of another culture.

“I met this guy on the app and he’s learning a lot of English slang but it’s all from the ’90s,” Baah-Binney said. “I’m trying to teach him what we learn today and what’s new. He’s teaching me slang because he considers himself ‘hip’ when it comes to French terms.”

While learning a language directly from a native speaker is a step up from the classroom, Buton believes that the best way to truly learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. His dedication to teaching French has even extended to inviting Flood to spend the summer with him in France.

“I suggested that (Nick and I) stay together because I want (him) to experience how I live,” Buton said. “I want (him) to see what the South of France and Marseille (are) like because France is not just Paris. Our lives are so different so it can just be so good to meet and learn.”

Photo by Anusha Vadlamani.