Each and every member of the Tandem community has one thing in common: a willingness to get out their comfort zone. We know that speaking a new language takes more than a little courage, so this blog post looks at how to set up your profile and find partners that you’ll connect with in the long-term, so you can experience the life-changing effect of Tandem for yourself…
Last year we chatted with Sara about her Tandem experience. When she first joined around 18 months ago, Sara had never left the United States - but she got along with her Tandem partners so well that she’s travelled the world to meet them. Nearly a year on we’re checking-in to get her top tips on how to enjoy a successful language exchange so you can reap the benefits, too.
Sara joined Tandem after taking Spanish classes back in the States. She felt she needed to practice in a real-life setting and felt a language exchange would be the next logical step. “The first day I joined I got tons of messages,” she says laughing. “I was like okay, wow. Here we go!”
Sara got off to a flying start because she set up a fantastic profile right off the bat. She had a happy and friendly profile picture and wrote a simple, succinct description of her personal interests and learning aims. Sara is an approachable person and made that clear on her profile, too. Everybody on Tandem has different goals, intentions and aims for their language-learning, so Sara was clear that she was super committed and willing to speak once a day or more.
With all this information laid out clearly on her profile, Sara was able to start building relationships with Spanish-speakers who shared her interests from the very first day she joined.
Anyone can filter the people they connect with through the Tandem app. For example, Sara wanted to speak only with native Spanish speakers (rather than those fluent in Spanish as a second language), and was interested in speaking South American Spanish rather than European Spanish.
With Tandem Pro it’s possible to filter by city, so if you’re keen to visit Bogota for example, you can tee up some Tandem partners to meet when you get there.
Sara selected her exchanges by looking at profiles and seeing who shared her interests. That way she knew they’d have tons in common and would have lots of topic material to talk about. Sara would also check out the ‘Reference’ sections of their profiles to see what others had to say about them. If the references were positive, then Sara would know they’d get along.
“I had all these Spanish words and vocabulary but didn’t actually know how to have a normal conversation,” Sara says. "I could say ridiculous things. Like ‘Can I have the blue dress please?’ But not ‘How are you? How was your day?’”
Sara began her exchanges via instant messaging on the app, followed by voice messages and, after a few days, an audio call. “At the beginning I was scared out of my mind,” she says. “I was so nervous about everything. I’m in the generation between people who don’t trust technology and people who use it for everything, so I was partially nervous because of the language and partially crossing that generational line where I speak to new people.”
“It took time to feel confident speaking, so I used the translate feature a lot,” Sara says. “But over time it became less and less difficult - and I got more comfortable saying I don’t understand.”
Taking that step from messaging to video calls is definitely the scariest bit - but Sara says that’s the moment where you really start to develop and learn, so she recommends you feel that fear and do it anyway. Those first few conversations are always the hardest, promise!
Sara says that because the Tandem community is so big, who you end up speaking to depends on chance. “I’ve found a lot of really cool people,” she says. “And it just so happened that most of the people I connected with on Tandem were from Colombia.” Sara was speaking to some of her Tandem partners once or twice a day. Once you’ve built that relationship, it’s easy to stay motivated and to continue chatting - just like you’d want to chat to a friend.
Soon Sara started thinking about leaving the US for the first time and asked some of her new Tandem friends about travel. “Every one of them said ‘You should come to Colombia! It would be great!’” Sara says.
“At first it was kind of a joke, but then at one point I just thought… I could actually do this. I could go there and meet these people.” It was the beginning of January 2019, and one of Sara’s friends said that she should come for Carnival. And, with just a few weeks to prepare, Sara booked her first international flight. “It was so exciting planning the trip with my Tandem friends because they all wanted me to come and see them and see their city,” Sara says.
“When I landed I was so exhausted and overwhelmed because it was the first time I’d left the country and I had no idea what to do - I didn’t know how to travel.” But, as she came through arrivals at Bogota airport, one of her Tandem partners was there waiting for her… at 2am. “He came to get me and took me in a taxi to my hostel and made sure I could talk to the people there,” Sara says. “I will forever be grateful to him.”
Sara’s trip to Colombia changed her life. Her Spanish improved exponentially and she made life-long friends that she felt so connected to, she came back a year later. And it’s fitting that she chats today from a bright room in Colombia, the home of one of her Tandem friends.
Speaking with Sara, it’s clear that it isn’t just the summer sun that’s lighting her up. It’s the entire Tandem experience. “Tandem showed up in my life at just the right time,” she says. “I know this sounds over the top, but finding Tandem and connecting to these people has totally and completely changed my life. I don’t think I realized how insular my world was, and this has just opened the door for me to experience life outside my American bubble. I’ve been exposed to different cultures and ideas, different ways of living… Even different ways of being.”
Ready for the next step? Download the Tandem app today and discover what journey it’ll take you on.