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I’ve been out of my Italian social circles for awhile with not playing rugby and not being in an office. Sure, my every day the minute I step outside my door is in Italian, but I still am not at the point I want to be in my fluency. As I’ve said, the normal ways that many people learn a new language don’t work that well for me. Going over lines of grammar and endless repetition doesn’t translate to language in my head. I do much better learning with experiences.

In the age of apps, though, things have changed, and some, like DuoLingo, are actually great to practice in those moments where otherwise I’d be flipping through Facebook. I hadn’t thought that there were any advancements in the tech for language learning, but when I was downloading a fitness app (yup, I’m using an app for that too now) another popped up that caught my eye – so I downloaded it because I was curious.

The app is called Tandem – and instead of Duolingo, which is more of a lesson-learning program, Tandem connects you with other people looking to find a language exchange partner. I signed up and had to answer a few questions on what languages I wanted to learn/practice (Italian and Arabic),  etc. I had to put up a profile picture of myself (had to be my face) and had the option of including more information and photos if I wanted (no thanks I have no idea what this is yet) and also designating where I was located to find language partners closer to me – I’m assuming for in-person conversation. This was precisely what I was avoiding – I have enough trouble trying to see my friends – so I opted not to share where I’m at.

The profile was sent off to be approved and I got a message saying it may be a few days. I closed the app and forgot about it until a few hours later when I had a notification saying I was approved. I still had no idea what I was really approved for, but I logged back in and found myself in a really user-friendly but great looking app with a list of people that were looking to learn English and could speak Italian and/or Arabic. Some had a ton of photos, others just one. In their little descriptions, some would write about what topics they’d like to discuss or why they’re learning the language or want to learn.

Before I could even start looking through the profiles, I started getting notifications of messages from people trying to talk to me. Before I could open the first, there was the second, third. People from all over. Hello! Hi! How are you! I can help you learn Arabic! If you help me with my English, I’ll teach you Italian! I was overwhelmed, but this was awesome.

In the chats, you can text, voice message, and I believe also video message for more lesson-type sessions (you can also sign up for paid lessons by a language tutor through the app!). I realized after the 25th message that I had my status in the app turned to “online” even when I exited out of it – so be careful with that if you use it. Today I spoke to a woman in Egypt and another in Morocco. I talked about English literature with an Italian college professor and complained about the heat of Italian summers with a guy from Sardegna.

So far, no sketchiness at all for those who I know are wondering. Though I didn’t snag a photo of it (another blogger did) there’s even a screen when signing up that state the rules of the app are strict. It’s a place for language learning, not dating. I like it. So now instead of those precious minutes on the bus ride being taken up by Twitter or Instagram, I can learn Arabic from someone in Lebanon.

I’d say it’s a great one to download, even if you aren’t sure you’ll use it. Learning any tiny bit of language before traveling anywhere (or even going nowhere) is an incredible use of anyone’s time. It changes your brain. For the better for the most part – except the times the words don’t come out in the right language anymore. That’s just humorous most of the time, though. Nevermind it allows you to correct each other from native tongues, not a book of lessons, and you can learn culture and passions and how much spirit so many people have. What their dreams are. We have to talk to each other more. At least at first glance, this is a cool new way to do it.