You're Using Tinder Wrong

by Maria Yagoda

My generation is extremely lucky to have so many free and effective language learning tools at our disposal. Gone are the days of needing to purchase a $500 Rosetta Stone, travel to a foreign land, or take an expensive class in order to learn another language. Now, I can learn a new language in my bed, on a bus, on a train, in a plane, while eating Doritos, etc.

Slate’s Seth Stevenson wrote a glowing review of the language-learning app Duolingo, which I’m currently using to teach myself Spanish as I attempt to assimilate into my new neighborhood of Spanish Harlem in NYC. Duolingo is an ideal tool for learning elementary vocabulary and grammar of a language. Plus, it's Candy-Crush-level fun.

But what happens after you’ve mastered the basics? You’ve learned to say “Where is the nearest bathroom?” and “My cat eats fish for breakfast,” so naturally, you’re eager to put your new skills to the test, with real people. Conversation is a crucial element of learning a language — and one that Duolingo is not able to recreate.

I took to Tinder for many reasons, including curiosity, boredom, and my debilitating need for external validation. But I also joined the app to improve my skills in speaking French and Italian, two languages in which I’ve formerly been fluent.

I can’t name any other free tool that is better at connecting Americans with young, highly social foreigners who are eager to practice their English...while making American friends and/or lovers at the same time. While I wasn’t particularly interested in a lover, I swiped and swiped left until I came across a French, Italian, or Australian guy (I wanted to practice my Australian accent). Then I swiped right with gusto.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken, written, and read more French and Italian than I have since actually spending time in France and Italy. I’ve been able to pick up on colloquialisms that I’d never have learned — like the French faire la tête, to be sulky, or the Italian farsi una canna, to have a joint. And not only has my French and Italian vocabulary become more sophisticated, I’ve made a few good friends. I’ve shown them around New York, introducing them to the best hot dog spots and dive bars, all the while helping them to perfect their English when they say things like, “I’m going to make shopping,” or “I’m hurry to see you.”

While it’s easy to connect with Spanish-speaking people in New York, it’s difficult to find people with whom you can practice your Portuguese, French, Italian, and German (the most common nationalities I’ve found on Tinder). When young people come to this country, whether for an extended vacation, work, or study, they often join Tinder to make American acquaintances — which is why it’s the perfect place to troll for language buddies.

If you’d like to join Tinder for a language buddy, you may want to put something to that effect in your “About Me” section. Also, you should emotionally prepare yourself for super explicit texts, dick pics, and other entirely not enriching things from users who are most certainly interested in things other than an education in English. Then, prepare yourself to be enriched by sweet, sweet conversation.