Language Exchange App: HelloTalk
HelloTalk’s current logo. Source: hellotalk.com
Hello ATK readers! I’m back with another mobile app review. This time, I’ll share my experiences and tips using the language exchange app, called HelloTalk. I don’t remember where I first learned about it, possibly from teachers of Talk To Me In Korean or from Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi. Regardless, I’m so glad that I decided to download this app and use it regularly. I’ve spent time learning words and grammar through Memrise and TTMIK, but there’s really no chance for me to practice what I learn if I don’t have any Korean friend to talk to (I have one amazing friend from Toronto, but she left about a year ago to continue her studies in Korea!). HelloTalk provided me with a venue for practical learning and pseudo-immersion in the Korean language.
What is HelloTalk?
HelloTalk is a free mobile application designed to facilitate language exchange between the users. Basically, it connects language learners with native speakers. According to their website, HelloTalk hosts the world’s largest language learning community. They also made it possible to do real-time language exchange through the chat/messaging app format.
Just founded in 2011, HelloTalk now boasts an amazing user base of over 1 million language learners. According to their 2015 press release, users are “from over 200 countries…, with 59% learning English, 9% learning Korean, 8% learning Japanese, 5% learning Spanish, 4% learning Chinese, and 15% learning a variety of other languages including French, Italian, Finnish, Russian, Arabic, German, and more. HelloTalk supports over 100 languages…” I find it amazing that Korean is the second top language of interest!
How It Works
When you register and create a profile, you’ll be asked to select your native language and a language you wish to learn. After that, you’ll be connected to users whose native language is the language you are learning. There is an option in the Settings to have “Exact Language Match”, meaning that the users you’ll see are only those who are learning your language.
I’m subscribed to a paid premium/VIP account, where I’m allowed to select up to 3 languages to learn. It sounds awesome, but I honestly don’t have the mental capacity right now to cram 3 foreign languages in my head. Haha! But if you’re the person who needs to learn more languages, I find that the paid premium is worth the money (right now, VIP subscription is $2.42/month or $28.99/year… that’s just equivalent to a cup of coffee per month!). Aside from the multiple language setup, there are additional features for VIPs, i.e. unlimited translations, no ads, etc. I always like to think that I’m supporting creative, dedicated, and smart folks by subscribing!
1 – Meet New Friends
Similar to other social media and messaging apps, HelloTalk has a Search function to connect you to other users. It is defaulted to find your best match, but it also lets you search for people based on location or online status. To start, simply pick someone from the search results, and say hello to that person. When I first started using this app, I was surprised by the number of users, the age range of learners, and reasons people have for using the app. I’ve already met college students, moms and dads, and professionals from different backgrounds. They could be travelling for work, attending school or an exchange program, vacationing, or just brushing up on their English.
Everyone’s main purpose in this community is to learn. And people are not only learning languages, but also the culture that goes with it. Because of this, I find that many people are really polite and considerate. Very few are arrogant or tactless. (I’ve never had that experience but I’ve read some stories about bad encounters.) Some people also use this app to find new friends if they are visiting a different country or city. Like ATK writer Alice who needed a language exchange partner in Busan, she used the app to find a friend who can meet up with her in person and go through studying materials together. It is worth noting that there are mechanisms in the app that discourages users from using it as a dating app. People can be reported and blocked for misuse.
2 – Talk
Once you have friends, you’ll find that the chat features on HelloTalk are really amazing! You can simply type a message or record an audio clip and send it, or have a free call. But aside from the usual Copy and Paste functions available in messaging apps, HelloTalk also has Grammar Correction, Translation, Text-to-Voice, and Transliteration. (Transliteration is the conversion of words into the characters of another alphabet/writing system. For an English-speaking Korean learner, transliteration is similar to Romanization). All these tools are handy when conversing, with an aim to teach and learn. I recently found out that my VIP account allows me to have video calls too! Haha. I’ve not used this feature yet because some people are shy. LOL.
HelloTalk’s Talk screens. Screencaps from Noreen’s phone.
Just remember that when using the app, you have 2 roles – teacher and student. There’s really no standard way of doing a language exchange, so it’s up to you and your language partner to decide when to use his/her language or your language. When I’m chatting, I find that I switch from English to Korean casually in the conversation. Sometimes, I ask my friends if we can keep talking in Korean and then talk later in English, or vice versa. You can decide what approach is best for you and your friends.
You can talk about different topics, but HelloTalk will give you suggestions based on the interests found in your Profile page, i.e. hobbies, favorite things, and traveled places. I think the easiest topic to talk about is music – favorite songs, singers, bands. 🙂
3 – Moments
The latest update in HelloTalk is called the “Moments” page. I think it is similar to a Facebook wall, or Instagram’s Search/Explore and Activity screens. It shows you posts/status of people who may not be your language partners yet but are in your community/network. There are 4 views in the Moments screen: Default, Learn, Following, and Classmates. These views will show Moments from just about everybody in your network, or from native speakers of the language you are learning, or from people who you already chose to follow, or from your “Classmates” or people who are learning the same language as you! On the top right corner of the page, there is an icon of a quill – this is for when you want to type your own Moment. Aside from texts, you can also add pictures, voice clips, and doodles (handwritten messages/drawings).
Your new Moments post will be visible in the Moments page, and all your Moments posts are collected and displayed on your Profile page as well. When you post a Moment, other people can make corrections/comments on it, or “like” it by clicking the heart icon. Here are some of my posts:
I think this new feature made me use the app even more. Because I live in Canada and my language partners are in Korea, time difference can be an issue for real-time chats. Sometimes when I have time to study at night, it’ll be early morning in Korea so my language partners are at work. When it’s their time to study, I may be on my commute to work or I’m already at work and can’t keep a conversation.
With Moments, I can post anything during my spare time, and any user who’s also online can view it. If you have followers, they will see your post next time they go to the Moments page. Recently, I think I am more used to reading the Moments page and commenting there, than actually talking one-on-one with friends.
You might think that it will be overwhelming to be connected to so many people. I think that too, so I find it really helpful that HelloTalk has an Age filter and Gender filter. I realized that keeping the age range close to my age makes it easier to find people who have common interests as me. The conversations are much smoother because there is not much of a culture and age gap. Other people may want to just talk to people of the same gender, so the filter is there too.
Sometimes I think it’s odd that I have a bunch of conversations with people from the other side of the globe on my phone. At the same time, I think it’s wonderful because technology has allowed me (us) to learn in this process.
I recommend this app to everyone, simply because it’s easy to use and I think that it is very effective. From day 1, I’ve learned so much from interacting with native Korean speakers. I’ve learned natural way of speaking or conversing, which I would not learn easily through textbooks. And because it’s a mobile app, I can also use it anytime! Plus, I have so many invites from friends to come to visit Korea, (haha) it’s fantastic! 🙂
Do you use HelloTalk? Tell us about your experience!
If you’re interested in trying this app, simply go to the App Store or Google Play Store, and download for free! 🙂 Have fun studying!