So, you want to learn a new language…
…and you want it bad.
Let me tell you something that will utterly blow your mind:
You are not alone.
That’s right! Believe it or not, there are others out there who want to learn a language just as badly as you… and some of them want to learn your native tongue.
Out of these eager learners, there’s somebody who, in turn, is also a native speaker of the language you have your eye on. They might even be at around the same language level as you, whatever that may be.
That’s what we call a win-win situation.
And it’s the basic premise of language exchange apps.
How Does “Language Exchange” Work?
Are you an English speaker who wants to learn Korean (or Japanese, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, etc.)? Then you’re in luck. There are thousands of native-speaking Koreans who really want to learn English! A Korean English-learner can teach you his Korean, and in return, you can make him wade through the English thicket. You can trade each other’s native tongues. This is called “language exchange.”
A “language exchange” is different from getting an online language tutor. In a tutoring relationship, it’s clear who’s the teacher and who’s the student. One teaches the other, and learning is pretty much one way. In a language exchange, two people teach and learn, in turn.
Language exchange websites like Conversation Exchange and My Language Exchange have been put up for the very purpose of pairing learners with the native speakers of their target language. You type in the language/s you know, and then the language you want to learn, hit “Enter,” and your search results will yield loads of people you can pair with. You then reach out to your potential buddy via text chat or email and agree on a specific time to meet up on Skype.
You and your buddy can tailor your sessions however you want. It can be a freewheeling discussion where you talk about whatever comes to mind, or you can see if the two of you can get the hang of a more structured interaction. (For example, the first 15 minutes could be you teaching, and then you could switch roles.) You can talk about anything, and before long, you might have a true friend truly invested in your learning.
No money is exchanged, just language lessons.
What Are Language Exchange Apps?
With language exchange apps for smartphones, the whole process becomes mobile, kicking the experience up a notch. Now, you don’t need to stay in your room and hog the laptop camera. You can go outdoors and learn on the go. You can give your buddy a more immersive experience, for example, by pointing your phone to street and store signs and using them to help him understand something. You could even show him how life is in your neighborhood.
Language exchange is an important element of your language learning experience, and language exchange apps just make the whole process more convenient. There’s nothing like talking to a native speaker right on your phone and taking notes from someone who’s a linguistic insider. Yes, using music, games and videos can have pretty profound effects on your learning curve, too, but don’t you dare miss out on the awesome benefits of language exchange apps.
They have advantages that other learning resources simply don’t have. For example, you can get instant feedback. Your partner can listen and check if you’re pronouncing words right. If you have questions on the nuances of the language, you can simply ask the person on the other end of the video chat and get an immediate answer, as opposed to waiting for somebody to type in an answer to your query on a language forum.
Language exchange apps get you to both practice and sample the language, in a setting where it’s A-okay to bungle the words or use the wrong verb form. Nobody’s grading you, and the person on the other end of the line knows exactly what you’re going through because they’re basically in the same boat.
That said, let’s now look at some of the best language exchange apps that you can add to your learning arsenal. They’re all free and available for both Android and iOS.
The Fluency Connection: The 4 Best Language Exchange Apps
Like I said before, no need to fire up Skype just to interact with your partner/s. HelloTalk is a standalone app that can do so much more than just connect you with someone who speaks your target language.
It’s loaded with features that save users from the awkwardness of not being able to express themselves enough to be understood. Consider the basic conundrum of language exchange: She wants to learn English, you want to learn Chinese. How do you actually interact with her or explain things when the very language you’ll be using is her target language? She understands Chinese alright, but if you only speak Chinese, she’s not going to learn English.
Enter HelloTalk. The app has Translation, Transliteration, Voice-to-Text and Text-to-Voice features.
Your Chinese friend can simply speak in her native tongue. As you receive the voice message, you can use the Voice-to-Text feature to see a written form of what was said. Cool, huh? Still don’t understand the message? Use the Translation feature and see the message interpreted in your own language.
HelloTalk interactions are a bit slower, which is really a good thing since nobody’s put on the spot and expected to be suddenly fluent in the target language. You’re not straining so much. The back-and-forth of messages takes a little more time because both parties are processing the communication. And this is when learning truly takes place.
When language is learned in the context of a friendly conversation, and augmented with HelloTalk’s awesome features, learners get more insight from the whole interaction.
Bilingua is a language exchange app that goes beyond partnering you with a complementary native speaker. It wants to ensure a fun, easy and educational interaction for its users. And this is reflected in the features that the app carries.
It has a “smart chat” feature, which gives you suggestions on what to talk about, so you never run out of topics during the exchange. It even recommends specific phrases you could use.
Best of all, to ensure that you find somebody who shares your hobbies, interests and personality, when you first start using the app, you’re taken through a series of personal questions. Your answers help its algorithm pair you up with somebody similar, ensuring a more productive language exchange experience.
And all this happens under the watchful eye of “Shiro,” Bilingua’s adorable mascot.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a native speaker answer all those nagging questions that inevitably come up when you’re trying to learn a new language? And wouldn’t it even be better if you didn’t have just have one but a whole truckload of native speakers waiting to help you, and none of them got testy even after your 48th question?
HiNative is a Q&A platform that specializes in getting your questions answered by the most competent speakers of your target language. Its interface is really easy to navigate, and the button you’re going to be using the most is the “Ask” button.
HiNative really makes it easy for you to get your question out by providing categories/templates like, “How do you say this?” and “Does this sound natural?” (This one gives you an audio-record function where you let native speakers hear you pronounce a specific word or phrase and give you feedback on whether you sound natural or not.)
There’s also a category called “Ask Something Else,” which is a catch-all for those questions that don’t belong in the others. This is usually where cultural queries and opinion questions find room.
And because this is a language exchange, you can and should help out others by taking the time to answer some of their questions. It won’t take much effort, and it will really help out other members of the language learning community.
With Tandem, you can text, talk or video chat with someone on the other side of the world.
The app has prominent social-networking functions, and you can “Follow” people as well as check out those who follow you. You can also write reviews about users you interacted with and can send “good vibes” their way. (This is like you telling other users, “She’s cool.”) You can also filter the people who can see your profile and choose them by characteristics like gender or age.
You’re not limited to just one picture but can upload as many as six. Punch up your profile and encourage interaction by writing about the topics you want to hear others talk about. For example, you might say, “I think hot dogs are God’s gift to humanity. What do you think?”
Remember, there’s Tinder and then there’s Tandem. One is for dating, and the other is for language learning. Before you’re accepted into the Tandem community, you’re reminded that the app should only be used for language learning, not flirting. (So if somebody rubs you the wrong way, there’s a “Block” function conveniently provided by the app’s developers.)
In addition to all those cool features, the app has a “Tutor” tab, where you can find vetted tutors of the language you want. Or, if you want to earn on the side, you can fill out a profile to become a language tutor.
These are four of the very best language exchange apps out there.
They’re so advanced that they have features that may seem a little bit Star Trek-y.
But they’ll be worth nothing unless you hit that “Send,” “Call” or “Ask” button.
Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move.
Make it yourself and gain a new friend in the process.
And One More Thing…
If you want to be up-to-date on all the latest language learning tech, you’ve got to check out FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into language learning experiences, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.