You’re already spending countless hours scrolling, swiping and tapping through social media.
Wouldn’t it be great if those could double as language learning hours?
Well, now that you mention it, that is the exact idea behind HelloTalk.
This web and smartphone application combines the addictiveness of social media apps with the effectiveness of finding a language exchange partner.
Complete with a steady stream of interactive posts, new language learning friends, a built-in interface for corrections and tips for learning a language from real native speakers, HelloTalk may be on to something.
But is it really possible to transform mindless scrolling into social media language learning?
I downloaded the app myself, and endeavored to find out!
The Main Features of HelloTalk
Language Learners from Everywhere
Social media aside, HelloTalk’s primary goal is to hook language learners up with other language learners and native speakers. In fact, like some of the other best language exchange apps, you can connect with language learners from all around the world.
The process to do this is simple. All you have to do is set your native language and the language you want to learn. This allows the app to help you find learners who speak your target language and want to practice your native language for an exchange.
For me, this meant setting my native language as English and my target language as French. Within moments, I was inundated with language learners near and far, most of whom spoke French natively and wanted to practice English.
Exchanges can happen in over 150 available languages including English, French, Japanese, Chinese, Hindi and Russian. You can even find speakers of lesser-studied languages such as Afrikaans, Tagalog and Navajo. Each language listed in a language learner’s profile also comes with a handy color-coded bar to let you know how well someone speaks it.
This next part is where the social media really kicks in, though: While searching for suitable exchange partners, you can check out their profiles. This helps you learn about their interests, hobbies and what their language learning goals are. Like any good social media website, users can add to and take away from their profile at any time as their needs and goals evolve.
Language Practice via Talk, Text and Video
Once you have found a suitable language learning partner, the real learning—and thus, the real HelloTalk experience—begins.
HelloTalk offers many opportunities for you to practice your target language with your partner. You can practice with your exchange partner via an in-app text conversation, audio conversation or even a video conversation.
I found myself alternating between all three options. In-app text conversations were perfect for infrequent, on-the-go messaging, but I found that an audio conversation was really where my learning soared. It was fantastic to practice speaking the language spontaneously, but still having the option to erase my audio recording and try again if I made a mistake.
I did try a video conversation, and it was moderately fruitful. There were a couple of awkward pauses, so I recommend having a text or audio conversation first.
It is also worth noting that not all users are comfortable having a video conversation, so do not take it personally if a language exchange partner wants to stick to text and audio.
HelloTalk also allows you to become “friends” with someone in the app. This is awesome for keeping the language exchange going, especially as you meet new people from the app’s ever-growing pool of partners.
Useful Language Learning Support Tools
What makes HelloTalk unique is not that it offers language exchanges; in fact, it is all in the extras.
The in-app interface for language practice is quite extensive and useful for learners. Not only is it sleek, smooth and relatively bug-free, but the chat interface has features to enhance the language exchanges.
For starters, the chat interface has a built-in translation tool. It was nice to be able to click on any word in my text conversations with exchange partners to get an instant translation from French into English. This kept the communication smooth and without hiccups.
Clickable words are a feature I’m very familiar with, as they’re ever-present in the FluentU learning program. In fact, FluentU is an excellent way to build on what you learn from your sessions at HelloTalk.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
HelloTalk’s chat interface also allows your language partner to correct your messages in your target language. I made mistakes on purpose—and even a couple naturally—and my language partner was able to indicate and edit my message rather seamlessly. This happens with a handy red strike-through and green writing underneath to show the edit.
The chat interface also has a transliteration tool for non-Latin alphabets used by languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean. I do not have much experience with these capabilities myself, but HelloTalk reviews indicate these work well.
In addition to the typing input in text conversations, there are text-to-speech and speech-to-text features for easier communication as well as listening and speaking practice.
I also found it cool that you can favorite posts and in-conversation sentences and words. These can be easily pulled up for later reference and review.
Social Media-esque Experience
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, HelloTalk functions not only as a language exchange program but also as a social media app.
That is because you curate a feed as you use the app, as well as meet and befriend people. In fact, all users can create posts (called “Moments” in HelloTalk) such as pictures, videos or text posts. These “Moments” are shown not only to friends that you have met on HelloTalk, but also to others in the language learning community who use the app.
These “Moments” act much like other messages from conversations. Other HelloTalk users can comment on your posts and even make corrections to the target language usage. In turn, you can comment and make corrections on other posts in HelloTalk.
“Moments” are a great way to practice your target language. You can post about virtually anything: a meal you have eaten, a place you have visited, even just a random thought. Better yet, these “Moments” can help you to make new language exchange partners in a way that does not involve perusing a list of names.
HelloTalk VIP: Paid Subscription Features
The good news is that HelloTalk is mostly free. The basic version of the app—which includes its most useful features—can be used by everyone. This means that you can download the app and make new language partners, partake in text, audio and video conversations, post “Moments” and make corrections without cost.
These features do come with limits. For example, non-paying members of the app can only use the translation tool 10 times a day and can only initiate 10 new chats a day.
To remove these limits, HelloTalk offers a subscription feature. This is called the VIP plan, and it costs $6.99 a month, $45.99 for a year or $175.00 for a lifetime membership (prices as of late 2021).
VIP users also get access to specialized tools to enhance their experience, like the ability to search for new partners by gender, look for language partners in their home city or region and remove in-app ads.
Is HelloTalk a Safe App?
When I first read about HelloTalk, I found some reports on HelloTalk’s Reddit page about some unsavory behavior on the app. Users reported that some people—mostly men—were treating HelloTalk as a dating or hookup app, sometimes sending inappropriate messages to women, commenting uncomfortable things on their “Moments” or trying to persuade them to hang out off-app via another social media service.
As a male, I did not experience any of this myself. It is worthy to note, however, that HelloTalk lets VIP users filter language partners by location, gender and age, so this could make it very easy for targeted misuse.
Officially, HelloTalk aims to keep a respectful community by asking users to steer away from conversations regarding politics, religion and other sensitive topics. This sounds hard to enforce, and HelloTalk does not necessarily vet its users, but the app empowers its members to keep themselves safe during language exchanges.
Namely, HelloTalk arms users with features such as “report” and “block” functions. The “report” feature allows users to bring inappropriate users to the company’s attention for banning, and the “block” feature allows any user to stop being contacted by another user.
In theory, this should be enough to squash any unwanted advances, but HelloTalk stills cautions users against giving out any personal information.
Can HelloTalk Teach You a Language?
Effectively combines elements of language learning and social media
If there is one thing that HelloTalk excels at, it is the harmonious combination of a language exchange app and a social media app.
As expected, HelloTalk is fantastic for connecting you with multiple language learners and native speakers from all over the world. With an ever-growing community, I had no shortage of language learning partners, and it was nice to find people who were just as eager as I was to learn a new language.
Gets you naturally interacting with your target language
Further, language learning via a social media lens wasn’t something I knew I wanted, but it is definitely a fruitful experience. I often found myself scrolling through the posts from other users in the app, unconsciously consuming content in my target language. These social media feeds, complete with other users’ “Moments,” allows for meaningful learning, more practice and even new partners.
These interactions are authentic examples of native language usage, and HelloTalk understands that this input is essential to learning a new language.
Built to support language interaction
Aside from the language exchange and community aspect of the app, there are also some great learning tools to enhance language learning partnerships. Built-in translation capacities, correction features, and text, audio and video calls make HelloTalk a paradise for successful language exchange relationships.
No distinct lessons
Since HelloTalk does language exchange very well, there are bound to be some drawbacks.
Namely, even though it offers fantastic opportunities and features for language learning partnerships, there are no actual structured language lessons. In other words, I noticed that there are no explicit vocabulary or grammar lessons where I could learn new concepts in my target language and practice my skills.
There may be some language partners who do not mind teaching you a thing or two, but HelloTalk is also by no means a tutoring app: All partnerships are based around practicing the language.
User-led content and interactions can mean errors
Further, being a user-centric app, corrections, pronunciations and other language tips could be incorrect or insufficient. Other language learners in the app are just that: language learners. In fact, when I asked a language partner to explain a word to me in French, I noticed that they struggled to give a precise meaning. While language partners may be good for practicing, they are not necessarily teachers.
Further, language partners could, in theory, give you incorrect information that you might then use. You would be oblivious to this false information, of course, and that could lead to communication issues down the road.
This is in contrast, for example, with other language learning apps like FluentU which ensures its content is accurate and uses language that native speakers would actually use.
Conversations tend to stall past the small talk stage
Lastly, and perhaps the biggest drawback I found: It can be hard to engage new language exchange partners and keep partnerships going. After the initial small talk (“Hello. How are you? Where are you from? What do you do?”), more than half of my conversations fizzled out. I often did try to ask more questions and engage language partners further, but the conversations were often one-sided.
This is not necessarily HelloTalk’s fault, but perhaps their match-making algorithms could be worked on, connecting people with more things in common than just a target language.
Is HelloTalk Worth It?
Considering HelloTalk’s highlights, drawbacks and safety considerations, should you use it?
As with most language exchange apps, it is what you make of it. This app provides a fruitful way to connect with native speakers of your target language and create meaningful learning experiences. I suggest keeping your head about you and taking the necessary precautions to stay safe, and you should have a great time.
To combat HelloTalk’s shortcomings, however—mostly its lack of actual language learning material—I recommend using the service in tandem with other methods. In conjunction with a course, textbook or other language learning app featuring authentic and engaging content such as FluentU, HelloTalk is an invaluable tool for learning and practicing your target language.
I always knew that those hours scrolling on social media were not wasted! With HelloTalk, you can scroll—and converse!—your way to high levels of language proficiency.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.