HelloTalk Review: Valuable Tool for Language Learners But Matchmaking Could be Improved
With all the time you spend texting and chatting online, why not use that time for language learning?
That’s the idea behind HelloTalk.
This web and mobile app aims to combine the addictiveness of social media apps with the effectiveness of finding a language exchange partner.
The app tries to do this with interactive posts, a built-in interface for corrections and tips for learning a language from real native speakers.
- The Main Features of HelloTalk
- Is HelloTalk a Safe App?
- HelloTalk’s Highlights
- HelloTalk’s Shortcomings
- Is HelloTalk Worth It?
- Alternatives to HelloTalk
The Main Features of HelloTalk
Connecting with other language learners
HelloTalk’s primary goal is to connect language learners 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.
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 shown 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.
HelloTalk supports language learning by connecting you with native speakers to practice your target language with.
Text chat offers a low pressure way to get this practice while still connecting to other users in real time, either one-on-one or in groups. I personally found in-app text conversations were perfect for infrequent, on-the-go messaging.
The chat interface offers some handy features to help like translation tools and ways for users to correct each other’s mistakes.
Voice and video chat
While text chat is convenient and quick, 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.
Social media features
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.
Users can add edit their profile at any time as their needs and goals evolve. 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.
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.
You curate a feed as you use the app, as well as meet and befriend people.
To that end, 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 find new language exchange partners in a more interesting way than perusing a list of names.
User friendly interface
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 FluentU’s authentic videos as interactive subtitles.
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.
Mistakes are marked 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.
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 $12.99 a month, $79.99 for a year or $149.99 for a lifetime membership (prices as of late 2022).
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.
These users were 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.
It is worthy to note 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.
While HelloTalk does not necessarily vet its users, the app empowers its members to keep themselves safe during language exchanges by arming them with “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.
Combines language learning with 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 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.
User-led content and interactions can mean errors
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.
Being a user-centric app, corrections, pronunciations and other language tips can be incorrect or insufficient.
While language partners may be good for practicing, they are not necessarily teachers.
You would be oblivious to this false information, of course, and that could lead to communication issues down the road.
Conversations tend to stall past the small talk stage
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.
I recommend using the service in tandem with other language learning 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.
Alternatives to HelloTalk
If HelloTalk isn’t quite what you want (but you’re looking to something similar), then we can help you find an alternative that will meet your needs.
HiNative is a language exchange app which, like HelloTalk, gives users specific tools to check and correct language errors. But HiNative is more focused on asking specific questions and getting answers.
For example, you can ask native speakers whether your written sentence makes sense (or feels natural) in their language. You can even have others check your pronunciation.
You can also help out the community by answering other people’s questions about your native language.
Answering questions can lead to likes and quality points, which build your reputation on the app. This makes your questions more likely to get seen.
To learn more about HiNative, check out our full review.
Tandem has a lot in common with HelloTalk. They both allow you chat with text, voice or video, and they both have social media-like features so you can connect to users through their profile and language proficiencies.
Like HelloTalk, Tandem lets users search profiles by gender and age. But Tandem does a background check on new accounts to try and keep the platform a bit safer.
Tandem also lets users review their experience with other users, which can make it easier to find more reliable practice partners while also helping you avoid safety issues.
For more info, read our full review of Tandem.
italki is a flexible and well-rounded language tutoring and exchange app, letting you get 1-on-1 lessons from a teacher on your own terms while also connecting to a huge active community of language learners for practice.
italki offers over 150 languages, all taught by native speaker teachers offering their services for a variety of scheduling and pricing needs. italki also rounds out your learning with built-in reading and writing activities.
To learn more check out our full review of italki.
General social media
There are tons of ways to get a language exchange partner, especially if you think outside the box a bit.
In addition to traditional language exchange programs and chat apps, you can find people to chat with through Twitter or Meetup. You can even try Reddit or Discord, so you can narrow down your search to specific communities.
Whatever platforms you use every day for social media or chat, you could very well find a language exchange partner through there if you start looking.
Though these platforms might not be specifically set up for that purpose, they have the huge advantage of being convenient and free.
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.