I used to be really conscious about asking questions in my Spanish and Chinese classes.
I was a shy kid, always afraid of asking the wrong questions or looking dumb.
Now that I’m an adult, I know there’s no such thing as a stupid question, especially when you’re learning a new language. I’m now comfortable enough to ask native speakers directly for help.
But not everyone is at that stage yet, and that’s okay!
In fact, there are quite a few notable apps out there tackling that issue so you no longer have to feel intimidated by native speakers of your target language.
In this review, I’ll be taking a closer look at one, in particular: HiNative.
What Exactly is HiNative?
HiNative is a web and mobile app by the same creators of Lang-8, which is a social networking platform for language learners. It’s basically a Q&A app between language learners and native speakers where you can ask to have your pronunciation or sentences checked.
Unlike other language exchange apps that you might have encountered, HiNative is only made for quick translations, assistance with language basics and cultural questions—generally, nothing too lengthy or demanding.
The app currently supports 113 languages with app users from 170 different countries, so you are very likely to find the language you need on this app.
What Are the Features of HiNative?
When you sign up for HiNative, you’re asked a few questions about your languages (both native and target), your purpose for using the app and the context in which you use your target language, like direct conversations, work, school, email communication and other similar options.
You have several features available to you once you’ve registered for an account, which I look at in more detail below.
As a Q&A app, the most prominent feature is the question generator. Templates are provided to guide you in creating questions related to translation, pronunciation and grammar. Just be aware that a couple of these templates are limited to Premium users.
If none of these templates fit your needs, there’s an option to write a free question.
Your questions will be text-based, but you can also take pictures, upload photos and record your own audio, depending on the kind of language assistance you’re looking for.
Once your question goes live, native speakers can respond to your post. They can offer answers, corrections or advice in text or audio. If the text answers are in your target or another language, there’s an option to show the Google translation. For text-based answers in Chinese, you can also see the pinyin.
Answers can also be rated. Each response will have the question “Was this helpful?” to which you can respond with “Hmm…” or “Useful.” Other users can also rate the answers. Quality points are earned for every upvote, and they can be taken away with each downvote.
Additionally, you can send another user a “gift.” These thank you gifts are basically appreciation stickers that cost coins, which you’ll need to purchase.
Of course, if the answer is offensive, you can also block or report the user.
Since this platform is all about give and take, feel free to answer questions from learners whose target language is your mother tongue. When responding, you’ll also be prompted of their proficiency level as a reminder to keep your answers as simple as possible.
In turn, your answers can also be rated and are eligible for quality points. Likes from fellow native speakers will earn you more points, especially from highly-rated ones.
You’ll also earn additional points if your response becomes the featured answer to that question.
Another main feature of HiNative is the built-in search engine. Before you ask a question, you can search for previous posts to see what native speakers have answered in the past.
Earlier, I mentioned that HiNative is powered by Google Translate, so whatever you type in the search bar will automatically be translated below. Your search results will appear underneath the translated text.
How Much Does HiNative Cost?
Free Access (with In-app Purchases)
The HiNative website and apps are free to use, making them very accessible to all language learners. A free account lets you use most features, including all of the basic functions and most of the question templates. You also get up to four translations per day.
The app also offers five premium tickets for $15. Premium tickets can be added to your posts so they can get highlighted or stick at the top of the feed. Questions with a premium ticket receive more attention and more answers on average.
Coins, which are needed for sending gifts, are another in-app purchase you can make. These can be bought in bundles that range between $1 to $250.
Price: $5.68/month, $59.63/year
Free Trial: One week
For less than $6 per month, you get an ad-free app experience that allows you to make the most out of your questions, with extras like the Foreign Language Diary template and video sharing. You can also play every audio and video answer to other people’s questions, not just your own, and you’ll get unlimited translations of text answers.
Another bonus feature of a premium account is the bookmarking function. By bookmarking your favorite Q&As, you’ll receive notifications every time there’s a new answer.
You’ll be credited 10 premium tickets per month, but you can always buy more if you run out before the end of the month.
Searching, in general, also becomes more convenient. Not only will you be able to search for your bookmarks, but you can also filter your results, as shown below.
What I Like About HiNative
Simple, Straightforward Interface
While I can appreciate a smart design, I’m also not the best with technology. When it’s something as simple as a Q&A app, I expect the interface to be equally as straightforward. HiNative completely delivers on this front.
If you look at the website and app, there’s nothing fancy—and, therefore, nothing complicated—about it. The design is basic and so easy to use that I’m pretty sure my technologically challenged parents could use the app with little to no issues. Even the question templates are effortless.
Sure, HiNative may not be the most visually engaging interface, but this makes the app less confusing so you can easily post your questions without a hitch.
Quick Answers from the Real Experts
I can’t remember how many times I’ve learned a “common sentence” from a textbook, only to find out from real Chinese speakers that no one actually talks like that. As thorough as textbooks and language courses can be, they rarely ever speak about the experiences of native speakers (although this is slowly starting to change in recent years).
Through HiNative, you’re going straight to the source, getting quick answers so you understand unique aspects of culture and sound a little more like a native speaker. It also takes away the pressure of talking directly to native or fluent speakers, so you don’t have to be afraid of asking for help.
Encouragement to Help Fellow Learners
I love that the HiNative community is built on helping each other out. Of course, you don’t have to answer other users’ questions if you don’t feel like it, but the upside of responding to posts is the increased possibility of likes and quality points.
These points build your reputation—the more quality points you have, the more likely it is that your questions will get noticed as they move further up the feed.
As I said earlier, it’s all about that give and take. You have to help others if you want others to help you.
What I Don’t Like About HiNative
Lack of Moderation in Posts
HiNative is meant to be a platform for unique language queries, translation and pronunciation help. However, the truth is that a lot of people aren’t using the app the way it’s intended to be used.
For example, I found that some users treated the app like Google, asking for app recommendations and methods for learning Chinese characters. These questions were also repeated, pushing other relevant language questions further down the feed and end up getting buried by newer, less-than-inquisitive posts.
Many also use HiNative for homework assistance, but instead of asking about specific grammar points or checking a translation, they ask for entire sentences and paragraphs to be translated into their target language.
It’s clear that there isn’t a lot of moderation in these posts. Ideally, users should be searching for their questions on HiNative and search engines in general before posting their own.
Missed Connections with Native Speakers
Although HiNative adds that human element to language learning, I wish there was an option to chat with other learners, specifically native speakers of your target language who want to learn your mother tongue.
I understand that it’s a public forum, but there’s always the possibility that your questions can go unanswered. If you could directly communicate with users who responded to your previous posts, the more likely you’ll get a reliable answer to your question. Establishing this kind of relationship would benefit you and the native speaker in the long run since it feels like less of a risk asking someone you’ve previously communicated with.
Limited Translations for Free Users
Another thing I noticed about HiNative is that questions can’t be filtered according to your native language. Even if you filter your search to questions about Mandarin, these questions can be in any language. For example, my feed was filled with posts in Japanese and Vietnamese.
I know that you can translate questions into your native language. But as I mentioned before, you’re limited to four translations a day with a free account. It’s not the end of the world since you can copy and paste the questions into other translation apps, though it’s rather inconvenient having to switch between multiple apps.
I want my experience on the app to be similar to FluentU, where I don’t have to open up a separate tool to have a certain phrase or sentence translated. On FluentU, I can watch videos, read the foreign language subtitles and simply hover over the text to see dictionary definitions. When I’m using any kind of language learning app, I don’t like toggling between that and another for translation or dictionary purposes.
Final Verdict: Should You Download HiNative?
While there’s definitely room for improvement on the app, HiNative is still quite useful for all language learners no matter what level you’re at. It’s especially helpful for independent learners who are looking for feedback and answers to one-off questions.
As for the Premium account, I don’t think it’s worth signing up for. The Premium plan doesn’t cost much, but I honestly think it would only be worth paying for it you’re a serious student with lots of tricky questions or need extra guidance with grammar and pronunciation checks.
When you use HiNative, you do need to set your expectations. It isn’t a platform for finding a language exchange partner or practicing your speaking and writing skills. Rather, it’s an app for questions that can be used to supplement your learning rather than a standalone language-learning program.
To maximize your experience on HiNative, you’ll need to pair it with a comprehensive and immersive learning tool like FluentU which lets you see how language works in real life.
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.
I hope this review has offered the insight you needed before downloading HiNative. It’s a great stepping stone toward actual language exchange. It’s also a nice reference to have on hand, even if you don’t end up using the app on a regular basis.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.