HelloTalk is a brilliant free language exchange app for your smartphone. It’s the next best thing to a face to face conversation. You write messages to your exchange partner in your target language or theirs, and they do the same to you. You can record and listen to messages (up to 60 seconds) and even have a phone call within the app.
You don’t have to be an advanced or even upper intermediate speaker of your target language. HelloTalk is fine for A1 (pre-intermediate) upwards. I started to use it after I’d been to my first Meetup, after a couple of months of learning Italian.
Your privacy is protected, and you can filter the sort of person allowed to find you. eg Some women prefer to chat just to women.
Inappropriate behaviour is promptly dealt with.
You meet really interesting people and can have great chats on various levels.
The correction facility is so easy to use, most exchange partners will be happy to give you very helpful corrections and expect you to do the same for them. There’s a note space in the correction section for you to add explanations if you like.
Your corrected errors are collected in Favourites, as well as any other message you choose: very helpful for revision!
The translation and pronunciation facilities are quite sophisticated and can be handy.
Your smartphone can really help: once it realises you’re writing a lot in your target language, it chips in with suggestions the same way it does in English, making writing so much easier! If it doesn’t come up with what you’ve started to type, very often you realise you’re making a mistake and can nip it in the bud.
Spoken messaging: You can provide each other with spoken as well as written versions of the same message. This is great for work on listening skills. (The 60 second recording time may seem short, but you can just use it repeatedly in quick succession. It’s easier to deal with chunks anyway.)
You can have a voice call, too. I’ve had one (pre-arranged by text of course) and it worked very well.
Warnings pop up if you ask for some things too soon: quite valuable netiquette reminders
The app is really easy to use, with a long press on any message providing options to correct, transcribe, translate, hear pronounced or select as favourite.
The social aspect is this app’s greatest weakness as well as its great strength. As with other social media, it’s easy to get hooked and spend so much of your time here that you neglect other areas of your language learning project!
Don’t expect it to teach you your target language: that’s not its purpose. What you learn depends on how you use the app, and the conversations you have with the language partners you find.
It’s not that easy to find all the features intuitively at first sight. I didn’t realise I needed to scroll down on my Profile to find important information, or that the About section had so many useful details! Make sure to explore the app thoroughly in order to benefit from all its features.
You can’t attach texts or presentations within the app to send for your partner to check. Writing a long text on the phone is too tedious to be worth attempting. You can get round the problem, just not all within the app itself.
Tips & Tricks
The big turn-off
Don’t be tempted to try to use it as any kind of dating app. Here is HelloTalk’s official list of unacceptable behaviour:
At the same time, don’t let yourself be put off if someone tries to chat you up. Just ignore or block them and get on with finding partners among the keen language learners that abound. (In the worst cases, it’s worth your while to report them. I reported two highly inappropriate messages, and HelloTalk swiftly blacklisted the person, thanking me for making it a better place for users.)
Your profile makes a difference
Take the trouble to fill in some details in your profile. It helps potential partners to see if they have something in common with you and may give them something to talk about. Many people make it a rule not to “waste time” on people who haven’t completed a profile or who just say “Hello.” (Personally, though I do always check for a profile, I’m not too bothered if there isn’t one. If I’m free when contacted, there’s a good chance I’ll reply, and I always ask loads of questions anyway. I’ve actually met some great partners that the strict rule people would have missed…)
Finding the right partners
You’ll find the sort of language partners you want through trial and error. You can have a look at people’s profiles and have a go at contacting them, or just wait to see who contacts you when you’ve completed yours. Nothing forces you to reply to someone you don’t want to chat to!
Short or long term partners?
Conversations come to an end naturally when someone stops replying. Sometimes people are just busy. I’ve found sometimes a week has passed and then one or other partner takes up the conversation again. It works just the same as in ordinary life. Sometimes the conversation never really gets going, sometimes you find you’re involved in a really interesting exchange. Maybe you’ll keep in touch for a long time, maybe not … it doesn’t really matter!
How to have a conversation
Use both languages
Conversations work differently with different people, but should always involve both languages. One exchange partner told me he preferred to talk purely in English for a while, then purely in Italian. No problem! Others switch frequently between languages. We even mix both languages in the same post! Less confident people may revert to just using their own language all the time, which may be great for their partner but isn’t doing them any good… although you can help with that.
Take the lead if necessary
If your partner is only using their own language, or only using yours, try suggesting that you ask questions in their language and they reply in yours. Point out that you make errors too and they can help you with corrections. Each of you could even just use their own language, which would at least provide reading comprehension practice, if nothing else!
Use message recording
Do have a go at the message recording too: it adds another dimension to the relationship as well as giving great speaking and listening practice.
In a nutshell
Just be fair, making sure your partner benefits too… and be flexible. There are so many ways to benefit from language exchange, why limit yourself to a rigid pattern?
How to help each other with longer texts and presentations
One partner sent a PowerPoint presentation to me by email (the one I use for languages) and then phoned me by pre-arrangement in HelloTalk. We went over his pronunciation and discussed a couple of language points. Most interesting and enjoyable for me, and it helped him score well in his course! This might not be the sort of thing that appeals to you, but it shows how you can achieve a lot while still maintaining personal privacy.
Some more ideas
Lastly, I’ve just been talking about my own experience. Why not check out this blog post from LinguaLift? It has some more interesting suggestions for using HelloTalk, many of which I haven’t yet used!