I’ve used this space on more than one occasion to talk about languages, namely my experiences of attempting to learn a thing or two in a foreign tongue. Most recently those languages have been German and Japanese.
Learning a language is no easy feat. You have to hold yourself to a schedule of regularly practicing and find methods of learning that you actually enjoy. As much as I dig languages, straight textbook learning would turn me off now just as much as it did back in high school. Simply put, I need to be tricked into having fun.
I thought I had discovered everything in the way of fun language learning. Turns out one managed to slip under my radar. That would be HelloTalk.
HelloTalk is a language exchange app with more than 100 supported languages, allowing you to find native speakers and professors from around the globe to fulfill your linguistic needs. In many ways, it’s Facebook for learning in that you have your profile featuring basic information, primarily the language you’re interested in learning and what you can offer in exchange.
Pro members ($8.99 per year) can add an extra language to their roster as well as get a number of other goodies, like unlimited translation and transliteration — perhaps two of my favorite features. Basically, if someone sends you a message and you need a little help, you can click that message and get a translation. If someone sends you a voice recording that you have trouble making out, the transliteration feature will spell it out for you. Still have trouble? You can even translate that text, too. This all works across different alphabets, too. So when a Japanese person sends me something beyond simple pleasantries, HelloTalk will graciously save me.
During my trial, I’ve switched my languages of interest. Spanish picks up a ton of users interested in exchange for English. German, not so much. Most likely it’s a reflection that German-speaking countries do a pretty damn good job of teaching English in the first place. Still, I’ve found German speakers to humor me quite easily. It’s trite, but it really does appear that the sky is the limit with this app.
On an interesting side note, HelloTalk also does not let you increase the size of one’s profile picture in order to get a better look. A disclaimer comes up reminding you that since it’s a language learning app, it probably shouldn’t matter what your partner looks like. This is no doubt a nod to the inevitable creepy factor of men using any relatively anonymous communication medium as an avenue to meet women. Unfortunately, our horrific gender knows no bounds and I’ve chatted with language buddies who have shown me the way some men choose to greet them — if you can even call their texted grunts a greeting. Luckily you can report and block the Neanderthals out there who managed to get their hands on a phone.
Ultimately there’s no replacing living where the language is spoken. My German will until further notice sound ridiculously silly to a fluent German speaker. Mi español may sound relatively confident, but only because I did live in a Spanish-speaking country. As Japan approaches… Well, let’s just say, “God help me.”
But HelloTalk truly does appear to be the next best thing. I’m keeping up with my German much more than I would be otherwise, I’m able to converse more informally in Spanish — like real people do — than what I can hear on Spanish news podcasts and I’ve at least received some sort of introduction to Japanese in the real world. All this with one app and I already foresee more language geeking in the near future. I highly recommend downloading it, staring out free and upgrading as you see fit.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored review from HelloTalk. As always, all opinions remains my own.