I have been self-learning Korean for a little over a year now. And like all enthusiastic language learners, I’ve explored almost all resources available out there to help me learn the language. Since I am learning Korean on my own and that too not in South Korea, it is not easy finding a language partner to practise my language skills. So I was desperately looking for a solution, which came in the form of this awesome app called HELLOTALK (Thank heavens for that!). HelloTalk is basically a language exchange and learning app, which provides you with an online messenger platform, to meet native speakers of the language you are trying to learn. The idea is to find language partners so that you can teach each other your native language (or languages that you are fluent in).
I found out about this app from Hyunwoo Sun (선현우) of the Talk to me in Korea (TTMIK). If any of you are learning Korean, then I am sure you are well aware of Hyunwoo, his awesome TTMIK team and his abundant resources (most of which are absolutely free) at talktomeinkorean.com. The fact that TTMIK was introducing this app itself was quite reassuring for me. So I tried it and I am in love with it ever since.
HelloTalk has the widest assortment of fantastic features, which have been especially tailored designed for the language learning purpose. (I’ll explain in more detail in a while). But the best thing about this app is that it has a huge community of users, 2 million users worldwide, which I think is the largest among all (strictly) language exchange apps till this date (you are welcome to please correct me if I am wrong). Since I am learning Korean, I can vouch for a humongous community of Korean users in the app. There are dozens of Koreans joining this app every single day). And from the app reviews by other users, I gather it is the same for multiple other languages too. So as there are more than enough number of native language speakers, it is very easy to meet friends or language partners of all ages, gender and places around the world. Especially I have seen that Koreans are pretty keen on learning multiple languages. English tops the list by far, as good English skills are regarded as a valuable skill in the South Korean job market. (TOEIC is a big deal in South Korea).
I have been using this app since June 2015, and I have made many good Korean friends through the app. I have met Koreans who want to genuinely learn English and we’ve been helping each other through regular “paragraph writing in the target language” exchanges, grammar corrections, pronunciation mistake corrections as well as simply chatting and more chatting in our target languages. And “Oh My!” I have made four times the progress in my language skill, especially my Korean writing skills (I sucked before) than I made in the entire year.
Language learning is all about training your brain to remember the new patterns of words and new sounds. Similarly, as one Korean teacher Mr. Sung Bong Lee (이성봉) puts it, “It is not making your own sentences in the target language but rather finding the sentences that are already there (previously used by native speakers)”. So language exchange apps like HelloTalk help us to do just that- get used to the sentences so that you can easily retrieve them from your memory when you need them.
To fulfil that very purpose I have tried almost all language exchange apps available out there. But so far, none of them have managed to beat HelloTalk and its features and especially its community of users. Some apps had features similar to HelloTalk but they just didn’t have enough users to communicate with. It’s the tiniest details like the font size, the help centre response time, the speed, the memory usage, that kept me sending back to HelloTalk. So here I am spending my evening sharing my lovely experience with the app so that all language learners out there can take the benefit of it too (If they already aren’t using it).
Features available at HelloTalk
Like I said before, HelloTalk offers one of the best arrays of language learning features. So here I will be explaining them briefly with a slightly longer elaboration on some of my favourite ones:
- Search (Best Match plus Custom Search)
One of my favourite features at HelloTalk is its search feature, both the custom search option and the default search option (also known as the “Best Match” feature). As soon as you sign up as a member, the app automatically finds users that best match your language needs. If you are an English native speaker trying to learn Korean, the app will have a list of Korean native speakers trying to learn English, ready for you. So all you need to do is send them a message to start a conversation. To go a notch higher, you can find the best matches for you through sorting options like currently “online” users, “self-introduction”, “nearest” to you, “nationality” and finally you can even “search best matching users by city”.
The second is the custom search option. You can custom search for language speakers by filtering them on the basis of age, target language, language level, native language, native language, nationality as well as city.
Or you can even search people through their user-id, name or email if you know them.
- Features available during a conversation
While you are talking to a friend, you can translate anything you don’t understand, correct mistakes your friend has made (or your own mistake), mark favourite words/phrases/sentences that you would like to review later, convert text to speech or speech to text, copy things to clipboard or transliterate i.e. change the script in the foreign language into easily understandable corresponding romanization form.
Two of my favourite features out of them
Although I love them all and all of them come really handy during a conversation with a foreigner, I have two favourite features:
- Marking favourite
My favourite one is marking your favourite word (which is automatically built into a vocabulary list by the app for later review). It is just a simple feature, but its absence in other apps makes you want to pull your hair out. It’s amazing how it makes such a difference!
- Correcting mistakes
You can correct each others’ mistakes and review them later too. HelloTalk automatically creates a list of all the corrections that you received and sent for future review. It can be reviewed through another feature available from the home page (which I will be describe next).
- Home page features
The home page of the app offers you four sets of menu and four sets of features, which has been shown as follows:
Review everything here:
Translator & Language Exchange:
- Who can find me? setting
Another great feature that perhaps only HelloTalk offers is the “Who can find me” setting. Under this setting, we can adjust our settings such that only “same gender” users can find our profile, which comes really handy, because I am there to strictly learn language and nothing else. Besides that you can set the age range for people who can find your profile, hide your profile for a certain period of time, and find exact language partners.
- Language partners, Language Exchange and Group Chat
Of course the idea is to add genuine language partners and learn languages from each other more intensely. Language partners, unlike simply friends, or people with whom you can exchange languages, i.e., alternatively practise your writing as well as speaking skills for a fixed number of characters (500 or 1000 characters) or fixed time period (5 minutes or 10 minutes) respectively. You can also simply exchange language unlimitedly. I won’t elaborate more on this, as this feature has been talked about a lot in other reviews. Similarly, you can even have a group chat with multiple people.
- Great response time and help services by the HelloTalk team
Another pleasant thing about this app is that it has a team of highly dedicated people. It has an awesome response time. Ask them anything or grumble to them about any problem you are having, they will reply within half an hour and help you with your inquiry (which is good enough for me).
- Other simple features
Sorting options from your friend list based on fields like online, my turn to reply, time-zone proximity, native language (The app developers really did think a lot while developing this app!)
You can send all sorts of media to your friends too.
Unique emoticons that really come “handy” to a language learner (LOL!, you don’t have to do anything to make a pun here!)
Things I wish HelloTalk had (some suggestions)
Although HelloTalk has managed to take language learning through apps to a great new level, it is not perfect. It does have a few glitches, things I wish it really had.
- A desktop version
You cannot truly succeed in the messenger apps market, if you don’t have a corresponding pc version of it. I’m sure the Hellotalk team must be already working on it. But you can only go far as much as a simple chatting app if it does not have a pc version. Texting is good to start up conversations. But after a while, you may want to have longer conversations, which honestly is a lot easier from a pc than your phone (at least It is for me!). Emulator programs just don’t work for me. In my case, what this does is that, I meet friends at HelloTalk and then after getting a little close with them, we move on to other communication options like KakaoTalk (카카오) (the most popular messaging app in South Korea) for longer conversations.
- Absence of file sending/sharing options
This is a big turn off for me. HelloTalk does not allow users to send files via its app. Of course there is a “long text” option with a 3000 letter limit. But it is not convenient typing 3000 letters on your phone at all (and it does not have a pc version!). There are times when I want my friends to have a look at some of the things I wrote in my target language or translate something for me. But I can’t send them via this app. So I send them via the PC version of KakaoTalk. (Which, by the way, rocks! No wonder an astounding 93% of all smartphone users in South Korea use this app!). So I suggest the HelloTalk team to incorporate this feature ASAP.
- Voice note length limit of just one minute
HelloTalk allows its users to send voice messages with a maximum length of just one minute, which is simply not enough. Sometimes I want to send voice messages of me reading something in Korean to my friends for pronunciation suggestions, even when they are not online. So calling them is not an option. But the time limit is just one minute, which is somewhat irksome. So I highly recommend that the app creators extend this limit. If you ask me, not having any time limit for voice messages is the best.
- Absence of a “status” statement
Another thing I wish this app would have is a short “status” option, which would appear right beside our names in our home page, just like in KakaoTalk. Basically, what I would like is to let my friends know things like when I am busy. I would like to write status like “busy till 6pm today”. And this would appear alongside my name in their friend-list. Although not being online does the work too. But I may want to write status messages like “Happy Chuseok to all my friends!” since it was Chuseok “추석”(the Korean Thanksgiving day) a few days ago in South Korea. I don’t want to update things in my profile page. Not all my friends would bother to view my profile page to see my updates. So something which is visible right away would be the best.
- More emoticons
Although I love the unique set of emoticons that HelloTalk offers, I would love to see some more. Is it too much to ask for? (The ideas IS to practise language through WORDS!) Well, Kakao has spoilt me. That is what it is!
6. Keyword-based search feature in the message board (NEW)
One last thing that I wish HelloTalk really had is a keyword-based search feature in the message board, again, just like Kakao has. I have come to realize that while we are chatting with our friends in the app, it is not possible for us to understand each and every single word (unless you are at a super advanced level in your target language, and even so I highly doubt it!). Most of the time, we can comprehend the meaning of the messages, either through translating the sentences or by simply guessing through some of the words used in the sentences that we do know. In such cases, I want to be able to review those words or sentences later on when I have time. However, after chatting for some while, all the messages would be pushed back. And it is not possible to find them just by scrolling. (You can try, but is an insanely tedious task).Moreover, it is also not possible for us to mark every unknown word or sentence as favourites (for later review) because we literally don’t have time while chatting, as we will be busy juggling between typing your own messages and trying to understand your friends’ messages. Therefore, a search feature that allows us to search for keywords that were used in the conversation would be extremely helpful for our “review” sessions that we may want to do it. Honestly, Kakao does it the best!
So essentially, HelloTalk offers a great way to meet native speakers of your target language and share your culture with them. So I would like to highly recommend all language learners to try it and find language partners to improve your language skills.
CHEERS TO ALL LANGUAGE LEARNERS! 화이팅!
You can download HelloTalk Language Exchange app and KakaoTalk app from the following links: