What's The Secret To The Greatest Language Exchange Ever?

The most rewarding way of practicing your language is by connecting with people on a 1-to-1 basis. It takes commitment to make any language exchange successful.


In this episode of the Fluent Show, Lindsay and I brought on language exchange expert Jonathan Huggins, who runs several community challenges and groups for language learners.

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Inside The Tandem Language Exchange App: A Full Review

What if I told you that right now you're only 10 minutes away from chatting about your dreams for the future in your brand new language...on your phone? Sounds mad, but that's exactly what the language exchange app Tandem is designed for.

In this full review, you'll discover exactly how to make the most out of language exchanges and become fluent on your phone.

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A Complete Review of the HelloTalk Language Exchange App

Übung macht den Meister.

C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron.

Usus magister est optimus.

Man, does every language have a proverb meaning practice makes perfect?

Practice is one of the key principles of learning, and probably one of the most demanding ones.

One of the most helpful way to practice your skills in language learning is to speak the language you're studying. No matter if you've just begun or were fluent 3 weeks ago, if you don't keep using that language it's likely to get pretty rusty.

In today's blog article, I'm going to give you the full review of an app that has been designed to help you with that need for practice. It's all about language exchanges. Read on to find out if this could work for you.

How Should a Language Exchange Work?

Language exchanges work on the basis that both people in the conversation give a little bit of their skills to each other. You find a person who studies your native language and help them by correcting them and chatting to them. And then you switch the exchange and benefit from the same help in your target language. And if you chat to them online, you don't even have to leave your house/bed/swimming pool.

Of course, the real challenge is getting to the point where your conversation with the practice partner is as easy as possible. It can be really difficult to find a native speaker of the right language who also wants to spend time practicing with you. And then you have to hope they want to learn your language, too. And then you still have to get over how to translate most of what they say.

A Language Exchange App On Your Smartphone

In the past, my language exchange experiences have never really delivered.

Even though I found people online and wrote to them, I felt like my own language skills didn't improve. It was scary to hop on Skype and share my face, voice and mistakes with a stranger. When I tried email exchanges, I felt bad because I couldn't write a long stretch of text.

It seems I wasn't the only person who had this problem. When HelloTalk contacted me earlier this year with an invitation to review their app, I was ready to try again.

First Impressions

My first impression of trying HelloTalk was very positive. The app is about making language exchanges on your smartphone as good as they can be. There is no course, no website and no payment system for tutors, and I really appreciated that focus.

After downloading the app, you'll be asked to fill in a profile. HelloTalk allows learners to register one native and one target language for free (though you can unlock more with an in-app purchase). You can connect your profile to Twitter, record a spoken intro, or write an introduction for yourself. For users who want to keep their details private, the app also allows you to hide details like your age or location in the advanced privacy settings, and to set how you want to appear in the search.

Test 1: How Easy Is It To Find Language Exchange Partners?

After signing up, HelloTalk directs you to its Search function so you can start finding people whose needs match yours. It automatically suggests matches that have the right native language/target language combination for you, but you will not be restricted by this at all.

When you find someone who looks like a great match, you can send them a message or a partner request. I found that most of the promising matches were not online straight away, so sending them a request that they could accept when they come online was a convenient alternative.

It seems that people who indicate "English" as their native language receive a lot more requests (for example, Shannon from Eurolinguiste found that she couldn't keep up) than other natives. Setting the app to "native German speaker who is learning Welsh" was a pretty tough ask, so I tried some search alternatives to find native Welsh speakers. With those options, it became simple enough and I was quickly able to get talking to several people.

Language Exchange App Review

Once the chat got started,I was impressed with the many tiny but useful features. For example, HelloTalk shows you the time of day where your language partner lives and supports emoji. You can send photos, voice messages and doodles. All these options make it very easy to start texting other people straight away.

Test 2: How Good Is HelloTalk's Interface?

HelloTalk's app has lots of buttons and settings, but none of them felt pointless.

I quickly found that the help menus and settings were simpler than they looked. HelloTalk can do lots of things, but it has pulled off a design that doesn't overwhelm users with all of them at once. Instead, the app takes advantage of how you use your phone, and the bottom menu makes it simple to keep track of conversations.

The quality of the app was fabulous as well. Even though I haven't had the chance to try the free phone calls, I was impressed overall. It was fast, didn't crash and the machine translations were pretty useable too. Overall, a big thumbs up for HelloTalk's design.

Test 3: Does HelloTalk Make It Easy To Use Your Target Language?

In previous language exchanges, I often found that it was difficult to keep up a balanced exchange between speaking my own language and my partner's language. HelloTalk has an approach to solve this problem: There is a dedicated Language Exchange Mode where you can set the computer to remind both exchange partners when it's time to switch languages. I was super excited about this feature.

The app also allows users to communicate in the way that works best for them. Free phone calls, instant messages, voice messages - no problem!

Once you've started chatting, you may find that you and your language partner need a few corrections. The app has a great long press feature for any message sent or received, allowing you to correct the partner's writing easily. For someone as enthusiastic about writing in another language as I am, the app's features make a great addition to the tips I've blogged about before.

The full long click menu offers even more features, such as:

  • Adding any message to your Favourites menu for review
  • Converting from the Latin script to other writing systems
  • Copying the message
  • Translating the message to the language that you have set as Target Language in your profile (even when I chatted to French people in German, I could still learn Welsh this way)
  • Get the computer to read out any message so you know what it sounds like

Test 4: Does HelloTalk Work?

If you want to keep studying based on what you're reading and writing in HelloTalk, there are a few really helpful features in the app.

language exchange with the hello talk app

The corrections feature automatically saves your received corrections to the favourites section where you can go back and review them regularly. In this area, I thought it would be cool to have a flashcards or other learning feature but on the other hand I was pretty happy to just use my notebook.

HelloTalk is not about acquiring another language by studying a linear course, but instead it brings real life practice to your phone and it does this one thing brilliantly.

The Best Tips for Using HelloTalk for Language Exchange

Even with an app as excellent as this one, it can still be daunting to start a language exchange. Based on my own experiences and tips from fellow language lovers like Olly from IWTYAL and Stephanie from To Be Fluent, here are three top tips to help you get the most out of your experience and your time spent using the app:

1) Be Clear About What You Want To Do

I found that it's easy to start chatting aimlessly, but much harder to get a true exchange going. Chatting to everyone who sends you a request or gets to know you through your profile can feel like a waste of time.

If you want to practice equal exchanges in a specific language, tell this to your partner right at the start and be a bit tough when you need to be. Working with the Language Exchange feature in HelloTalk felt great to me as it allows the app to do the policing.

2) Have Some Starter Topics Ready

Okay, so you've asked them where they're from and how old they are. What else can you chat about with your language exchange partner?

It helps to have a few topics up your sleeve that are comfortable for any user. For example, I chatted to a Chinese partner about food and got tips for new bands to check out from a Swedish music fan. Going beyond the first small talk is important for building rapport and getting the other person interested enough to keep talking to you.

3) Have A Little Patience

This final tip is based on my own experience with HelloTalk. When I started the app, I was so excited to chat to people in Welsh and French and Spanish that I could not wait to get going. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that not everyone was online and ready to go!

HelloTalk works best as an instant messaging app when you give it a little time, wait a few days for the right people to find you or allow for a bit of trial and error. After all, language practice is a regular activity.

My biggest suggestion to make this app even better would be to add some learning features. Based on the chats, the system could create flashcards or prompts asking you to repeat new expressions so you don't forget them. And an in-browser version would help me type without having to switch the mobile keyboard to another language every few minutes.

Where to Download HelloTalk

All in all my verdict of HelloTalk is very very positive. As an app, this provides the nicest language exchange environment I've seen so far.

You can find all links for HelloTalk at www.hellotalk.com.

Have you tried HelloTalk yet? What's your impression?

Leave me your story in the comments below!

How much will you pay for a Language Tutor?

In recent months, I have seen many examples of experienced polyglots and language bloggers who posted guides to finding the perfect language tutor. There was the instructive article from Fluent in 3 Months, then a guide from I will teach you a language, and Judith Meyer also featured tips in her blog Learn Langs.

Experienced language learners agree on one thing: Learning a language with a tutor is a true game changer.

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It’s impossible to progress as much if you don’t start speaking your language at some point. And for an early stage learner, picking a tutor means working with someone who can help you bridge the gaps with ease.

Language tutor or language exchange?

Well, there isn’t anything in particular to tell you about what will work best for you. I work as a language tutor and my years of experience have definitely taught me a lot about learning styles, quirks of the German language and how to motivate and coach my students. All these skills are what an experienced tutor can offer you.

I wouldn’t recommend tackling a language exchange before you have learnt at least the essential structures and phrases of your target language. This often comes at early level A2. Starting an exchange too early will leave you feeling frustrated and stupid.

You do not get top quality at bottom prices

For the purpose of this article, I want to assume that you have made up your mind and you are looking for a tutor.

Now here is the part I want to talk to you about. I disagree with what the other articles are telling you. Let's talk about price. Most other articles include a sentence that goes a little like this:

Language lessons online are very cheap, you can get them for just $5 an hour.

$5 an hour? That’s less than you pay for a drink at Starbucks. Now I know that wages and currencies vary around the world and I’m not stupid, so please don’t come commenting with the “$5 is lots of money in xyz!” argument. Your online teacher's costs are not just measured in time-per-hour. They also have a family to support, an internet connection and webcam to buy, personal development to cover. These are all part of the job, and that’s the case even if they live in the cheapest country in the world.

Self-employed language teachers will price themselves as low as they can because they really love working with you. But when they are taking on 50 students a week because the price per lesson is very low, they become mediocre teachers. If you are able to approach the exchange with a mindset that considers both payment and benefits, you will not be ripped off.

Read on to find out how to find exactly the right partner for your needs and your budget.

How to Find a Price that Works for You

In order to help you select the right language learning partnership, it is helpful to approach sites like italki with a clear image of what you are truly looking for.

And please look beyond italki, because many of the greatest and most experienced teachers I know have their own blogs and websites. Comment below if you’re looking for a tutor in a specific language and I’ll happily connect you.

Option Number 1: The freebie

Look for a language exchange partner and simply swap time helping them practice your native language for time practicing your target language.

Pros:

  • You don’t even have to look online because many foreign students or residents in your town might be looking for language exchanges too.
  • Sharing the language learning experience is very motivating and you’ll see the partner’s success just as much as yours.

Cons:

  • There is a learning curve and this exchange may be frustrating at first. You have to be comfortable setting boundaries and working with rules, otherwise you become someone else’s free teacher.
  • Your partner will speak the language but may not be able to explain it
  • You give as much as you get, so prepare to work hard

Option Number 2: The super bargain

Look for lessons under $10/hour and take advantage of the low living costs in other countries. Bear in mind these types of prices are below minimum wage in most countries, and probably this includes yours.

Pros:

  • Maybe you will find a great tutor for peanuts

Cons:

  • This is a Trial and Error technique, it takes longer to find someone you click with
  • The cheaper language teachers tend to be those supporting themselves temporarily, so you don’t get ongoing support as most cheap teachers decide to move on to another job within a few months

My personal verdict on this option? It’s better than nothing, but the worst of both worlds.

Option Number 3: The professional

Hire an experienced language tutor for a minimum of $20/hour. Look for someone who is showing their expertise and commitment by having their own website, blogging about their work and knowledge and giving you a clear idea of what lessons will be like.

I’m biased, and here are my Pros:

  • You’ll get a free consultation from most experienced language teachers and they will clearly tell you which goals you are working towards, and keep you committed
  • The lessons tend to be tailored, long-term and built for you
  • You’re doing a great thing because this is the way to support an experienced professional
  • Professional teachers strive towards working full-time for you, so they can offer a flexible schedule and will fit the lesson times around you

For more details on HOW you can find that tutor that's worth your time, here is a list of questions you should ask them.

Cons? Well, we'd all love to get more free things in life.

A Tip for Ethical Teachers

For language teachers who are reading this article and excited about stepping up their business, here’s some important advice:

  1. Be serious and trustworthy: I would not charge a student until I know for sure that I connect with them. I don't take on each one, only students that understand my style. I don't want people to spend money on me unless I feel like I really understand what they need.
  2. Commit to your business: If you don’t want to be seen as some kind of fly-by-night operation, you have to show your worth to your potential student. Be worth their investment, be around and be reliable. You can’t do this without a brand and website, but it’s not as difficult as you may think.

For more information, have a look at the “Teach Languages” section here on Fluent, and in particular you should investigate the Live Lessons Course. This step-by-step course is written for language teachers who are excited to start standing out as one of the best out there.

What’s your opinion on language lessons?

Have you taken part in language exchanges? Do you currently work with a tutor?

I want to hear about your experiences, so please leave me a comment and tell me more about how you’re learning languages yourself.

Speaking Practice: When Was The Last Time We Just Talked?

Esther Barker lives on her own in a retirement community in Chicago. She knows her neighbours and the staff, but they may not always find time for a lifetime of stories.

In Brazil, young people are hungry for the big wide world. They dream of moving to America, speaking to Americans like Esther, but they don't have the chance to travel abroad.

And then the Brazilian language school CNA works out a way of bringing the two of them together online, and the idea resonates with so many people that over one million of them watch it on YouTube! This video was sent to me by a Facebook fan (thanks Kellie!) and it's just too cute to pass up. Here is where language learning is not the point anymore, and things become about just telling each other stories. 

How Does This Really Improve Language Skills?

We all know that in the real world there can be some limitations to the benefits of language exchanges, so what I loved about this programme in particular is the emphasis on sharing the finished video chat with a professional teacher.

Speaking to a teacher is a great way of helping them discover where your little weaknesses might be, but this is one step further and I love it! As the teacher, a video like this could help me go right in and target the gaps in my students' knowledge, to boost their confidence for the next time they get to talk.

When confidence and skill come together, that's when you really hit the ground running.

Our Stories are What Makes Us

Watching the video above, I felt moved and happy. It's wonderful to see an exchange in which both sides benefit so clearly from sharing with each other. And it's where two world's come together, where an old person's story goes from dull to cool, and where we scratch the surface of who these people are.

Esther can share pictures and talk about what Chicago used to be like. They can imagine worlds of travelling together and just...make friends, you know? One of the toughest things about language exchanges can be to forget that you are really only doing this to improve your new language. When it's good, you are not. When it all comes together and you find an exchange partner that you really connect with, learning the language becomes irrelevant.

What about you?

Would you start a language exchange with someone so different in age? When was the last time you talked to someone, and really just talked?