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If you’ve been on my site before, you’ve probably noticed that broke student hacks tend to be my theme.
Being one myself, I’m always looking for quality opportunities that you would think should cost money but don’t.
And language exchange apps can definitely fall into the category of these rather rare treasures.
I’m a pretty devoted language learner, meaning I’ve tried tons of different language acquisition methods, but nothing else is just quite as well-rounded, engaging, and interesting as inter-lingual exchange with native speakers.
I find these apps to be the literal keys to immersing oneself in a foreign language without ever leaving your home.
Otherwise known as a broke student’s dream.
You don’t ever even have to take a step out of your bed, and yet you can be instantly connected with pen-pals across the world.
So you’re able to both learn the language by the native standard and learn about the culture of your chosen language.
For free. You get yourself a live tutor and international friend all-in-one.
So now that you know these opportunities are out there, all you need to learn is how to find them.
Both GooglePlay and the AppStore do a pretty good job of providing you with an abundance of options.
But not all Language Exchange apps are created equally. That’s why I’m here; sharing with you the 5 apps I’ve personally observed to offer the highest quality experiences.
This is the first ever language exchange app I used when I began using Vietnamese. And even today, it’s still an integral part of my language learning routine.
Is that to say it’s the best? Not necessarily. But it’s definitely one of my top picks.
The app allows you to set your target language and the language that you’re learning, and then displays a huge amount of users who have their languages set opposite of yours.
So being an English speaker myself, all my Vietnamese Pen-pals have their target language set to English and share the same common goal as me: to converse with a native speaker.
Personally, I found the borderline social media layout to be quite nice at going the extra step above traditional language exchange.
The app boasts a unique feature called “moments” where users are allowed to post images, text, and audio in whichever language they choose.
All these moments are then organized for other users to view based on the user’s native language. So I can view English attempts by Vietnamese users under the app’s “Help Others” tab or Vietnamese posts by Vietnamese users under the “Learn” tab.
There are also tabs dedicated solely to
- Voice “moments”
- A “Classmates” tab for the “moments” of those also learning your target language
- A “Nearby” tab for app users within a certain distance from you (this one is always empty for me)
- A “Following” tab to view the moments of those you’re following.
- And an “All” tab to view them all
You can even use the app’s search feature for moments specific to what you’re looking for.
The app even suggests “hot topics” to narrow your search down with “local dishes” and “What’s the difference.” (Topics that would only be “hot” for language learners typically.
But let me not ignore the part of the app that I use the most– It’s actually texting feature.
All conversations between you and others are saved under the “Language Talks” tab. There’s even a search bar for relocating past convos.
The app’s chat features are what really make the whole language exchange experience great though.
Though these aren’t entirely unique to HelloTalk, they’re definitely worth mentioning.
You’re able to save any text sent by either person for later reference– a crucial part of language retention.
You’re able to directly translate any messages into English, a feature that all language exchange apps should offer.
One of HelloTalk’s downfalls here though is their 10/day limit unless you upgrade to a premium plan.
You’re able to correct messages or receive corrections from your pen-pal, with your mistakes quite clearly pointed out.
You’re able to send audio messages to check one another’s pronunciation.
And you’re able to voice call. The Application falls short of some other language exchange apps by restricting it’s video call feature for use only by premium users.
Out of the two downfalls I mentioned for HelloTalk, one is resolved when it comes to Tandem.
Meaning that with Tandem you do get free video calls, but you still won’t be able to get unlimited free translations unless you upgrade to pro.
But to be fair, the app also falls short in a few areas that HelloTalk came through in.
One feature that really sets this app apart from other language exchange apps though, is it’s rather exclusive “Tutor” section.
Of course, these skilled professionals all have hourly rates that seem to average around $20 (and as high as $35), but it’s at least nice to have them offered.
Tutors are from anywhere the world and are highly trained with teaching degrees and TEFL certifications.
Personally though, because I don’t have money to spend like that, I’ve never actually used a tutor myself. I choose to focus on the free language exchange chats with other users around my age.
Which is another thing I like about Tandem– it’s structured partner search. You’re able to filter penpals by:
- members with ‘references’ (from other users)
- new members only
- only your gender
- a certain age range
- fluency level in your target language
- & by location
That way you’ll be able to at least narrow down your options out of the hundreds of users ready to learn English.
I also appreciate Tandem’s extensive profile section that allow you to make it extremely clear to other users what your passions and hobbies are, the kind of people you’d like to talk with, and your learning goals.
By connecting with users with similar interests, you’ll be able to at least engage in conversations you genuinely want to be a part of.
You’re also able to select as many languages as you want to learn — a feature that costs money in HelloTalk.
The “Learning Preferences” even allows you to set what forms of communication you prefer (text vs. calls vs. in-person), your weekly time commitment, the days and time of day you generally use Tandem, and your corrections preference.
The app itself doesn’t really offer any additional ‘learning’ features though, setting it apart from the learning modules, notepad, saved messages, and multi-lingual moments that HelloTalk offers.
So choosing between these two really just depends on whether you prefer a more social-media style learning platform or a stricter language exchange platform with higher-quality partners.
I didn’t plan on doing this but I actually went ahead and signed up for Speaky while doing research for this article.
It’s one of only two language applications listed here that’s available on desktops as well. And since I am a fan of both big screens and digital immersion on all levels, I feel this platform is a great addition to my “teaching toolbox.”
One thing that I really like about it’s user sign-up process is its 5 different levels of fluency you’re able to define yourself under (in contrast with the typical 3 other apps offer).
You’re able to set your foreign language proficiency as either:
Which is pretty great for learners like me who are much too far along to label oneself as “beginner” but not quite at the level most people would consider “intermediate.”
Beyond this, the application also allows you to showcase your choice out of 1600 different interests.
I’m talking completely random interests ranging anywhere from “Health & Wellbeing” to “Entrepreneurship” to “Movies,” “Karaoke,” “Disney,” “Ukelele” and basically anything else your heart may desire.
And I find that matching your interests with those of another user can make for particularly interesting convos that branch outside of your…..typical vocabulary.
The desktop version divides all it’s users by either Native speakers of the language your learning or fellow Non-Natives like yourself.
Which I think offers a unique advantage in allowing you to not only exchange languages but language tips and common mistakes from other English speakers also learning your target language.
And I find it’s broad display of diverse learners of all ages and nationalities united by the common goal of learning the same foreign language to be quite motivating, to say the least.
The application boasts 150+ nationalities and 110+ different languages, with the skill sets of all users being very clearly displayed.
The platform doesn’t currently offer audio messages, which it is a bit drawback from HelloTalk and Tandem, and apparently it’s file sharing feature is still in the works.
So for now, your convos will have to stay entirely textual outside of phone and/or video calls.
Alright, so my reviews based on personal experience stop here. But going off of what I’ve observed, heard, read about, and researched about the following 3 apps, I’m more than positive they’re some of the best.
KakaoTalk offers a feature similar to HelloTalk’s moments called “Boards.” You’re able to post text, photos, or videos in whichever language you prefer and other users are able to interact with your content by either liking or commenting.
The app’s Open Chat feature looks extremely cool to me personally though. You’re able to join a forum called something “Share travel tips for Hanoi” and both read and reply to comments left by other members.
In some weird educational way, it kinda reminds me of Reddit.
Plus another unique aspect of KakaoTalk that just may make it your application of choice, is the fact that it’s multi-platform— meaning you can message language partners on both your phone, laptop, and/or desktop.
Aside from those and it’s obvious free messages, the app also offers:
- free voice calls (both group and 1:1)
- group chats (also offered on HelloTalk)
- Voice filters that make you sound like Talking Tom & Ben
- Talk Calendar to manage plans with other users
But KakaoTalk also has in-app purchases that range from $0.99 to $79.73 so some features are clearly reserved for paid users in this app as well.
This application has the highest rating out of all the apps on this list, but to be fair– it also has the least downloads.
Not having actually used this application before, I can’t tell you why it has so much fewer downloads but I’ll just assume it’s because it’s one of the newer ones.
Lingbe’s layout looks super user-efficient though, and I’ll definitely try it out once I clear out some space on my phone.
For starters, each user’s profile lists the amount of hours they’ve helped others, displays their current level, their number of friends, the language their learning, their native language, and their “About Me.”
The application’s Ratings feature is especially unique though, allowing users to receive real time feedback on their progressions from native speakers. A feature I’d imagine would be much more effective at displaying your true level of fluency over that of an online language test.
The only real drawback I see with Lingbe though is it’s whole “Lingos” reward system.
Apparently when you sign up, you get 15 minutes of free practice and then have to either help other users or refer friends to receive more lingos which in turn allows you to buy more time.
So while this encourages a strong buddy system where your success is quite literally dependent on the success of others, I’d imagine it can get a bit annoying at times.
But if rewards serve as a big incentive for your language journey, then I’m sure receiving more Lingos as your feedback rating improves will be more than enough motivation.
So you ready to go digitally immerse yourself?
Well don’t hop out there just that quick little grasshopper. Language exchange apps are amazing and all– but you can’t really acquire a language without setting a game plan.
And that’s why I’m here. To make the language acquisition process as naturally simple as possible.
My mission with this site to help other language learners who, like myself, are simply too broke to travel.
And why wreck your bank account when you can experience immersion from the comforts of your own home?
I don’t know either. Personally, using my own self-teaching methods I’ve acquired more Vietnamese in just a few months of learning than in 3 years of Spanish courses.
And why I want to share how you can do it too. If you’re interested in learning how to both simplify the language acquisition process and the keys to efficient digital immersion, then make sure you sign up for your free copy of Everything to know about the “Naturally Simple” approach to language acquisition.
You’ll instantly receive the article’s password, along with a well-rounded understanding of what a “Natural approach” even looks like.
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As always, thanks so much for reading and I’ll see in the next one!