So I’m quite happy to point out the fact that more and more developed- country citizens are learning languages (I was worried about us Americans for a little while there!).
But even more so the fact that we seem to be diversifying the languages we’re learning. While a lot of students do stick with Spanish (me) and French in High School, alot of adult learners no longer seem as afraid to take on more challenging languages.
And more and more colleges are offering courses outside from the traditional romance languages.
Plus there tons of online learning platforms that allow us to acquire faraway languages like never before.
But chances are, you already know that. Afterall, you’re reading an article on things to consider before learning an Asian language– which is a pretty unique feat for English speakers.
So regardless of whether or not you’re here to figure out what language to learn or to figure out how to approach the language you’ve already selected, it would definitely be wise to consider all of these before diving in head-first.
‘Cause Lord knows I failed to do so before taking on Vietnamese. And I’m not for others making the same mistakes.
Is it a tonal language?
I’m not going to lie. I was a real amateur when I first started my self-teaching language journey.
I mean, I didn’t even know what a tonal language was. And it had never occurred to me that that was why Asian accents sounded so vastly different from English ones.
It’s because tonal languages are basically non-existent in the western hemisphere.
And for the sake of those who were like me; a tonal language is a language in which words can differ in tones (like pitches in music) in addition to consonants and vowels.
In Vietnamese and Pinyin Mandarin, accent marks (called diacritics) are used to denote tones. So á , à , ả , ã , and ạ are all the same letter but have to be pronounced differently; with your voice either going up, down, up and then down, up and dropping suddenly, or dropping from the get-go.
Don’t worry about those marks in specific if you’re not learning Vietnamese. Tones are different in each language but they exist in nearly all of them, including Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Khmer, and Lao.
But I will tell you that the 4 Asian languages that I’m positive are not tonal languages are Japanese, Korean, Arabic, and Hindi.
So despite the former 3 being 3 of the 5 hardest languages for English speakers to learn, at least you won’t have to worry about that.
So figure out now whether or not you should go ahead and start training your mouth muscles.
Does it have an alphabet (Phonologic or Logographic?)
Despite the presumed impossibility an English speaker would hold towards a language without an alphabet, they do exist.
All languages can be grouped into one of two categories: phonologic and logographic.
Being English speakers, we’re all already familiar with what a phonologic writing system looks like.
But a logogram is a written character that represents a word or phrase. Individual written characters in phonographic writing systems represent sounds only, not entire concepts.
But if you’ve ever seen Chinese writing, then chances are you already know exactly what I’m talking about.
All other Asian languages do have alphabets though so writing in those will at least be a slightly easier process.
What Alphabet does it have?
If you’re language does an alphabet, then you’ll need to figure out which one it is.
We’re all acquainted with the Latin alphabet, and if you go with a language like Vietnamese, then that’s all you’ll ever need to know.
Now I’m not going to go into the extensive history of alphabet systems, but I will tell you that there are alot.
Just for a little walk through the origin of the alphabet in a pretty good amount of places around the world, it’s handy to know that these 8 of today’s popular letter systems are derived from the Phoenician alphabet. An alphabet of the abjad type.
And noticing these similarities can be a real comfort for learning other languages. But most Asian languages have no relation to letter systems originating anywhere outside of Asia.
Both Indian and Eastern Asian languages are actually derived from the Brahmic scripts; used throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia, including Japan in the form of Siddhaṃ.
So here are just a few letters that you can expect if you’re learning a Brahmi derived language:
It’s also good to know how many different letters there are in your choice language. While the longest European alphabet contains 46 letters, the longest Asian alphabet contains 74 letters (being Cambodia’s Khmer.)
Some quick alphabet stats:
The Thai alphabet has 44 consonant symbols, 16 vowel symbols that combine into at least 32 vowel forms, and four tone diacritics
The Lao script has 27 consonants, 7 consonantal ligatures, 33 vowels, and 4 tone marks.
The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, all representing consonants, and is written from right to left.
Are there different dialects? (How Many?)
Now, if there’s one question you need to take seriously from this list– it’s this one.
Different language learning platform often teach one dialect in the language that you’re learning, and if that’s not the dialect you want to learn, then you need to make sure you switch resources.
While dialects are still the same language, they can be significantly different when it comes to pronunciation.
If you know you plan to move or visit a certain region that speaks the language, then you need to make sure you’re learning the dialect its native speakers will understand.
Even if you’re learning a language to simply communicate with a sub-population in your area, you too need to find out which region most of these speakers are originally from.
For example, Vietnamese has 3 different dialects: a southern one, northern one, and central one. But because Northern Vietnam won the infamous Vietnam war, the northern dialect is generally understood by all Vietnamese speakers and used by those in influence.
But learning this dialect means that when I communicate with those from the south or central areas, I’ll still have to at least know what they’re saying even I can’t speak their dialect myself.
Like understanding that the English “G” sounds like “z” in northern Vietnam but like “y” in southern Vietnam. See? A simple change but crucial to my understanding.
But had I intentionally started to learn Vietnamese with the goal of communicating with speakers in my area– then I would’ve needed to learn the Southern dialect on the sole basis that Vietnamese refugees have almost always immigrated from the Southern region.
So these are the kinds of things you need to consider from the start.
What language family is it in?
This may not initially seem important, but if it ever becomes either an interest or necessity to learn another language, it’ll be useful for you to know your language’s sister languages.
Like the fact that once one acquires fluency in French, learning Italian is basically a cakewalk– it’s the same with Asian languages.
The most-spoken languages in the Indo-European family include:
The Indo-Aryan Branch
The Iranian Branch
The Slavic Branch
The Sino-Tibetan Family is comprised of about 400 languages, but it’s major ones include:
The Austroasiatic family, also called Mon-Khmer family, only has 2 officially recognized languages but 117 million speakers.
Mon-Khmer / Austroasiatic Family
The Kra-Dai family also only contains 2 languages, with an approx. 93 million speakers.
And then there’s the:
Semitic Branch (Afro-Asiatic Family)
Now I’m in no means saying that two languages in the same branch/family are actually going to be similar but more times than not, you’ll at least be able to notice some vague similarities.
How long is it going to take to learn?
All but 2 Asian languages are defined as either category 4 or 5 by the Foreign Service Institute.
Malaysian and Indonesian are the only two level 3 languages– meaning English speakers can expect 900 hours of study before fluency. (Rougly 36 weeks)
There are only five level 5 languages and all of them are Asian:
- Cantonese (Chinese)
- Mandarin (Chinese)
*usually more difficult than others
Those languages are considered exceptionally difficult for native English speakers to learn, and require 2200 hours of study. (Roughly 88 weeks)
This is not meant to scare you, just to tell you what you can expect.
All other Asian languages are category 4, defined as those with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English.
And generally take learners around 1100 hours to learn. Which comes out to about 44 weeks if you study 25 hours each week.
So yes, category 5 languages take double as long as category 4 but at the end of the day, how fast you acquire the language is dependant on you.
Your study skills, your study habits, and your passion for the language.
How are you going to practice speaking with native speakers?
As if this even needs to be said; Asia is across the world. You won’t be able to practice with native speakers if you don’t put in a little work on your end.
This is why researching sub-populations in your own area can be so important.
If you know that there are lot’s of refugees or immigrants from a certain Asian region right in your town, then you won’t have to worry about getting some interactive speaking practice in.
You’ll just have to make yourself present in the communities they reside.
And with wide-spoken languages like Mandarin or Japanese, you won’t even have to particularly go out your way to at least cross paths with a fluent speaker.
But there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to need to find some form of digital language exchange.
Regardless of what language you’ve chosen, there are native speakers in virtually all of them who have signed up for platforms that connect them with English speakers.
Because shocker, a lot of them also want to learn English.
So by joining these platforms, typically in the forms of mobile apps and websites, all you have to do is send one message to get instant “penpals.”
Tutoring sites especially are great for ensuring that you’ll actually understand what’s being said by the fluent speaker.
Just 19 hours of using the tutoring platform, Italki, is equivalent to 35 hours on other language Apps, and 48 hours in a college semester.
If you need some suggestions for free quality language exchange apps, then check out The 5 best language exchange apps to use when you’re too broke to travel.
Regardless of your medium though, practicing the language with fluent speakers isn’t really a choice.
You kinda have to in order to reach fluency yourself. So whether you take the digital route or the physical route, just make sure you take a route.
But before you head out
My mission with this site to help other atypical language learners who, like myself, are simply too broke to travel.
Because why wreck your bank account when you can experience language immersion from the comforts of your own home?
I don’t know either. Personally, using my own at-home methods I’ve acquired more Vietnamese in just a few months of learning than in 3 years of Spanish courses.
It’s almost shameful.
This site offers a more well-rounded and enjoyable learning experience than Duolingo, by allowing you to focus on topics that actually interest you.
And that’s including Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Russian, Hindi, and many more.
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.
And for a limited time, you’ll also score a 4-week self quarantine (rapid) language learning checklist.
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So the world is in a bit of a scary place right now. Social distancing is the newest trending term, and self quarantine has become the new norm.
I’ve already seen tons of social media posts offering their own ways of staying both positive and productive at home in order to squash this coronavirus.
But understandably, self quarantine is boring for most people. You don’t even have to be a super social person to get sick of staring at the walls all day.
I mean, the current world has never ever had a situation even remotely like this. And if we’re lucky, we won’t ever have to experience it again.
But those reasons are also why you will probably never have a better opportunity to focus on learning another language.
Most of us have naturally busy, fast-paced lives– but this self quarantine is finally forcing us to slow down and re-evaluate.
Even if you’re working or schooling from home, you’ll still have plenty of extra time thanks to the removal of generally integral parts of our day.
No more commuting, social hangouts, eating out, gym, recreational activities, sports, cosmetic trips, grand shopping events, community service, work events, school events, etc.
But don’t let this freak you out. If anything, it should motivate you even more to start learning another language now rather than later.
With some of the methods I mention in this article, you’ll even be to able to fix any boredom issues.
Plus, with it being pretty obvious which direction the economy is already going in, it’s more than fair to say that strengthening your resume definitely won’t hurt.
I want to remind you though that as consumers, we all play a role in just how far our economy may plummet. There’s little reason to stop online shopping if you’re still making a steady income. Plus there are still certain necessities you’ll have to buy even while social distancing.
But being a broke student myself, I want to make sure that all of my readers are finding ways to shop smart and save some coins. Both BeFrugal and Rakuten ($10 back after $25 spent!) are resources designed to give back to online consumers; so there really isn’t any reason for you put yourself at risk just go get groceries.
This Covid19 pandemic is proof in itself that business is becoming increasingly global. So by online consuming and learning another language you’re making sure that you’re prepared to move with it.
Now onto the steps.
1. Choose your language (& how to go about choosing it)
Well this one is obvious, but I had to at least mention the smart way of going about it.
Choosing your target language is much more than what would be the simplest for you to learn. You have to find your “why.”
Because there are going to be times that you feel like giving up and you’ll have to have to reconnect with your inner motivations. Personally, I’m learning Vietnamese to eventually volunteer in Asia and partake in faith-based discussions.
But that’s me. I say this to say that you don’t have to limit yourself to the few languages that English speakers commonly learn.
I have a whole list of different languages on my home page here, categorized by difficulty levels.
So I suggest considering whether you would ever:
- study abroad
- live abroad
- volunteer abroad
- go into the language industry
- or a certain nationality dominated industry
- partake in international business relations
Or even if there are any large ethnic sub-populations in your area that you could be of assistance to. If you’d like to learn an Asian language, check out 8 questions to ask yourself before deciding which Asian language to learn.
But as always, follow the language of your heart. If you want to learn a family language, then don’t let the fact that it’s not that “marketable of a language” stop you from studying it.
Because chances are you simply won’t be as driven going after your second choice.
2. Learn the needed time commitment & commit
None of us know quite how long this self quarantine is going to last– so don’t take a slow approach to this language learning process.
I’d suggest 3 hours per day as a minimum.
Which isn’t at all hard if you approach it right. You’ll just need to be flexible in the forms of learning that you partake in; which I’ll discuss more in the next steps.
But with 3 hours being the goal I generally set for normal-paced language learners, you may want to kick it up a few notches if you’re looking to attain near fluency by the time this self quarantine is over.
Nonetheless, you need a clear understanding of the amount of time you’ll actually be dedicating to this endeavor.
Just to put the numbers into perspective, let’s say this self quarantine ends up lasting 6 weeks. At 3 hours per day, you’re looking at 126 hours of language learning.
And while that’s definitely an impressive number– it’s definitely not enough to be even remotely close to fluency.
But what you will be is good at the language. If this self quarantine lasts for 2 months and you dedicate 5 hours/day, then you’ll be up to 280 hours.
Meaning you’ll be just about halfway to fluency in category 1 languages, a little over 1/3 of the way to fluency in category 2 languages, and 20 hours short of 1/3 of the way to fluency in category 3 languages.
Growth won’t appear as substantial in category 4 or 5 languages but you’ll at least have reached a general comfort doing some basic conversing.
A big factor in determining your time commitment now could also be figuring out how much time you’ll be able to commit after this self quarantine.
If you’re looking at just about 30 minutes once life returns to normal, then you better set a very high time commitment up until that point.
3. Learn the Absolute Basics
Personally, I like the language acquisition process to be as enjoyable as possible.
But you’ll have to put in some elementary-styled work before you’ll able to utilize all the…. fun resources. (I’m talking YouTube, NetFlix, Social Media, etc.)
Just like when children acquire language, you’ll need to learn foundation words and very basic grammar for your target language. Start with introductory phrases, simple ways of describing yourself, and questions about learning the language.
This is so that when you begin joining language exchange applications and platforms (step 4), you’ll be able to ask native speakers things like “can you write down that word,” or “do you know how to say that word in English?”
And since you’re going to have start somewhere, why not start with the phrases that’ll actually speed up your learning?
So use a variety of beginner learning resources, and make sure you’re writing new vocabulary down.
All of these needs to be stored in some kind of repetition-spaced flashcards application, or else you’ll never remember them.
If you’re taking the free route, then flashcard systems based on demonstrated mastery are your best bet for actual retention.
Depending on the platform you choose to start learning with, that feature may even be included.
I started out with LanguagePod101, also known as Innovative Language. The site’s basically an all-in-one toolbox, providing flashcards, a vocabulary bank, vocabulary list, dictionary, “common words” storage features, and native-taught video and audio lessons.
What really sold me on it though was it’s dirt-cheap plans. While all users do get a free Lifetime account, features are quite limited.
Fortunately, the site offers a 7-day free trial of all its’ premium features, a one dollar 30-day fast track to fluency package, and a 6-month deal at $3/month after the first two run out.
Their premium plan includes Line-by-Line Audio Transcript, an Exclusive Premium iTunes Feed, Bonus Lesson Content, Interactive Lesson Quizzes, Personal Word Bank, Core 2000 Word List, Audio Spaced Repetition Flashcards, and a reliable translation dictionary (so you won’t have to use Google Translate.)
Plus the site teaches 34 different languages, with extensive content libraries in typically excluded languages, like Thai and Urdu. This site offers a more well-rounded and enjoyable learning experience than Duolingo, by allowing you to focus on topics that actually interest you.
The languages that they offer both free and paid subscriptions in include, but are not limited to:
- Chinese — Cantonese
- Chinese — Mandarin
And that’s just a few of them! With 1+ billion lesson downloads since 2005, you’ll be learning with the largest library of lessons.
Consider this step your “week 1.” That’s 21 hours solely devoted to mastering the basics and introducing yourself to the language.
4. Digital Language Exchange
Now is a better time than ever to start utilizing digital forms of language exchange. ‘Cause any kind of physical exchange kinda goes against this whole self quarantine thing the nation’s got going on.
But beyond that, digital exchange is the key to rapid language acquisition. It forces you to connect all the vocab you’re learning and develop your grammar skills.
And there’s truly no better teacher than native insight. When you have partners who personally fix all your mistakes, you’re way more likely to stop making them.
For really rapid progress I’ll will tell you from the get-go that paying for a Language exchange tutor is much more effective than the “two-way” tutoring you can expect with free partners.
Simply because the free partners I usually talk with primarily speak in the language they’re learning– English. The biggest “immersion factors” would be their constant corrections, cultural insights, and hearing their accents.
Apparently just 19 hours of using the paid tutoring platform Italki is equivalent to 35 hours on other language Apps, and 48 hours in a college semester.
But as you’ll hear when it comes to success at anything in life, you’ll either need to make a time investment or a money investment.
I generally go with time on the simple basis that I have more of it than money. And I know that after this self quarantine is over, I’ll still have time to devote to language learning.
But if you know you’re going to be much too busy for 3 hours daily after this, then there’s no problem in taking a paid route to fluency.
Language exchange is language exchange, regardless of whether or not it comes with a price tag.
Just make sure that you make interchange with natives is a regular part of your learning routine.
And that typically looks like text-based conversations in the beginning; so you’ll have time to think and/or translate before you respond. But keep translation to a minimum– your partners will correct you or at least inform you that your sentence makes no sense.
For a high-value free app, read The 5 best language exchange apps to use when you’re too broke to travel.
No need to make that plunge alone.
As this should turn into your main means of collecting new vocab terms, make sure to continue adding to and reviewing your flashcard set, mentioned earlier.
Language exchange should be just about your main focus throughout the entirety of this self quarantine.
For those on a free path, it’s definitely one of the quickest ways to naturally acquire the language.
5. Immerse yourself in the language right from home
No need to leave your haven just to immerse yourself in your target language.
Outside of language exchange, there are still tons of way to replicate a foreign environment right at home.
The language you’re learning will determine how hard this will be. If you’re learning a widely spoken language (like Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, etc.) you’ll have more than enough content to keep you occupied.
But sites like Google, YouTube, Netflix, Instagram, and Facebook are all super inclusive with the languages they provide.
So after you’ve got got the basics down and spent some hours exchanging languages, you can start including videos and social media in your learning routine!
Meaning you’ll get to focus mainly on topics that interest you. But take it slow at first — even entertaining content will require active study.
With videos, I’d suggest not jumping straight into a movie, but rather watching (and taking notes on) multiple shorter YouTube videos.
Vlogs and vivid story-times can be great at providing the visuals you need to understand the general message.
And with videos being produced by content creators, you’ll be able to find content in basically every language.
Shorter TV episodes can also be a non-intimidating option for active watchers. Watch with the foreign subtitles, and come prepared to translate as needed.
Netflix allow you to set your language preference to 1 out of 26 different languages. But show options will still be very limited in some languages.
If you’re unable to listen to the video/show/movie you want with both audio and captions in your target language, then skip it. Research has proven that learners don’t retain anything by listening to foreign language content with English subtitles, or listening to English content with foreign subtitles.
You miss on the immersion aspect of it by throwing English into the mix.
I’d only suggest doing the former to hear correct pronunciations, and if you plan to actively add as many words to your flashcard stash as possible. (The more words you add now though, the more you’ll have to review later!)
So get into the habit of listening and reading in your target language.
Don’t translate everything though; stick with repeating words/phrases and those that seem essential to understanding the plot.
You’ll have to get use to being mildly frustrated every time you watch a video. Jumping from elementary to native level is is always a mind-boggling transition– so don’t let that deter you.
And use reliable online translations. If you’re going to use Google Translate, then only trust translations verified by the Translate community.
And search any words of interest with their context. Because individual terms often mean something different than they do in phrases.
Or you could use Languagepod101’s Dictionary for both translations and examples of searched words.
To really imitate immersion in a foreign environment, set your browser and devices in the language. Fortunately Google is available in 149 languages, so it’s pretty easy to switch over the material you view daily.
Once you change your default language, all of Google’s products and the search engine itself will show up in that language. But search engine results will still appear in English as long as you search things in English.
And as for social media, you can either set the whole platform in the language, or follow users who speak the language.
If interested in the former, Facebook is available in 101 languages and Instagram is available in 36.
And personally, I find captions under photos to be significantly less intimidating to full-blown passages or news articles.
And you can even use Pinterest as Language Learning Resource!
So continue with your language exchange daily, reviewing your flashcards daily, watching videos when you can, and immersing yourself where possible.
So what now?
Before you head out, let’s recap. Your 5-step Self Quarantine plan is:
- Choose your language
- Set your time commitment & total-hour goal
- Learn the absolute basics with a good teaching platform
- Join Language Exchange platforms: regularly converse with natives
- Immerse yourself using videos, social media, and device settings
And your last bonus step is to sign up for your free 4-week Self Quarantine Language Learning Checklist designed for rapid progression (without all the added fees!)
It’ll keep on track with your goals and walk you through all these steps weeks by week.
We’re still together with our language-learning even if we do have to social distance ourselves.
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My mission with this site is to help other language learners who, like myself, are simply too broke to travel.
Regardless of what language you’re learning, I want to make sure you’re learning the highest-quality information at the lowest possible costs.
Rocket Languages offers online language courses that are simple, powerful, and effective. Devised using the strategies polyglots use, their award-winning courses are designed to get you using your new language quickly, correctly, and confidently.
The languages that they offer courses in include:
For other languages, I strongly recommend Innovative Languages. Native taught courses & podcasts available for both free and paid subscriptions.
For Japanese, Russian, and Hebrew, I strongly suggest Lingualift. You’ll be able to learn a language without memorization, frustration, or boring lectures. You’ll have access to:
- Dedicated tutors
- A Customized study plan
- Language Learning Secrets book
- 25% off with the code courage during quarantine
But before you head off on your language learning journey– I want us to stay in contact with one another. Us language learners have to stick together right?
My language craziness expands to multiple platforms so you can also find me cranking out polyglot inspiration on Instagram or Pinterest. Don’t hesitate to direct message me or comment on one of my posts! I’d love to get to know you beyond this screen.
Aside from that fun, if you’re still here then I want to make sure you don’t miss out on your free language learning toolkit.
All exclusive content curated specifically for atypical language learners looking to make the language acquisition process as fun and unconventional as possible.
Equipped with a 4-week checklist, 100 fun learning ideas, the keys to a “naturally simple” approach, and a rapid acquisition 2-week plan. All straight to your inbox. And trust me– I never spam.
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Keep learning languages my friend! And I look forward to seeing you again real soon.
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!