Through my research I learned about several different apps, but the two most popular were HelloTalk and Tandem. As expected, they both have the same premise: connect with native speakers and have conversations. Both apps are free to use but offer extra features if you upgrade your membesrship or pay for the service. Sounds pretty simple. But I have found that there are several differences between these apps and I definitely prefer one over the other. If you’d like to know which one, as well as the pros/cons of each, keep reading.
If you are learning a language like I am then you have heard a million times the key to advancing your language. Immersion! This means either moving to the country that speaks the language you want to learn and/or speaking the language with native speakers. But what if you can’t get up and move to another country right now? What if you can’t find anyone to speak the target language with? For me with Spanish, I can easily find someone who speaks Spanish living in the Northeast. But, there are two big challenges.
- It is intimidating to speaking with a native speaker. I get it that you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone and I totally advocate for that, but it’s scary. You don’t want to feel dumb or judged. You are scared of making mistakes or freezing.
- Not everyone wants to be your Spanish (or whatever language) teacher. Helping someone who is learning another language by correcting them, explaining things to them, etc. is a lot of work and effort. So while you may have a friend or coworker who speaks the language you are learning, they may not want to tutor you.
That’s where language exchange apps come in handy. You are not speaking face-to-face with these people. Most of these apps do have features where you can do a video call (similar to FaceTime) but the use of the text-messaging style system is more common. You can also do voice notes within the messaging system. This is useful for those who are not advanced enough or who are too scared to have a live-time call. You’ll have time to think about what you want to say and re-listen to the audio before you send it.
Another plus is that everyone is willing to be a teacher. Everyone understands that users are there to learn and that their native language is sought after by many. By signing up for these language exchange apps you are agreeing to do just that, EXCHANGE. You give something to get something. Everyone is on the same playing field because we are all teachers and students at the same time. Users are patient and willing to correct mistakes, because they hope to receive the same conduct from you.
Let’s get into the pros of each app. Starting with…
- There seems to be more users on this app. I don’t know the official number of active users on each app, but I often feel like I see many similar faces who are active on Tandem.
- Also, there seems to be more variety/diversity on HelloTalk. On HelloTalk the first few days I talked to people from so many countries. Contrastly, on Tandem I feel that many people are from the same few countries. Of course this isn’t a total negative and it’s not a huge deal. But, I do appreciate getting to know about more cultures.
- The interface. Let me preface this by saying that neither interface is difficult to navigate. However, I find HelloTalk to be a bit more user friendly.
- More features. One big standout HelloTalk offers is being able to do more than just chat through messages. Both apps offer video calls, audio notes, and phone calls. However, on HelloTalk there is a “Facebook” aspect to it where you can post “status”-like posts for everyone to see. Some use this to post about their day like a traditional “status” and others use it to ask for help, post pictures of their city/food/etc., or let people know they are available to chat.
- Another special feature is being able to add a voice note on your page for your introduction. Not everyone uses this, and I currently don’t have one on my profile. But, it can be cool to put a voice to the person, hear them speak their native tongue that you’re learning or the language that they’re learning.
- There’s also group messaging.
- You can upload more than one photo on your profile. Well, because I said that HT has a few Facebook-like features, you are able to post pictures in those “status”-like posts. However, you are limited to only one profile picture. On Tandem, you can upload up to 6. I appreciate this because you can get more of a sense of who the person is, their interests, etc. Due to this, I was able to strike up conversations with people who I saw traveled to different places through their profile pictures.
- You can get tutored by certified language tutors. This system clearly has kinks in it that it needs to work out. The first time I tried it neither I nor my teacher could contact each other. I’m still trying to work it out as of writing this post. So while I can’t vouch for it, each of the tutors have many reviews, so it has worked for others. The prices usually range from $20-$25 an hour. You can reserve a 20, 40 or 60 minute lesson.
- Set as many languages as you want for those you are trying to learn. I will discuss this again under the cons section for HT, but with Tandem you can set several languages as those you are learning and that you speak. I’ve seen some people with like 8! Who knows if they are actually learning all those languages, but it’s nice to have the option.
- Take yourself “offline.” If you want to go on the app to continue conversations you were already having but don’t want to get bombarded with a bunch of new messages from people who see that you are online, you can disconnect and you will be viewed as offline to people you haven’t talked with before.
Now, heading into the cons. Many of these are mirror images of what the other app does not offer. But I think it’s important to note them. Starting with…
- Unless you upgrade to the premium membership, you can only list that you speak and are learning one language each. You are able to change the language you’re learning, but then you have to keep it at that language for two days unti you can switch back. This is a huge con because as someone who is learning more than one language, now I have to choose which language I want to connect with people in. I think I learned a lot with this app, but only with Spanish (the language I chose to list). I am only connected with Spanish speakers and I am not viewable to users who speak the other languages I want to learn.
- There’s a limit to the amount of times you can use their translation feature. For me this isn’t a big deal because I try not to use a translator, and if I do I have the Google Translate app. But I think this can be a huge con for those learning another language as a beginner or that uses a completely different alphabet system. For example, if I was learning Russian through this app this limitation would be a huge drawback.
- You can’t search to find users from a certain country unless, you guessed it, you get the premium membership. Some of you may not care and are willing to pay for the premium membership. However, I am cheap! Some people may be interested in learning about the culture from a certain country or want to learn a particular dialect of a language (ex. Brazilian vs. Portugal Portuguese).
- It has a Tinder-ish feel to it and I get the impression that a lot of people are NOT there to learn languages. This is ironic because when signing up for Tandem you are put on a waitlist so they can “screen” you and they remind you before signing up that this is not a dating app. However, the app seems to be filled with people who seem to be more interested in dating than learning.
- Remember how I said you can put that you’re learning several languages? I have a hunch that many people are not interested in learning a language, but want to be matched/viewable to certain people. Ex. Saying that you’re learning Portuguese to meet “hot, Brazilian girls” or Russian for “hot, Russian people.”
- The profile pictures also seem to indicate this. Let me note that unwanted flirting is a problem on both apps and someone’s profile picture is not an invitation to solicit nudes or harass people. However, on Tandem I see a lot more shirtless, bikini, headshots, modeling pictures as people’s profile pictures. That alone may not give anything away. But together with flirty “statuses,” requests for phone/video calls and links to their Instagrams, tells another story.
- I also get the impression that their are a lot of fakes on there. I have zero proof to back this up. But a lot of these people had profile pictures that look like they’re from magazine photoshoots or that they Googled “cute blond Russian” and found someone’s pictures to steal. Just be careful.
- You can’t personalize your profile as much. Users just fill in the rest of a generic sentence and that’s it. You’re don’t get to show much of who you are and are unable to tell a lot about others.
- People aren’t as responsive. This could totally be a “me” thing. Maybe people on here just don’t want to chat with me! Haha. But I find that people are way more responsive to me and reach out to me more on HT.
Get both apps! See which you prefer. You can use both apps for free so there’s reason not to try both out. For me, if I was only going to have one, I’d choose Hello Talk.