By ANGELA DONG
Although all high school students are required to take two years of a foreign language, many find the rote memorization used in textbooks and school courses to be an ineffective study strategy. Alternative methods that allow for more cultural exposure have been rising in popularity, as exemplified by HelloTalk, a free app for Apple and Android devices that allows worldwide users to learn different languages through communication.
HelloTalk connects users who are fluent in different languages through an innovative pairing system. After creating their accounts, first-time users are asked to specify their first language and their proficiency in the language they want to learn. They are then briefed on HelloTalk’s policies, including privacy and expected etiquette, and given a short tutorial after which they are allowed to begin searching for other worldwide users to chat with.
The basis of HelloTalk is conversation. After messaging several different people, I was able to get a better impression of how HelloTalk works. As someone born in America, my Chinese reading and writing skills leave much to be desired, so I was surprised when the first user I connected with — a Chinese foreign exchange student — was extremely patient in helping me correct my mistakes. Every user I talked to was willing to help (provided that I did the same for them), and besides learning the language, I also learned a bit about culture and daily life in China.
I was impressed with the wide variety of tools HelloTalk offers, including a translator, thesaurus, audio input option and phonetic keyboard. There is also specific terminology; for example, typing “->” before a message is used to improve a translation or suggest a better phrase. Customizable profiles and sticker packs allow for personal connections between users.
Although I thought there was room for improvement in terms of the app’s design, I found HelloTalk’s mutually-beneficial system a much easier and more understandable approach than traditional memorization. I was introduced to syntax and vocabulary that was more casual and more applicable than textbook content.
HelloTalk is a helpful app for anyone interested in improving their conversational skills in a specific language. With a 4-star rating, HelloTalk is praised for its interactive, social system, but many reviewers have requested a more comprehensive tutorial. The app becomes more popular with every new update.