A while back I did a post listing the resources I was using and trialing in order to learn Japanese, I will be doing a revised list of those soon, detailing which ones I’ve dropped, and which ones have been the most useful.
In this post though I will be elaborating on the Hello Talk app, I use it on Android, but I believe it’s on IOS as well. I’ll cover what the app is and what I have found to be the most effective way of using it. This is an app that I would really recommend to anyone!
What is it?
Hello Talk is a social / messaging / language exchange app that connects you to native speakers of the language you want to learn. When you setup your account you put in your native language, then put in the language you want to learn, and rate from 1-5 how proficient you are in that language. This way other language learners will know roughly how much of your learning language you know when they look at your posts or profile.
What you can then do is search for people who speak the language you want to learn, but also want to learn your language. The idea being that you can message or call each other in the app for practice.
The main part of the app however is the ‘Moments’ feed, which is a social media feed where you see posts from people generally living in the country of the language you want to speak. I’ll go more in depth on this further down, but this is the key to Hello Talk.
The messaging part
I first found out about the app by one of my students while I was in Japan, when she told me about this app she said I should search for people in the area (in my case Kyoto & Shiga) and message them to practice learning Japanese, while helping them to practice English.
So I searched, sent out messages and did get a few basic introductions and conversations going with people, however they pretty much died out after the usual loop of ‘hello, I’m ___, how are you?’.
I did then get a message from a Japanese person who had found me on the app, as it turns out my profile stood out in the search as I was actually the only English native speaker on the app staying in the whole of the Shiga prefecture! Funnily enough it turned out that we were both living in Otsu, and only about 10 minutes away from each other, so it turned into a day out where we met up for some lunch, helped each other learn a bit of Japanese / English, then I got shown some cool places in Otsu I wouldn’t have known about before.
However when I returned to the UK, I found that searching for people to message has been ineffective as no one really replied to messages, those that did again resulted in the usual ‘hello, how are you?’ conversations.
At this point I actually thought the app to be fairly pointless unless you maybe were living in the country of the language you wanted to learn. So I actually dropped the app for a few months.
The ‘Moments’ feed – And the ACTUAL point of the app!
Recently I came back to Hello Talk and decided to give it another try, and on doing so I had an epiphany that the Moments feed is actually the part of the app I should have been using all along!
If the student who told me about the app had described it as ‘Twitter for language learning’ then it would have made much more sense to me! This is the part of the app that you need to use!! (I also dub this part of the app ‘Ask Japan’)
Basically the Moments feed is pretty much Twitter (Without hashtags), it’s a realtime feed where people post what they are doing, what’s on their mind etc.
The biggest difference being that the posts you see are from people living in the country of your target language (in my case Japan), this means not only do I get to see lots of cool pictures of things, food etc in Japan, but also I get to hear about what’s going on in Japan.
I also means I get to see a massive amount of posts in Japanese, which is of course great for reading practice, listening practice (more on that later), and learning new vocab, as well as grammar and more casual Japanese rather than the formal textbook Japanese.
Replying to peoples posts in Japanese is of course great practice to, even if it’s just the odd sentence confirming that the weather here is cold as well today etc
Some Japanese people do post in English as well in order to practice and get corrected (again more on that later). And some people post both Japanese and English so it can be read by both at a glance, and you can easily see the translation between them.
You can of course just post in English if you feel like talking to people but don’t have the time to translate etc, or just even to ask ‘How do I say _____ in Japanese’ or ask about Japan etc.
The useful tools of the Moments feed
Now scrolling through a feed seeing lots of posts in Japanese and with lots of kanji can of course feel a bit overwhelming when you are still learning the language (like me). Thankfully however Hello Talk provides some amazing tools which instantly make this process a lot easier!
By simply highlighting a post you are present with an option bar. This allows you to copy the text to clipboard if you want to paste it into a browser to lookup words etc. It can also read the text out from text to voice, and this is great for listening practice, and also when there are words in kanji which you don’t know the reading of!
It also has an inbuilt translate function, so you can instantly get an English translation of the post in the app! I think there is actually a reverse translate as well, which converts what you type from English to Japanese, however I haven’t used that and don’t know of it’s accuracy.
These tools and features aren’t just in the moments feed, they do work if you get messages as well.
Corrections – Another useful feature!
Now as mentioned replying to posts in the feed is great for practice, but of course making your own posts is going to be much better practice!
Hello Talks corrections feature is amazing! Rather than directly to a post you can choose to correct it instead, and this is a large part of why people post things in the Moments feed. And why you should to.
Corrections quote the original post, but as you retype the parts that are wrong, it will strike out the wrong parts. Easier to explain with this example.
So here you can see my original post on the left, I have written Japanese at the top and below written in English what I am actually trying to say. (as well as posting a picture of my awesome marimos!)
On the right someone has replied with the corrections, and you can see that the first line is correct, so no changes are needed. Then on the next section of text it has crossed out in red the parts of my original text that were wrong, and the green below is how the phrase should correctly be written.
In this case most of the correction has actually been to change my hiragana into kanji. You will find often if you type a word in hiragana people will correct it to include kanji if possible.
In the above example the same has been done again, only this time more than one person has chosen to do a correction. Now this can be good and confusing! It’s confusing from the point of view that you wonder which the ‘correct’ one. But though these corrections are different, neither are wrong. It’s just like in English there are lots of ways to say / mean the same thing, and in this way you get to learn different ways native people would say things.
It’s nice to help out the other way in exchange to, so when Japanese people post something like ‘Today’s weather nice’, then you could correct it in the same way by just adding ‘is’ after ‘weather’ and that would appear like the corrections above.
Back to messaging
Now from using the ‘Moments’ feed, the messaging then makes a lot more sense, as rather than messaging blind strangers that you’ve searched for, you tend to get a lot of people direct message you after interacting with them in the social feed first. Some of those are of course still dead conversations after a few messages, but I’ve also had some good conversations from it.
Last week I was speaking to a person in Fukuoka, and we had a good practice describing where we lived, what was around, and chatting about the cherry blossoms in Japan.
Fun to use for practice with a friend
Another great use for the app is actually if you know someone else using the app to practice with. Thankfully I have someone I am able to practice with, we sometimes use the message part of the app to exchange vocab and verbs etc, now while that could be done in any app, social media etc, Hello Talk provides on more advantage and useful tool.
That tool is the draw / doodle function in messages. This is great for doing some kanji practice, we take it in turns to write out kanji for the other to see if they know the meaning. It’s great as you practice your stroke order and writing, as well as trying to remember the meanings and readings. I’ve learnt a lot of new kanji this way!
You can of course use the camera and attach images in the messages, so handy for exchanging notes / text book questions etc.
Linking back to the Moments feed, we then sometimes decide to ‘Ask Japan’ where we post a sentence on the Moments feed using verbs or kanji that we have practiced, then seeing what people correct.
Any paywall restrictions?
There aren’t any significant ones, on the free version the only restrictions I’ve found are that there is an ‘app of the day’ advert at the top of you DM inbox, to be honest though it’s not obtrusive and I don’t even notice it’s there. And that the inbuilt translations limits you to I think around 15 per day, but if you run out then there’s always copy and paste into an external browser or translate program. You are also limited to just learning one language at a time, but for me I’m only learning Japanese so that’s fine.
Upgrading to VIP lifts all of those restrictions, I think it let’s you learn 3 languages at once, and also gives you more in depth search functions and some stickers. To be honest the VIP cost is something I will most likely do just to support the app, the costs are actually pretty low. There are options of less than £2 per month, about £13ish pound a year, or unlimited for about £48ish I think.
So it took me a while to actually understand the point of the app and how to get the most out of it, but now that I have worked out the moments feed this is my new favourite app!
This app is something I would strongly recommend for anyone learning a language, I am using it for Japanese but the app of course works in the same way for other languages, so you could learn pretty much any language using it (Though I think someone told me Finnish wasn’t on there).