唐人社区-北美华人论坛-外国人在中国版-HelloTalk language exchange app|
What is it?
HelloTalk is an app for Android and iOS cellphones. It's a language sharing platform that allows people to both teach and learn a language. Currently a new user is capable of setting one known language and one target language. Additional languages can be added for a small fee.
On the main page you'll find four tabs on the bottom and on the top. On the bottom you'll have a HelloTalk page where you can view your active conversations. Just to the right is a partners tab where you can see your friends list. If you are like me and randomly add anybody there is a way to mark your most useful partners as favorites. Just go to their profile and on the top right you'll see three dots. Hit that and an option to favorite that person pops up. If you select it their name will be moved to the top of your friends list with your other favorited friends.
Next is the search function. It recommends people based in your time zone, although you can do a custom search to specify parameters such as age, languages, skill, nationality, city, etc.
Finally we have the ubiquitous settings tab. You can mess with your profile, get usage tips, or access the store.
However, if it were just these it would simply be another WeChat clone. There are a number of language learning features that make it stand out.
The first is the Favorites tab. You can long click on any message received and move it to your favorites tab for further dissection or review. There's also an in-App translator. I haven't used it much, but I suspect it's on the same line as a Baidu or Google translate.
You also have a history bar labeled Language Exchange that tracks requests sent and received. What is a Language Exchange? It's a different type of chat window that ensures a balanced back and forth of language usage. Sinosplice I believe had a fun article on "Language Wars" - this feature works to directly combat that.
You can set it for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 500 characters or 1,000 characters. At a certain point only the specified language will be transmitted. This means if you choose 5 minutes, for 5 minutes you will both speak in English, then for 5 only in Chinese. I use this function if only to control and direct the attention of a specific tutor. This helps but does not ensure the attention of the tutor. Otherwise people are free to drift in and out of a conversation.
There is also a notepad feature where you can sandbox phrases.
The chat windows work exactly like a WeChat. Users have the option of entering text, or recording their voice in a walkie-talkie type feature. There's a smattering of smilies as well.
Users can also: send a photo, take a picture, doodle, enter a long text, do a language exchange, or introduce one friend to another [I assume, so far I haven't used this feature].
When in a chat you can hold down [long click in the parlance] on a sentence or audio file to get a pop-up menu. Through this you can send the message to your favorites tab, correct a sentence a la Lang8, copy it to your clipboard, have a computer read the sentence aloud OR attempt to transcribe an audio file to a text file, or translate from or to a specified language.
It's this transcription function that could be really really cool. It's been hit or miss so far - it seems to correctly get around 60-100% depending on the speaker, the ambient noise, the difficulty of the word, etc. More than half the time I simply have to ask the tutor to write what they mean. I don't know if there is any way to make this function better.
I downloaded this program about two days ago. So far I've used it for around 10 hours. It's precisely the thing I was looking for - a quick and painless way to get myself to speak more Chinese.
Obviously you'll have the same conversations over and over again "你来自那里?" "你做什么工作?" 等等 .... I've found the best course of action is to just start the action - lead off with a polite introduction, then as quickly as you can ask a content question - What's your favorite method of transportation and why? Which is more important, luck or skill? etc. This will get the ball rolling quickly and help you move onto whatever target language you want to practice.
Alternatively, asking the tutors what they want is also a good way to go about things.
In general, it pays to be very upfront about your expectations. I expect to both give and receive corrections, so I try to make that one of the first 5 sentences I share. Because it's so easy to find dozens of language partners, eventually you'll find a few that share your goals and methods. To date I've befriended around 50 people, and about 4-6 are what I'd consider useful partners.
I've also noticed a lag in the sending and receiving of messages. Using WeChat as my baseline I'd say it takes between 0 and 10 seconds to have a partner see my message, or vice versa. We tested this by sending messages more or less simultaneously over WeChat and HelloTalk. Not a big deal, just
the way it works. To be honest outside the Language Exchange feature this is totally meaningless.
Also, because the notifications icon is small, red and circular, I'd like to see either its or the flag's position moved. In my chat screen at a glance it's hard to see how many active conversations I have because the small Chinese flag looks very similar to the notifications flag.
There is a store feature. It offers two services. One is unlimited translation. There is an soft limit of 25 translations per day, but for 6 RMB you can get unlimited for a month, with discounts offered if you buy months in bulk. They also charge you 12 RMB per additional language that you offer or want. Otherwise the app is free to use so far.
It appears this is a well developed WeChat style program that has many useful features specifically designed for language exchange. Apart from some very small details the usage has been smooth. Today I literally sat down after dinner and carried on dozens of frantic conversations in two/three languages for 5 hours, not to mention the aggregate time I spent all afternoon. Normally to get that level of excitement people play Candy Crush or whatever, but now I not only have new sentences patterns to practice, but my 口语 is flowing more easily, and I've made new friends.
TLDR: Wanna practice a new language? Try it.