Chat applications that are dedicated to doing language exchanges are just like regular chat apps WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Telegram but also include special features that help you to find language partners and practice languages with them.
There are many free chat apps available for iOS and Android, so which one should you use? I will go through 5 apps and tell about my experience using them.
Disclaimer: This review is not sponsored by any of the apps that I mention in this article. All the opinions are my own.
HelloTalk is an app that I have been using for a long time already, so I have more experience of using it than the other apps in this review.
HelloTalk has a ton of features, but here are the most important ones:
One difference to other chat apps is that HelloTalk has implemented some restrictions for how other users are able to view your personal profile.
For example, you can have only one profile picture and you can't see a larger version of user's profile picture if you tap on it.
Those things are some of the built-in restrictions to ensure that you can only use the app for practicing languages.
HelloTalk manages to bundle a lot of features in a simple, well-designed user interface.
The chat windows and post feeds look clean and all the extra options are hidden behind different types of menus.
Navigating between different views inside the app is fast and effortless.
Finding language partners is easy. Use the Search tab to see a list of users that speak the language that you are learning. At least with Spanish, Portuguese, German and Italian, there seems to be a lot of people to chat with.
You can use the advanced search to filter users based on the language, age, nationality, city or fluency level.
By default, other users can find you if they are learning one of the languages that you speak, but it is also possible for them to find you even without matching languages if they use the advanced search.
You make the default setting even stricter by going to "Settings" > "Who can find me" and turning on "Exact language match" if you only want to receive messages from people that have matching languages.
There is a view called HelloTalk, which is the main chat view that lists all your conversations and shows new messages.
When chatting with another user, you can correct grammar mistakes in the messages that you receive and the other user can correct your mistakes.
You can also click on any message and listen to a text-to-speech audio of it or translate it to another language.
The chat window also has options to send images, emojis or audio messages or to start a video/audio call with the other user.
One feature that I really like is Moments. It is basically a timeline of content posted by HelloTalk users: pictures, questions, audio clips and so on. You can filter the timeline based on a language that you are learning. Other users can reply to the posts or correct them.
You can also subscribe to a paid VIP membership, which removes ads, removes translation tool limits and gives you the chance to learn multiple languages at the same time.
HelloTalk is definitely my favorite app for chatting with native speakers. It is quite hard to come up with negative things to say about the app. I have been happily using HelloTalk almost every day for 2,5 years already.
I have not been using Tandem as much as HelloTalk, but I use it from time to time to practice some of the languages that I know.
Tandem offers very similar features as HelloTalk does, except that there is no translation feature.
Here are the most important features:
I can't really say anything negative about Tandem's user interface - it is well designed and looks nice.
The overall look is simple and clean, and the user interface feels less busy than in HelloTalk or Hello Pal.
The app is fast and navigating inside the app is easy.
Tandem team will verify all the users that sign up, so you will have to wait before you can start using the app. This might improve the quality of users that sign up, but I found it a bit annoying that I had to wait for my account to be verified.
Just like in HelloTalk, Tandem matches you by default with other users that are learning the languages that you already speak or users who speak the languages that you are currently learning.
You can disable matching by languages in the filter menu if you want to see users that are learning other languages.
Finding a language partner is easy because the app seems to have a lot of users (maybe not as much as HelloTalk, but enough anyway).
You can easily see which users are currently online and when was the last time that the user was online.
The list of latest messages from other users can be found in a tab that is called Chat.
The chat interface is a bit simpler than in HelloTalk but still includes the most important features like sending text & audio messages, sending images, correcting grammar and calling the other user.
Tandem offers two features which are not available in other apps.
The first one is that other users can write References for you describing why they think that you are a good language partner. This is a nice feature that helps
The second one is that you can book paid classes with Tutors that are picked by Tandem's team.
You can find all the necessary information about a tutor such as description, the hourly rate, ratings, references and so on by clicking on the tutor.
Tandem does not have a translation feature, but that is not a big issue for me as don't really translate messages that often. If you need translation feature, then you might want to try out HelloTalk instead.
The overall experience of using Tandem is really good and there are exclusive features like references and tutors that are not available in other apps.
Hello Pal is an app that I have had installed on my phone for a long time, but it has never managed to convince me in the same way that HelloTalk has done.
The user interface looks quite "blocky" and the small details inside the app do not feel as well designed as with HelloTalk or Tandem.
Navigating between the views is easy and happens without delays.
One big difference to HelloTalk and Tandem is that Hello Pal does not apply filtering to language partner searches by default. This means that you can get messages from people that do not match the languages that you speak or the languages that you are learning.
Fortunately, there is an option in the Settings tab to move such conversations to a Trash folder. Go to Trash settings and turn on "No languages in common" and "Pal doesn't know my 'Learning Languages(s)'" switches.
Even if there is no user filtering applied by default, the language partner search filters work well. You can easily find users by filtering by language, nationality, age, interests or location.
One interesting feature that Hello Pal offers is that you can download Phrasebooks for different languages. You can select phrases from a list and send them in text or audio format to your language partners. I did not find this feature useful because I want to practice forming sentences myself instead of just selecting them from a list.
In addition to the standard Chat and Settings tabs, the main navigation has Play and Discover tabs.
Play is some kind of word guessing game that you can play with other users. It tests how well you know common phrases in a language. I didn't find this feature very useful, but other users might like it more than I do.
Discover view is a collection of things that don't seem to be related to each other. It bundles Hello Pal News, Phrasebooks, Tutorials and Language learning articles together.
Hello Pal has almost all the features that a great language learning chat app should have, but I can't help comparing it to HelloTalk and Tandem because the idea behind the app is so similar. The overall experience of using Hello Pal is just not as good as with those apps.
The app would be better if the user interface was redesigned and if Hello Pal would by default filter out users who do not match the languages that you have in your profile.
Bilingua is an app that I have not used before, but I wanted to give it a try for this review.
Most of the standard chat features are supported, but Bilingua does not have audio messages or audio/video calls.
Here are the most important features:
Bilingua has a very nice looking user interface, but sadly it suffers from a few issues that ruin the user experience.
One thing that is really annoying is that the app is very slow. Refreshing a list of language partners can make you stare at a loading spinner for 10-20 seconds or more.
The biggest issue with Bilingua is that the app has very few users. I could only find 2-3 users when I tried to find speakers of German or Italian.
The Partners view shows list of all users by default without filtering the user list based on the languages that you are learning. You can apply filters, but you can only select one language when filtering by language.
You can send and receive text messages and images and you can correct and translate messages from other users.
The chat user interface is full of small bugs and inconsistencies. I could not get the text-to-speech to work, the text selection was selecting text from the navigation bar and uploaded images have non-working options to "translate" and "listen".
One feature that I like is that the app makes you choose things that you are interested in. This is useful when you are trying to find language partners and you want to know what their interests are.
I think that there is potential for Bilingua to be a much better app if it manages to attract more people, fix the user interface bugs and make the app faster to use.
The app is also missing audio messaging which is a standard chat app feature these days.
OKAPI was another app that I have not used before and wanted to test for this review.
OKAPI does not have any grammar correction functionality, a feature that I would expect every language learning chat app to have.
Here are the most important features:
My first impression of OKAPI was that the user interface looks a bit confusing. The app looks ok, but the user experience could be better.
The main view (the first tab in the bottom menu bar) is a view that shows new updates in the app: new users, recommended people, images from other users and active channels.
The users that the app recommends do not seem to be based on the languages that you speak or on the languages that you are learning, which makes the feature quite useless.
One problem that I had was that it was not immediately clear for me that I have to use the Map tab to find language partners, which is different from the other apps.
There is also an option to show a list of users instead of showing them on a map, but I did not realize that until I randomly happened to click an icon on the upper corner of the map view.
When I was searching for language partners my phone's GPS seemed to be on all the time and draining my battery fast.
It did not seem to matter if changed from the map view to display a list of users, the GPS was active even when there was no map visible.
One critical, missing feature is that you can't see if a user is online or when was the last time that the user was online. I usually just write a message to someone and hope that I will get an answer.
The app does not seem to have that many active users, so it can be difficult to find someone with matching languages to chat with.
I did manage to find people to talk to by randomly sending messages to the users that the app was recommending to me and by joining to some of the active chat channels.
When searching for language partners you can filter users, but you can't apply filters to show only native speakers of a language.
OKAPI has two extra features in addition to chatting with other users. You create Posts (upload an image with a caption) and create Channels where people can join to chat about a certain topic.
You can't do any filtering or search the feed of posted images, which makes the feature less useful than HelloTalk's Moments.
The map is also used by default to display posted images and channels. I think that for this kind of content a list works much better because the exact location on a map is not important. Luckily you can change the map to a list view.
OKAPI tries to offer some new ideas with its user interface but fails in the execution so that the overall experience is far from perfect.
Speaks (B1-C2): English, Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese.
Currently learning: Russian and Dutch.
I'm a language learning enthusiast and a Programmer from Finland. I speak 7 languages with levels from B1 to C2. I have learned all of those languages on my own using my own methods.
In this blog I'm sharing tricks and tips to allow people to learn languages in a fun and efficient way.