We’ve not stopped talking about HelloTalk recently. As you can see from our emails and messages, HelloTalk is one of those apps that a language learner just can’t do without. You can text and voice message fellow learners and native speakers using the inbuilt dictionary and translation service also with the help of the automatic corrections—if you dreamt it, you wouldn’t believe it.
There are plenty of reviews of HelloTalk online so I thought it would be a waste of words to add ours to the pile. Instead, we think it’s more helpful to share some tips and tricks on how to make the most of the app.
Whether you are a complete newbie or have used HelloTalk before, we have something for you.
Below you will find:
- 1 thing to know
- 2 things to do
- 3 exciting options
- 4 wild ideas
Before you talk, learn to Talk Like TED
1 thing to know
One thing to understand is that HelloTalk is essentially a social network, and not a language learning service. It facilitates finding partners for language exchange—with over 3.5 million users of the app, help is definitely at hand!—and there are helpful tools for efficient learning with others. With that in mind you should first decide exactly what you want from the app, and how you want to use it. Here are some points you may want to consider:
- Think about how much time you want to spend teaching others, and how much on learning.
- Decide which language(s) you want to practice.
- Make a list of the skills you want to gain, or the topics you want to practise talking about.
- Decide how much time you want to spend on HelloTalk. It can be seriously addictive, so it’s better to set the limits in advance!
2 things to do
Have a good photo
Reaching out to a stranger on any social platform is an act of trust, based on the first impression. The first impression on HelloTalk comes from a profile picture. Research shows we draw conclusions about a person’s personality in only 40 milliseconds, so your choice of a picture is likely to have a big impact on how others perceive you.
A comprehensive study done at the Department of Psychology at the University of York analysed a wealth of facial expressions that help make a good first impression. If you’re on any dating site it may be worth having a look at the detailed results, but for HelloTalk they can be boiled down to a few simple tips:
- Smile, preferably showing your teeth, as this makes you look approachable!
- The photo should show your face and shoulders, or your body from the waist up.
- Avoid face-obstructing details like hats, and make sure your eyes are visible—so that’s a no for sunglasses too!
- Choose a plain background.
Add an introduction
Remember to write one. Many people don’t bother, but even a description of only one sentence will add to your credibility as a HelloTalk user. An introduction or brief bio not only makes you less likely to be a bot, but also gives you space to actually “pre-sort” your language partners. If you mention your interests, you are more likely to be contacted by people who share them—it’s pretty obvious, but so many people don’t do it!
Spending an extra three minutes on the bio also demonstrates your commitment to using HelloTalk.
It communicates to other users that you are serious about the language exchange, and are unlikely to disappear after the first two messages.
Apart from creating a good first impression and briefly mentioning your interests, there are a few more things you can add to strengthen your introduction even more…
3 exciting options
Add more languages
With a free HelloTalk account you can list yourself as a learner of only one language, and a speaker of only one language. What if you know more? Add them in the introduction! People do read through the intro, and your ability to help with an extra language on top of your native one can be the decisive factor for someone contacting you.
Similarly of course, if you want to practice more than one language, go ahead and list it in the introduction along with the level you’re at. The languages you set as your main ones should be those you are focusing on at the moment.
Sift through the partners
If you want to learn, you have to be selective. HelloTalk is an app to help you meet up with others for practise, not for finding professional tutors.. Choosing the right person to chat to is part of the game, so invest time in finding the best partner. I don’t mean you should do an NSA-style background check on all of them, but a 30-second consideration is better than bling messaging.
Check if people have written introductions, as this is a potential indicator of commitment. Look through the text for common interests and for other languages you may be able to practice with them.
Look at their activities on the app—do they have many learning points? Having these points can be another good indicator of commitment to the service, although not a foolproof one.
Many users start a lot of conversations, but drop the contact after exchanging only a few messages, so an unusually high number of experience points can also be suspicious.
Are there people you don’t want to talk to? I’ve seen profiles of women, for example, who clearly indicate in their introduction they only wish to speak to other women.
It’s hard to control who contacts you, but any sensible person will understand your preferences, so it’s worth indicating them in the intro.
If you’d rather filter your partners, make sure you check the settings section. HelloTalk allows you to set specific parameters as to who can find you, and for which information is visible on your profile (in the “Privacy” section).
As you can see, the “Who can find me” filter enables you, for example, to allow only people of the same gender to approach you if you wish. Alternatively, you can hide yourself completely for a week or a month, which is helpful when you feel you’ve already met the right conversation partners and want to focus on chatting with them.
Find free “tour guides”
We HelloTalk users most often practise languages before we travel to the country where they are actually spoken. What’s more, using HelloTalk abroad can be like having a personal tourist service! Let me explain.
The fact that you can search for speakers by location means you can get in touch with the locals as you’re travelling! You can set the settings to display those who are “nearest”, or search by city. Make sure you first set all the basic search settings—you can access the options by clicking the magnifying glass in the upper right corner.
Wherever you go, there is bound to be someone relatively close by who wants to learn your first language or to practise English. Asking them about the best places to eat, have a drink, or for weekend entertainment suggestions are always good conversation starters.
You can also be a bit sneaky, and make HelloTalk friends in towns you plan to visit in the future. If you play it well, who knows, they might host you in their house ;-)
Either way, you have a good chance of turning an online acquaintance into a real-life meeting. If you feel shy or insecure about meeting someone, remember there is never any obligation: if someone suggests to meet for a coffee and you don’t feel like it, just say no. They will surely understand that you prefer to keep your friendship online.
Note: Sometimes it can be hard to find the right city in the “search by city” field as the options don’t seem to be standardised. Typing in “London” for example, produces quite a lot of different results, some of which were clearly referring to the same place in the UK:
Users can be listed as living in different name variants of the same town, so if you’re looking for someone specific, you’ll have to search through all the variants.
4 wild ideas
Become a superhero
This one is for the aspiring actors and cosplayers among you. Why not try to create a HelloTalk persona? You can become a character from your favourite French novel or Japanese manga, or even... be a Portuguese-speaking tortoise!
Create a funny introduction describing your character. Make sure it’s transparent that your aim is still learning a language, so that others don’t think it’s a scam account. Choose a character whose personality and place of origin would allow you to practice the topics and phrases you want to focus on. It’s a good way of creating an opportunity to use less usual phrases, and explore topics away from the standard “why are you learning language X?”.
Talk about pizza
It’s a bit boring to see a column of introductory messages all starting with “How are you?”. To increase your chance of a reply, try standing out from the crowd by using more original opening lines, for instance:
- If you could only eat one fruit, which one would you choose?
- What’s your favourite pizza topping?
- How about a panda 🐼 ?
Why not spark off your imagination and give it a try?
Revisit your mistakes
I know... this idea is so wild it will make your socks fall off! Did you know that HelloTalk automatically saves the corrections you receive to your favourites? That’s a subtle reminder that you should revisit your mistakes, and learn from them.
As much fun as you may have talking about pizza toppings with your new friend Pietr from Croatia, remember that you’re also on HelloTalk to learn some grammar. Use the saved corrections as review material. Set one day each week to go through the corrections or, if you use HelloTalk a lot, you’ll benefit from a daily review of the previous day’s corrections.
Talk without words
Tired of talking? Challenge your exchange partner to a picture exchange. You won’t be typing or sending voice messages, but using only HelloTalk’s drawing board instead.
What would you answer if I sent you this?
I am obviously asking about your drink of choice, although I’d understand if you thought it said “why is there a huge snail on a road sign?”.
Drawing is definitely a good way to exercise creativity. In addition, it can help you learn something new about cultural symbolism.
HelloTalk also allows you to draw on pictures. You can use this function to quiz your student-interlocutor by giving them little tasks. For example, send a picture and ask them to point to the green dinosaur. Hopefully you’ll receive it back with an arrow in the right place.
Or, you can try to give them instructions to draw a particular item. For example, to practice numerals and names of body parts, you can challenge them to draw a monster... with two heads, five eyes, three teeth and four legs! Feel free to email me if you want to see my rendition.
Last piece of advice...
Sometimes you might feel a hyper-motivation boost, and want to practice a language right there and then.
Remember, you are exchanging messages with real people all around the world: their time zones may be different to yours, and not everyone will be up for a short exchange at 3am!
HelloTalk helpfully lists the local time of your interlocutor, so you don’t have to spend any extra Google-time checking whether your 3pm is a sensible time in Guangzhou.
Use the time display feature to greet your language partner appropriately: depending on the time of the day in their location. If, for example, your interlocutor in Japan is a night owl after all, maybe you can find an appropriate greeting in Japanese to start that 3am conversation about pizzas, pandas and monsters!
Share this post with your fellow HelloTalk users!
And, if you haven't used the app yet, give it a go and tell us about your impressions!