Language exchange sites: the pros and cons

Language exchange sites: the pros and cons

Technology in the last 15 years has been the greatest help for language learners around the world. Not only are you able to learn and be aware of languages or countries you never thought they would exist. They are a great way of learning more about everyday culture and language, teach about your language, or simply use your language skills at a more informal and relaxed settings.

In the past 2 years (I’d dare to say) many websites and mobile apps have been created with the purpose of connecting language learners and aficionados around the world. Of course, there are social networks like Twitter or Facebook (and before that, Bulletin Boards) that have hosted groups or special language learning communities, but now… connecting with other users and searching for specifical requirements or value added resources are the novelty among language learning websites/apps. For this blogpost, I have analyzed 2 websites and a mobile app. Those 3 sites offer the same service, but with different options, formats and such. Mind you, I am not paid by any of the three companies mentioned (yet), so the opinions are completely mine and may differ from other instances or users.  They also have different pros and cons that can be a help or a nuisance for some.

The first website is actually a mobile app available for iOS and Android systems: HelloTalk.

hellotalk

What is so good about Hello Talk? Its many functionalities and excellent support system. Not only can you do refined searches according to age, language or other pecularities, but they also offer a voice messaging service which is quite helpful if you are on the go or there is a lot of time difference between your language partner and you (personally, it has been quite helpful for me because you do not depend on your or your partner’s schedule). Also, there is voice/video calling and you can get sentences corrected from your partner and viceversa (and with a space for clarification). About its support system… during my first uses, I would get unsolicited messages and since the app describes itself as a strictly language learning community, you can report any dubious conversation or activity to the app and they will get in touch with you quickly. Plus, there is an easy access translation button if you need to get a word translated by an online dictionary and you can do group chats with other app users.

What isn’t so good about it? Limited options for free users. Do you want to list more languages in your profile? You have to pay. Translations, Transliterations or other options are limited, and to unlock its limits, you also have to pay. Sure, nothing is for free, but other sites do have unlimited languages on your profile. Of course, I don’t plan to learn tons of languages, but you can still be language buddies or learn about each other’s cultures. Also, I think profiles are sort of bland. I wish I could list my interests or do some website promotion, but the latter is not allowed for safety and privacy concerns. Still, it is a good app to meet language learners.

The second is an up-and-coming website and android app (that is also becoming an app for iOS) called Speaky.

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I must say, there is one thing that bothered me from their website. The “meet the language partner of your dreams”. I would use that at a dating site, but at a language exchange site… may be not.  And sadly, it is only available as an app for Android, leaving the users of the evil Apple behind (you can still access the app from the desktop or mobile site). Nonetheless, it has really good *free* feautures.

Its great features is that you are allowed to search through interests, list as many languages you know or are interested in, you can use voice/video calling on the desktop site and the mobile app, the search criteria is friendlier. Response time among users is quite fast and you can get a quite friendly e-mail notification when you get a message from your language partners. It also has a text correction and translation option. The site interface is friendly and does not leave you confused afterwards. Plus, you can put up a small ad to look for language partners or exchanges.

Moving up to the third site, it is BabelVillage which is also starting up as a good option.

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What I did not like about this site is that its structure is quite confusing. The Language exchange/practice is confusing and you don’t get the same results of people to practice language skills. Also, there is no option to correct mistakes and learn about them in the website (something GoSpeaky and HelloTalk use really well) and if you want to practice speaking, you may have to set a Skype session or so.

However, the website design is quite sleek and friendly. Profiles are more interesting because you can list (and search for) common interests and you can make your profile more yours. My experience with the site has been positive despite the problems mentioned before. Plus, I do think that sites who help you simply contacting other users can be good for some and move on to another place for speaking or sharing about lives.

According to my opinion, those three sites are quite helpful and I have met extremely interesting people that I have later got in touch in a different place, and also I have helped people with learning Spanish or English… I even talk with someone from Ukraine in Polish (since we are both Polish learners). Also, as I’ve mentioned, there are strong language learning communities and groups on the mainstream social networks, so do not forget about them, too!

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