Losing Motivation is Not Failing: 4 Smart Tips for Positive Language Learning

I recently found myself so tired of languages that my mind refused to even learn how to say "thank you" in another language. Has that ever happened to you?

Are you normal?

Have you failed as a polyglot?

In today's article, let's dive into this phenomenon called "language learning burnout". I've gone through several types of "burnout" in my life, and never ended up as a desolate burnt-out shell. Since "burnout" is a rubbish word, I'll be calling it "fatigue" in this article.

How Alarming is Language Learning Fatigue?

It can hit you any time. You go blank. You're tired. You check out and disengage, not caring how to say anything in your target language.

For me this happened in week 3 of the honeymoon. We were at breakfast in our B&B and learnt that the other guests were Spanish. I tried to speak Spanish to them and nothing happened. My brain couldn't think of a single word. Spanish is a language in which I am usually quite comfortable. I'm not good or "fluent" but usually I have a good enough time keeping up a basic conversation. On this occasion, things were different. My mind went blank, I quickly apologised and chose to speak English.

A few hours later my husband asked a shop assistant how to say "Thank You" in Flemish and I could feel myself tensing up. I actually didn't even want to know. My language energy was spent and I could not have spoken a word in a new language if I tried.

Does Anyone Talk About This?

Language learning fatigue is much-discussed on the internet, but rarely examined in depth. For example, look at this article on the Huffington Post in which the author advises "Just take a break and try again." Yes, thanks, and the sky is blue.

For more in-depth and comprehensive perspectives, I'd recommend Actual Fluency Episode 47 as well as most of what J at the Compassionate Language Learner shares.

In some cases, the advice can lack compassion to a point that is intimidating. My eyes widened when I read Steve Kaufmann's description on his own video about burnout. It says:

Do you experience burnout when learning a language? Do you feel you don't want to go on? I don't.

Good on Steve that he doesn't have a problem, but on first impressions I felt that his thoughts on why he is so lucky (or is this implying superior skill?) were lacking a deeper understanding. Was he saying he's better than you if you have a problem that he doesn't know? Saying "if I had more time, I'd definitely do more in Czech" is not a statement that answers questions relating to mental overload or the erosion of motivation.

But towards the end of the video, Steve got down to a deeper point that I did feel comfortable with. He says

If your goal is just to learn the language and nail down these declension tables or whatever, I can see why you'd get burned out.

There's something in there. A purely technical drive to learning languages is just not enough to keep you motivated. No fake framework of goal setting and time stamps is going to get you through that one. This is why it's so flippin' hard to start off in language learning. That whole point between "I'm excited, I'm starting" and "I am reading newspaper articles" has the highest potential for burnout.

In other words:

No one likes being in the middle of things.

How much of your "burnout" feeling hits you when you find yourself in the middle of something? When you cannot see the end and you can't remember the start?

No matter if we're talking marathons or dieting or language learning, the recognition here remains the same. And the "take a break" advice feels feeble when you're lost in the weeds and struggling to remember what was on the horizon in the first place.

So, what advice can I give here? The following thoughts don't come from experience any more than common sense. Hopefully they'll provide a bit of both.

What Can You Do When You Feel %&!* About Language Learning

Here are ways to deal with Language Burnout when it happens, and to re-light that language fire.

1) Prepare Interesting Materials

Avoiding burnout starts with you and your attitude. Consider your motivations carefully, set up a positive image of what you want to achieve. I don't mean that you should put some words on a picture and post it on Facebook. Instead, focus on what interesting

For me as a new Welsh learner, it's the simple things that keep me interested. Covering another episode of Say Something In Welsh is all right, but really I want to know what happens to Siân and Ed in the BBC Welsh learning soap. Soon I may be able to watch Pobl y Cwm and one day there'll be a Kerstin party at the Eisteddfod. Such milestones are not about how many words I know or whether I'm technically proficient yet, but they work well when it comes to my own motivation.

Similarly, I urge you to stay away from wondering "how long does it take to become fluent in another language" or aiming for "a 15 minute conversation". For guidance on whether you are doing goalsetting wrong and what a constructive goal looks like, refer to episode 21 of the podcast.

2) Trust Yourself

No one knows you better than you know yourself. I hope that this also means you know you are awesome and that you chose to learn another language for a reason.

We have a tendency to push on and blame ourselves for lacking productivity, missing the "miracle morning" if we sleep past 6am. But deep down, a need for self-care is important in language learning too. Don't allow guilty thoughts to eat up your energy by telling you that you aren't "performing". Go slower than others and enjoy the journey.

This piece of advice is difficult for me to turn into something truly practical, so instead I'll bring out my coaching personality and tell you this:

If you shut off that internet for today and study nothing but your pillow for the next 48 hours, that is fine. The world will allow you that space. I believe in you, and I know you'll re-emerge with more motivation and strength than before. And all your work will still be here and wonderful when you return to it. You're not missing out.

3) Get What You Came For

If you didn't think that point 2 was hippy enough, here is an even more compassionate concept:

Pay attention to your inner wisdom

If you were excited about studying Chinese three weeks ago, and then the excitement turned into boredom and excuses, and you just don't want to do it, then you don't have to do it. As Barbara Sher puts it in Refuse to Choose, maybe you already got what you came for. For example, I feel that my motivation to learn Russian was mostly grounded in curiosity about Cyrillic writing. Once I discovered how this works, the language itself fizzled out for me. But I still got what I came for: Now I can read Cyrillic. And if I start travelling to Russia again, I'll be studying more Russian.

When you find your attention shifting to other languages, remember that line between discipline and compassion for yourself, and trust that you will return to what excites you in due time.

4) Combat Your Inner Critic

Maybe you'd like to think that you don't get tired, but most of us know ourselves too well for that. You are not a robot or a battery-operated productivity machine. Quite the opposite: You probably have plenty of stuff on your mind before you even pick up that language book.

When critical inner voices are telling you that you're a lazy learner who won't ever reach higher language levels, there are two key actions you must take.

Firstly, check the facts. Focus on what you can do and what you have learnt so far. Is it really nothing? Are you really stupid or failing?

Secondly, check whether you are catastrophising. This means thinking that all is lost, that one day of lost study means you're incapable of anything, or that your break in the Duolingo streak means you'll never be as good as anyone else. Take pride in resting, find a positive angle on it and vow to return when you are ready.

These mindset adjustments feel small, but you'll soon find that they all make a huge difference to your confidence and...believe it or not...your fluency!

Your Number One Job Is Being Happy

I hope that this collection of tips and perspectives will support you in a moment of weakness or tiredness.

Remember that your number one job is not to perform. Your number one job is to keep yourself as happy as healthy as possible, and language learning should fuel this (not the other way round).

Click here to share this message with others on Twitter.

Have you dealt with self doubt and language learning burnout before? Share your stories in the comments below, or for added privacy feel free to contact me to share your thoughts.

Podcast Episode 27: Inside the #add1challenge with Brian Kwong

This episode is brought to you with support from Other Cats to Whip. Get 10% off with the code FLUENT.

In this episode, Lindsay went out and discovered the world of Brian Kwong, creator of the#add1challenge. Brian has studied 5 languages and created one of the most successful trends in the polyglot world.

add1challenge podcast

Listen to hear more about how it all works inside the challenge:

  • How the Study Groups and Mastermind Groups work
  • Which schools approach turns out to be a rocking technique
  • How the challenge changed for Brian as he took it again
  • How Lindsay once saves a Chinese tourist’s world!

Brian also gives us a hint as to what the future holds for the Add1Challenge!

Word of the Week:

An English word that Lindsay was struggling with ;)


Pronounced taʊt

A person who sells or endorses tickets, accommodation or taxis, often in the street or public places.

Links from the Show:

Tips of the Week

As always, our guest was hugely impressed with our selection of tips. Brian chose tip 3 as his favourite, because it’s the one way you’re guaranteed to build sentences.

  1. Slow down YouTube videos: Click the cog in bottom right hand corner of video, click speed, and slow down or speed up.
  2. Use Snapchat: Record multilingual clips throughout the day and they’re only there for 24 hours, no comments, no pressure on mistakes!
  3. Find a study buddy to text: Use HelloTalk, Tandem, MeetUp, Facebook groups etc to find a study buddy and start a WhatsApp or iMessage thread where you vouch to only use the language you’re both studying.

Do whatever it takes in this hour so you’ll want to learn another hour tomorrow. (Anthony Lauder)

8 Life-Changing Language Learning Events Around the Globe

When was the last time you hugged a language learner?

Language learning can be lonely, so events that bring us together make a huge difference in motivation and attitude. After Lindsay and I reported on the Language Show Live in London last month (don't miss her vlog!), there were so many people commenting and saying

"I wanna go to this, how can I find out when and where?"

How to Find The Best Language Learning Events

There are three different types of events to attend, ranging from small meet-ups to global conferences. The following list of events covers a few from each type, but of course there are many many more to find.

Get out of the house, go and meet up with other language lovers. You won't regret it.

1. Polyglot Events

Polyglot events are a newly emerging trend that I've noticed over the past few years. These events are fuelled by language lovers discovering online communities about productivity, language learning and wanting to learn from established speakers.

The interesting thing about these particular events is that they are often community-organised, and put together by "non-academic scholars" who want to share a love of language learning. Far from being competitive or uppity, these meetings are perfect for independent learners.

The Polyglot Workshops combine instruction with coaching and community. There's a well-known instructor team of Olly Richards, Alex Rawlings and Richard Simcott to guide you through a the full day schedule. Each workshop is limited to 25 places. The workshops are available where the boys are, and have been held in Berlin, Poznan, Warsaw, Budapest, London, Brazil), New York and Czech Republic with plans for Italy, Spain and Singapore over the next year.

Alex Rawlings explains:

There are no events quite like the Polyglot Workshops. There are hundreds of thousands of courses you can take, but this is the only one that takes a step backwards from that and instead teaches you how to learn a language properly with exclusive one to one time with world renowned experts. Everybody who's been to our workshops loves them, and an enormous percentage keep coming back for more!

polyglot conference

Alex describes this event as "multilingualism on stage". The Polyglot Conference focuses on talks from speakers covering all things language. This year alone, there were presentations about language blogging, how design can bridge the language gaps, and how Yiddish is forming communities in many places. Check out the full agenda for more inspiration.

The next Polyglot Conference is going to take place in Thessaloniki, Greece on 29-30 Oct 2016. Check them out on Facebook.

polyglot gathering

This Berlin-based event runs for a whole four days! It's the most inclusive out of all events. The focus is entirely on community, with almost a third of participants also speaking on one session or another. Chris from Actual Fluency has called it life-changing.

Judith Meyer, one of the principal organizers, says:

We have a lot of speakers, because we assume that as polyglots, we all have something to teach each other and we all have something to learn.

The next Polyglot Gathering is taking place in Berlin on May 5-8, 2016. Sign up to their newsletter to make sure you get updates when the tickets are available.

2. Language Festivals & Trade Shows

Language festivals and trade shows are organized all over the world. Trade shows are not the same as the polyglot-focused events above, but they are usually free to attend and a great place to meet like-minded people. Here are some of the biggest names in the business.

Expolingua is a trade fair, so it's dominated by language businesses offering study trips, textbooks and language courses in all corners of Germany and Europe. But that is not everything, as you can also attend talks and debate language policy in Europe or find out more about career opportunities. Or how about a mini-course in Arabic, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese..?

The next event is taking place this weekend, 20-22 November in Berlin.

The Language Show is the UK's biggest language-focused event. The London event takes place in mid-October, and now the team behind LS Live has also added a Glasgow Language Show which is going to take place 11-12 March 2016.

I attend the language show regularly and love how it brings together many businesses, teachers, and learners who want to find out what's new in this industry. It puts language learning on the map in the UK. Read my full review of the Language Show Live 2015.

Language World is a teacher-focused event held at a different UK University campus every year. Its talks focus on language policy and how to make the best out of teaching languages in schools here in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you're involved in classroom learning, this is a great choice for you.

The next event will take place 11-12 March 2016 at Dunchurch Park in Rugby.

festival lenguas chile

Cristobál, who blogs at krzysiek.cl, told me about the Fiesta de los idiomas in Providencia, Chile. With over 20 free 45-minute language classes for adults and for children, the festival sounds like a fun day out. Cristobál says:

In Chile, there isn't a great policy to encourage language learning, and having such opportunities [for exposure] are fundamental to create awareness. I often saw families with young children, students and old people going, sitting down in the grass and learning.

Blogger Teddy Nee is involved in a large language café event in his city Taipei, Taiwan. Imagine a large meet-up open to anyone who wants to practice their languages. Participants are free to join any language table they want. If you're in Taipei, join them here to find out more!

Smaller Meet-Ups In Your Area

As the language learning community grows online, we're also seeing so many more offline events for language learners. Just think - even my little city Lancaster has a language café!

If you are curious about what's happening in your area, try joining a Facebook group dedicated to being a language learner, as those are always buzzing with events and discussions. Here are a few for you to choose from:

Which ones have you attended?

Tell me about your own language adventures in the comments - which other events are unmissable?

Next year, I"m excited to join this great community. There will be a 2016 Fluent Language event. If you want to stay up to date with all announcements about it, make sure you join the Fluent Language Newsletter today.

Podcast Episode 26: Language Careers, Language Events, Language Inspiration

In this episode, Lindsay and Kerstin discuss a good bunch of topics around the topic of language learning in person.

This episode is brought to you with support from Other Cats to Whip, a cute French book that you can buy for 10% off using the code FLUENT.

  • What was language learning like before the internet?
  • What’s so great about an event like the Language Show?
  • Our ideas for Langathon and Language Speed Dating
  • Language and Careers: What’s out there beyond Teaching and Translating?
  • Lindsay’s passionate explanation of “Primary Languages” in the UK, and how to instil a language passion for life in younger learners
  • Our appreciation of multilingual actors and subtitles in TV and movies

Our podcast also featured a short interview with Dan McIntyre from the University of Huddersfield and our discussion around what fluency involved.

Tip of the Week

Lindsay chose Tip 2 as the winning tip for this episode and added more great ideas on how you can present to people, even when they are not learning your language.

1) Draw a trilingual vocab chart to practice vocab divergence

2) Prepare a presentation for your tutor or buddy

3) Swipe in two languages using the Swiftkey Keyboard app

Links and Interesting Stuff from This Show

Language Learning Events around the World

Language Show Live

Polyglot Gathering

Polyglot Conference

Polyglot Workshops

Creative Language Learning Podcast 26 language show

14 Quick Tech-Fuelled Ideas for Starting to Learn a New Language

In today's guest post, I've got a submission from Suzy St George, a regular writer for Take Lessons. She originally contacted me after reading my Duolingo review and went on to write this post offering a pretty good overview of language learning resources. 

Over to Suzy:

I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people who took a full two years of Spanish classes in high school, along with an additional semester in college, coasting by and memorizing vocabulary words just to earn an A on the final. After all, I’d never really need to know how to describe my clothing in Spanish, right?

Many years later, I found myself living in San Diego, surrounded by Spanish speakers. And when I started working for Take Lessons, one of the lesson categories I was tasked to write blog content for — to my surprise — was Spanish. As I planned out my blog content, I was embarrassed to realize I remembered close to nothing from my studies.

Luckily I found a huge bunch of easy and fun options out there for students as I researched the state of language learning today. From websites to plugins for your browser, these tech-fuelled language learning options stood out to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’ve tried them!

Social networks

Most millennials are well-versed in social networks like Facebook. But did you know using social networking sites can help you learn a new language? I’ve poked around in a few of the ones specific to language-learners, and it’s such a great way to learn with the help of others. These networks can clue you in on local dialects and colloquialisms (slang), and most importantly, keep you interested thanks to burgeoning friendships with others trying to learn your language as well.

Here are some websites and forums to check out:


You know iTalki as a tutor directory but it also features an online forum for those looking to discover new cultures and languages.


Livemocha was actually purchased by Rosetta Stone in 2013, so they’re sanctioned by a big name. Their philosophy is delivering an experience that helps with conversational fluency, so it’s a great option if you want to brush up on your casual speaking skills. Beyond its community of teachers, language learners, and native speakers, Livemocha also offers live virtual classes, tutorial videos, with a built-in Facebook-style networking page where you can chat with others to help you achieve fluency.

Apps and Websites

Apps and websites offer an easy – and often free or low cost – way of integrating a new language into your daily life. I always have my phone on me, so I’ve found these apps to be super helpful for killing time on public transportation, on my lunch break, or just hanging out at home. No matter your learning style, you can bet there is an app for that.


Free for iOS and Android, Babbel covers 11 languages. It offers tricks to help you remember words, as well as interactive games to play. As you learn, Babbel remember your progression, making games more challenging with fewer English-based clues and more complex paragraphs.


Similar to Babbel, Busuu adds a bit of gamification to the language-learning process with “busuu-berry” awards as you progress. Another plus: users can submit writing exercises to others for review, helping you improve your vocabulary in context.


This is actually one of my favorites, and I looked into it further after one of our Spanish tutors recommended it to me. Of course, you’ll want to compare it against your own language-learning goals, as many (including Kerstin!) have argued that it relies too heavily on memorizing vocab, while ignoring the very basics of grammar. I agree with the review – games like these are not the best route if total comprehension is your goal – but for me, it does the trick as a fun activity to keep me on my toes. As they say on the Internet, YMMV!  


Japanese for "memorizing," Anki is a free flashcard-style program. It displays a word, phrase, image, or sound for you to repeat, interpret, connect with, and commit to memory. Make your own deck, or choose from one of many available shared decks and start learning in a snap.


TakeLessons is a nice alternative to italki. Not every student’s language-learning goal is the same, so the site will help you find the perfect fit for your needs.

Foreign Services Institute

This site offers a huge library of free professional materials for studying, and is a great resource for lesser-studied languages.


This is a great language learning websites for visual learners, and is a fantastic supplement to working with a tutor. Web or app-based, this flashcard style program is a fun way to aid language memorization through competition. Points and reputation are boosted as you learn and complete activities.


Who doesn’t love games? If you want to use your time efficiently, ignore the Candy Crush notifications and check out one of the popular language games instead. Playing games in a text or audio language other than your own engages you in the learning process, helping you recognize and understand words over time with the help of repetition. Want more than your average solo game? Look for MMO (massively multiplayer online) games, which often cross multiple linguistic boundaries to help you better learn languages on-the-fly.

Que Onda Spanish

I’m pretty sure I spent at least 30 minutes playing “Whack-a-Word” alone when I first found this website! Once you complete a course, based on the level you’ve chosen you can then play several different games. They’re all very simple but also pretty fun! For other language learners, there are also related sites (and yes, games) for learning Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and more.

Die Himmelsscheibe von Nebra

Check out Kerstin's review of this German language learning game, taking you through a crime-fuelled story on your iPad or iPhone.

Google Chrome plugins

Plugins, tools you can download and add to your internet browser to do various tasks, can help language learners a ton. For example, you can use a translating plugin to ease your way into new languages by helping you translate all or part of your online reading.

Language Immersion for Chrome

I use this one often when I’m browsing other blogs written in Spanish, and it’s super helpful. This plugin translates random words on websites in the language you are learning, with the ability to add more or less translation assistance based on settings.

Instant Translate

Another option for a translating plugin, you can use this tool to translate any word in a window without moving away from the page.


This plugin translates, but also goes a step further and saves words you don’t understand so you can review them later.

What Are Your Must-Have Online Resources?

I would love to find out more about what you are using to learn a language right now. Which apps can't you live without? What's the best website?

Share your ideas in the comments below!

Language Show Live: What's New In Language Learning?

Last weekend I made my way down to Southern England to hang out with Lindsay and visit the Language Show Live in big London. Lindsay and I visited the big exhibition and ran into a whole bunch of other language bloggers, friends and people from the language learning world. If you couldn't make it, here are my impressions of the show.

language showlive

What is it?

The Language Show Live is Britain's biggest language-focused event, a sort of trade show about all things language with talks and taster sessions mixed in. It's held at the Olympia in London (such a stunning venue!).

Who was there?

language show live recap

The first stand I headed to was one entitled Welsh for Adults (exciting!), where I met a few wonderful people from Aberystwyth and Bangor who introduced me to the Learn Cymraeg app. At this stand, we learnt that the word “penguin” in English actually comes from Welsh (pen means “head” and “gwyn” means white).

Stand-out stands (hah!) for adult learners were our friends at Flashsticks and HelloTalk, along with Bien-Dire whose magazine I’ve reviewed here on the blog.

We got to take a close-up look at Linguisticator’s absolutely beautiful language maps, printed on light fabric and displaying an entire language’s grammar, essential vocab and rules. They’re a great thing to behold, so good-looking in fact that Lindsay was excited and wanted to put one up over her sofa. You can buy these from their online shop - the German map is here.

And my highlight of the exhibition was the discovery of Babel and Lingo Magazines. These magazines are not about language learning and other languages, they’re about linguistics. It’s my favourite academic topic, and I have never seen such a fantastic approach to writing about linguistics for a non-academic audience. In other words: This is a flipping interesting magazine!

Careers in Languages

The walk around the recruitment section is motivating and surprising each year. I met representatives of BAE Systems, SC Johnson, the British Army and the European Union. They all have standing vacancies for language graduates and represented the careers that are open to you very well. There was even a CV clinic so you could have your CV polished to perfection to get all those multilingual vacancies.

The Language Show Website has more information and a full list of all exhibitors for you.


Only one place to go after all that: THE PUB! Lindsay and I got ready for our little language learners’ meet-up. We were joined by Sionaid from Perfect English Grammar, Angelika from Angelika's German (get to know all about Angelika on Podcast Ep 15), Gareth from How to Get Fluent and Emma the Incidental Langauge Learner. It’s a great pleasure to be able to meet the people I see through Twitter all year long and I really hope that you can make it too next year.

At one point during our meet-up, one of England’s happiest families bounded through the door, greeting us all with lots of joy. They were Lingotastic, a UK-based company working on teaching languages to parents who have very young children. What a joyful bunch, check them out!

More For Adult Learners

Sadly, the neglected bunch were the group of adult language learners in the UK. There are a few courses that look really interesting, but most of them require a lot of travel, either to London or to in-country classes. It was very obvious that Welsh really stands out here as a government-backed initiative with affordable courses and universities offering free apps. Good on them!

If adult courses aren’t so popular anymore, then online study is proving the solution to our problems - are language classes dying for adult learners? What do you think?

In Conclusion

The Language Show Live was a great event as ever. I always love seeing the many products and new ideas out there. Creativity is definitely not dead in language learning and I saw some amazing products to put on my Christmas list. And as an online tutor, it's so awesome to see all the products out there for the classroom and for groups of kids.

The language diversity wasn't as big as last year, when compulsory languages had just been introduced in primary schools. This event was mostly aimed at the everyday language teaching world in schools, and the language diversity reflected that. Lots of Spanish and French, some Chinese, surprisingly little German, and a tiny but visible presence for Russian, Welsh, BSL, and Arabic.

Were you there?

Did you come to London this time? Have you been to the Language Show before? I'd love to hear what you enjoyed the most and which talks you attended.

Next year, the exhibition is coming up to Scotland for the first time.

A Complete Review of the HelloTalk Language Exchange App

Übung macht den Meister.

C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron.

Usus magister est optimus.

Man, does every language have a proverb meaning practice makes perfect?

Practice is one of the key principles of learning, and probably one of the most demanding ones.

One of the most helpful way to practice your skills in language learning is to speak the language you're studying. No matter if you've just begun or were fluent 3 weeks ago, if you don't keep using that language it's likely to get pretty rusty.

In today's blog article, I'm going to give you the full review of an app that has been designed to help you with that need for practice. It's all about language exchanges. Read on to find out if this could work for you.

How Should a Language Exchange Work?

Language exchanges work on the basis that both people in the conversation give a little bit of their skills to each other. You find a person who studies your native language and help them by correcting them and chatting to them. And then you switch the exchange and benefit from the same help in your target language. And if you chat to them online, you don't even have to leave your house/bed/swimming pool.

Of course, the real challenge is getting to the point where your conversation with the practice partner is as easy as possible. It can be really difficult to find a native speaker of the right language who also wants to spend time practicing with you. And then you have to hope they want to learn your language, too. And then you still have to get over how to translate most of what they say.

A Language Exchange App On Your Smartphone

In the past, my language exchange experiences have never really delivered.

Even though I found people online and wrote to them, I felt like my own language skills didn't improve. It was scary to hop on Skype and share my face, voice and mistakes with a stranger. When I tried email exchanges, I felt bad because I couldn't write a long stretch of text.

It seems I wasn't the only person who had this problem. When HelloTalk contacted me earlier this year with an invitation to review their app, I was ready to try again.

First Impressions

My first impression of trying HelloTalk was very positive. The app is about making language exchanges on your smartphone as good as they can be. There is no course, no website and no payment system for tutors, and I really appreciated that focus.

After downloading the app, you'll be asked to fill in a profile. HelloTalk allows learners to register one native and one target language for free (though you can unlock more with an in-app purchase). You can connect your profile to Twitter, record a spoken intro, or write an introduction for yourself. For users who want to keep their details private, the app also allows you to hide details like your age or location in the advanced privacy settings, and to set how you want to appear in the search.

Test 1: How Easy Is It To Find Language Exchange Partners?

After signing up, HelloTalk directs you to its Search function so you can start finding people whose needs match yours. It automatically suggests matches that have the right native language/target language combination for you, but you will not be restricted by this at all.

When you find someone who looks like a great match, you can send them a message or a partner request. I found that most of the promising matches were not online straight away, so sending them a request that they could accept when they come online was a convenient alternative.

It seems that people who indicate "English" as their native language receive a lot more requests (for example, Shannon from Eurolinguiste found that she couldn't keep up) than other natives. Setting the app to "native German speaker who is learning Welsh" was a pretty tough ask, so I tried some search alternatives to find native Welsh speakers. With those options, it became simple enough and I was quickly able to get talking to several people.

Language Exchange App Review

Once the chat got started,I was impressed with the many tiny but useful features. For example, HelloTalk shows you the time of day where your language partner lives and supports emoji. You can send photos, voice messages and doodles. All these options make it very easy to start texting other people straight away.

Test 2: How Good Is HelloTalk's Interface?

HelloTalk's app has lots of buttons and settings, but none of them felt pointless.

I quickly found that the help menus and settings were simpler than they looked. HelloTalk can do lots of things, but it has pulled off a design that doesn't overwhelm users with all of them at once. Instead, the app takes advantage of how you use your phone, and the bottom menu makes it simple to keep track of conversations.

The quality of the app was fabulous as well. Even though I haven't had the chance to try the free phone calls, I was impressed overall. It was fast, didn't crash and the machine translations were pretty useable too. Overall, a big thumbs up for HelloTalk's design.

Test 3: Does HelloTalk Make It Easy To Use Your Target Language?

In previous language exchanges, I often found that it was difficult to keep up a balanced exchange between speaking my own language and my partner's language. HelloTalk has an approach to solve this problem: There is a dedicated Language Exchange Mode where you can set the computer to remind both exchange partners when it's time to switch languages. I was super excited about this feature.

The app also allows users to communicate in the way that works best for them. Free phone calls, instant messages, voice messages - no problem!

Once you've started chatting, you may find that you and your language partner need a few corrections. The app has a great long press feature for any message sent or received, allowing you to correct the partner's writing easily. For someone as enthusiastic about writing in another language as I am, the app's features make a great addition to the tips I've blogged about before.

The full long click menu offers even more features, such as:

  • Adding any message to your Favourites menu for review
  • Converting from the Latin script to other writing systems
  • Copying the message
  • Translating the message to the language that you have set as Target Language in your profile (even when I chatted to French people in German, I could still learn Welsh this way)
  • Get the computer to read out any message so you know what it sounds like

Test 4: Does HelloTalk Work?

If you want to keep studying based on what you're reading and writing in HelloTalk, there are a few really helpful features in the app.

language exchange with the hello talk app

The corrections feature automatically saves your received corrections to the favourites section where you can go back and review them regularly. In this area, I thought it would be cool to have a flashcards or other learning feature but on the other hand I was pretty happy to just use my notebook.

HelloTalk is not about acquiring another language by studying a linear course, but instead it brings real life practice to your phone and it does this one thing brilliantly.

The Best Tips for Using HelloTalk for Language Exchange

Even with an app as excellent as this one, it can still be daunting to start a language exchange. Based on my own experiences and tips from fellow language lovers like Olly from IWTYAL and Stephanie from To Be Fluent, here are three top tips to help you get the most out of your experience and your time spent using the app:

1) Be Clear About What You Want To Do

I found that it's easy to start chatting aimlessly, but much harder to get a true exchange going. Chatting to everyone who sends you a request or gets to know you through your profile can feel like a waste of time.

If you want to practice equal exchanges in a specific language, tell this to your partner right at the start and be a bit tough when you need to be. Working with the Language Exchange feature in HelloTalk felt great to me as it allows the app to do the policing.

2) Have Some Starter Topics Ready

Okay, so you've asked them where they're from and how old they are. What else can you chat about with your language exchange partner?

It helps to have a few topics up your sleeve that are comfortable for any user. For example, I chatted to a Chinese partner about food and got tips for new bands to check out from a Swedish music fan. Going beyond the first small talk is important for building rapport and getting the other person interested enough to keep talking to you.

3) Have A Little Patience

This final tip is based on my own experience with HelloTalk. When I started the app, I was so excited to chat to people in Welsh and French and Spanish that I could not wait to get going. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that not everyone was online and ready to go!

HelloTalk works best as an instant messaging app when you give it a little time, wait a few days for the right people to find you or allow for a bit of trial and error. After all, language practice is a regular activity.

My biggest suggestion to make this app even better would be to add some learning features. Based on the chats, the system could create flashcards or prompts asking you to repeat new expressions so you don't forget them. And an in-browser version would help me type without having to switch the mobile keyboard to another language every few minutes.

Where to Download HelloTalk

All in all my verdict of HelloTalk is very very positive. As an app, this provides the nicest language exchange environment I've seen so far.

You can find all links for HelloTalk at www.hellotalk.com.

Have you tried HelloTalk yet? What's your impression?

Leave me your story in the comments below!

How Becoming a Musician Can Improve Your Languages: Shannon Kennedy from Eurolinguiste on the Podcast

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In Episode 25, I enjoyed a conversation with Shannon Kennedy. Shannon writes the travel, language and life blog Eurolinguiste. She's a musician. And knows seven languages.

During the course of this interview I took the neatest notes I have ever written. My guest Shannon Kennedy just has that effect on you. She's calm, considered and very experienced in language learning.

You'll hear about:

  • Why Shannon's blog a language learning blog with travel tips and recipes
  • How to take responsibility for your books and apps
  • What it takes from you when you study with a teacher
  • What it's like to study a language as an introvert
  • How becoming a musician can make you a fantastic language learner
  • The Benefits of Language Switching
  • The lovely lovely word indulge

Tips of the Week

Shannon's choice of the week was tip 3, because transliteration can help you no matter if you are learning another writing system or an unusual grammar structure.

1) Join a Choir, learn a language

2) Use Mind Maps for learning a new language (here's an article about this in German)

3) Use transliteration to master foreign writing systems

Tips and Links from this Podcast

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