Sure, we’d all love to have that spontaneous Eat Pray Love moment traveling alone around Italy and meeting beautiful men who drive us around on Vespas – not to say it couldn’t happen – but if you’re more like us when we travel alone, you’ll probably end up sitting on the street corner eating from a box of cheap Chinese takeout pretending to text friends from back home…when you don’t even have WiFi. Traveling alone doesn’t mean you need to be a loner.
Let’s face it; making friends before meeting face-to-face is not easy. Throw in the struggle of a foreign language barrier, and you’re probably the farthest thing away from being a social butterfly. It’s time like these that make you wish you had kept in touch with your elementary school pen pal from France.
But you didn’t. So now what?
We’ve been asked to review the HelloTalk app, and we found that it’s the perfect place to find people who will help you sound less like an awkward 9th grade French student and more like a true Parisian bobo sipping espresso streetside and looking oh-so classe. If only we sounded (and looked) that good when French came floating off of our lips.
Within two minutes of downloading the free app, we received at least five requests from 20-something locals of our chosen languages asking to be language partners. They wanted to be language partners with us, maybe just because we speak English, or possibly because they saw how many errors we’ve corrected in conversations with others (yes, you can see how strict or lenient your future language partners are).
Aside from the correction feature, the app includes other functions to weed out the awkward from your international convo. Other features we’ve actually used include an in-app translator (so necessary), a voice-to-text translator (also necessary), picture sharing, and even free calling to your pen pals when it’s time to take it live.
Some of our conversations on the app exceeded the three sentence mark, whereas others were complete fails; you can’t befriend all of France in one day. We should probably also warn you that the worst way to start a conversation in a foreign language is probably the first way you’d think to do so
The killer “Hey how are you?”
Wow, what a fun and dynamic conversation.
The biggest challenge when progressing your foreign language skills is failing to get past all the small talk and building an authentic pen pal relationship. To avoid this painful car screech, try one of these six conversation starters.
Have you ever been to the US?
Despite sounding generic, this is a good way to ease on into a conversation with a complete stranger. They’ll immediately respond with where they’ve been and you can then relate to those cities.
It’s also a segway into our next starter, which reassures you that you’re not speaking to a robot but to a real local.
Send me pictures of your city!
HelloTalk allows you to send pictures to help with the language learning process, but also to take away the “I’m here strictly learn languages” vibe. Once you start creating a real relationship with your pen pals, you can share a little bit of your day-to-day with some city pics.
They might even convince you to plan your next trip to their city depending on how good their photography skills are.
What did you eat for lunch? What’s a typical meal in your country?
A foolproof way to get dialogue going is to send glamour shots of your food and ask what’s a regular meal like in their city or country. My pen pal would always send me pics of her lunch break food and tell me where she went to eat. I got lucky and even added a few restaurant recommendations to my “cheap eats” list for when I visit Rome again.
What are you doing right now? Show me what’s in front of you!
One of the favorite pen pals would constantly fill me in on random happenings of her day. I started learning vocab that I’d actually use in Italy in my day to day because she’d explain that she was going to work, or going to the beach for the day. After all, you don’t need to focus on camping vocabulary (that you’d most likely study for an entire chapter of a book) if you spend most of your time taking subways in a cosmopolitan city. We’d switch from English to Italian so that we both understood what the heck was happening.
Do you have any American friends?
It’s always interesting to find out if your current language partner has already met someone from your culture or if you’re the first one introducing them to it. Find out what they know about your country and on a deeper level, what they like and dislike about it. You can even enable the 5-minute talk exchange feature where the first 2.5 minutes you’re challenged to speak in one language, then the next 2.5 you switch over to the second language.
To put it simply, the HelloTalk app takes the stress is everything you’ve been looking for in a language buddy that you just can’t find. They correct you. They send you audio files with personality. They help you sound less robotic. The most comforting thing of all is that everyone is there for the same reason: to improve their language skills and maybe pick up some new friends along the way.
HelloTalk is here to make pen pals cool again and we’re all about it; especially because it’s free… and if it’s free… you already know what to do.