Textbooks, community college courses, and online videos are great for learning another language, but nothing replaces immersion and interaction with other human beings. Communicating with others is the best part! You don’t have to wait until you can fly halfway around the world to start talking. There’s new people every day on the internet for fun and engaging language exchange.
The best digital learning tools for your learning are going to be based on your language level and preferences. Lucky for you, each of the resources in this article are customizable for any level. In fact, each of them let you display your current level of comfort in your target language to others. Whether you’re still nailing the fundamentals or you’re a veteran trying to maintain your fluency, each of these applications are sure to be valuable.
HelloTalk is social media for language learners. Similar to your Facebook feed full of status updates, HelloTalk creates a feed of “moments” which are posted by native speakers of your target language who wish to learn your native language. While this feature alone can keep users engaged, HelloTalk goes further into customizing your interaction and learning. If you enjoy content from a user in your target language, you can follow them to get notified of each moment they post. It’s phenomenal for those who are tired of rote memorization from a textbook and want to practice interacting in a new language.
There’s even an option for private messaging which allows you to introduce yourself to others and make some language learning partners. The developers also thought ahead to keep the app from warping into an international dating site by using strict messaging policies. For example, the app won’t allow you to send a picture to someone until both users have sent at least five messages to each other. They make sure the focus stays on learning.
The app also provides a load of valuable tools for text-based moments and messages if you just tap and hold. You’ll be able to translate unfamiliar text, make polite corrections, or even play a reading of the post. In the picture above, the red strikethrough text shows the characters I got wrong, and the green text shows the characters a native speaker is suggesting I use instead. So never worry about too many awkward misunderstandings; there will always be a tool to bridge communication gaps and the community is very kind.
While other apps are made for deeper, more time consuming engagement, HiNative is meant for quick answers to questions. It comes pre-packed with templates for common language questions like “How do you say this in English” or “What’s the difference between this word and that word?” These phrases are translated into users’ native languages. For example, someone who speaks Japanese would post a question like “houseとhomeの違いは何ですか,” but English speakers on the app would read “What’s the difference between house and home?” There’s always new questions about pronunciation, examples in a sentence, whether or not a phrase sounds natural, and anything else you can think of. It doesn’t get much better than this for ironing out details in your learning.
Sounds good for some quick questions, but surely it loses its entertainment factor, right? HiNative already thought of that, so they introduced a point system for ranking and rewards. The more you answer, the more you earn! Points can earn you levels, and you’re ranked by percentile. For example, my profile shows I’m in the top 10.37% of English speakers when it comes to quality points in my answers. Your ranking will be included on your profile where you can see the amount of likes your answers have received, the number of questions you’ve asked, your response rate, how well you can speak each of your languages, and even a self-introduction if you choose to include one. If you want to feel like a contributor, this system is exceptionally rewarding.
You can’t talk about digital language learning without mentioning iTalki. It’s the heavyweight champ in finding professional educators who create private lessons that are tailored to your individual language progress. There’s two categories for hiring an instructor for your target language: professional teacher and community tutor. The requirements for being a professional teacher are more stringent. The criteria includes possessing some form of bachelor’s degree and sometimes even a teaching licensure. A teacher is a great way to go if you’re willing to pay a little more for thorough explanation and solid understanding.
Community tutors do not have to provide the same licensure, but don’t let that make you think they’re unqualified. Many of them are completely fluent in two or more languages. The only difference is that they are not required to provide evidence of a degree or education license to iTalki. Tutors are valuable conversation partners if you’re looking for lessons that are less formal, more free-flowing, and a slightly lower price.
iTalki also provides tools for engaging with the language learning community. While it’s not quite as detailed and elegant as HelloTalk, there is a form of social media feed where you can find language learning partners. Additionally, you can find articles pertaining to language learning, but I haven’t found many of them to be too inspiring. They have also been criticized for trying and replacing useful features like on-demand tutoring and a language learning journal. Truthfully, iTalki’s most valuable asset is its selection of educators.
Between these three resources you should have everything you need to get started learning your next language. Each network of language learners has its own strengths to cover the others’ weaknesses. What do you want your next language to be? Let me know in the comment section which resources you’ll be using to study!