HelloTalk Review: Too many gimmicks, not enough substance

Updated: August 12, 2022
Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm

Today we’ll review HelloTalk, a messenger app that connects people from across the globe as language exchange partners. We’ll give you the lowdown on the app’s primary functions, who it’s best for, and why we'd actually recommend that you look for your next conversation partner elsewhere.

Our Verdict

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In theory, HelloTalk is ideal for finding speaking partners to practise your language skills with. In reality, it is a glorified messenger app with a built-in Google Translate function that tries to sell you on its other gimmicks.

Many of the added features that make this app worthwhile are separate subscriptions, too, and you can’t try them out with the free trial. Save yourself the money and the headache by downloading a free messenger app and finding a conversation partner elsewhere.

TL;DR HelloTalk Review

If you don't have time to read the whole HelloTalk Review, here are a few pros and cons that we found:

Pros

  • Relaxed structure allows for freedom of conversation
  • Language practice with real native speakers, not pre-programmed robots
  • Lots of incorporated language tools (if you're willing to pay for them)
  • More than 30 million active members speaking 150+ languages from across the world.

Cons

  • Separate, expensive subscriptions for different features
  • Shares your personal info by default
  • Gimmicky cash-grabs waste time and resources that could be spent on improving the app
  • Charges you for services that are available free elsewhere

What is HelloTalk?

At its core, HelloTalk is a messenger app with a language exchange integration platform. Its core function is not to teach you a language, but rather to connect you with native speakers. That way you can practise speaking your target language, and your partner can practise speaking theirs in return.

HelloTalk does offer some learning tools, but we’ll get to those in just a moment.

What Can You Do on HelloTalk?

If we had to describe HelloTalk simply, we’d call it a hybrid between Facebook and LINE messenger app. This is because the core of the application is broken down into two main functions: chats and moments. 

Let's take a look at what you can do with HelloTalk.

Find Language Exchange Partners

The famed “HelloTalk” portion of the app allows you to connect with language partners anywhere in the world. 

When you sign up to HelloTalk, you'll need to enter your native language and the language you want to learn. Premium members can learn up to three languages at a time, whereas free members get just one. 

Once you’ve established your native and target languages, you can start searching for partners. By entering your own location, you can search for partners nearby or you can filter your search down by gender or how serious a learner is. You can find out this information by looking at a user's self-reported fluency levels. 

It's also possible filter how you appear in search results. You can filter who can find you by gender and exact language match, or choose to hide from regional and nearby searches. Do keep in mind, you have to opt into those filters, rather than opting out of them. Previously, the app hid your personal information by default; now it appears to do the opposite. 

Once you’ve selected a partner to chat with, you can initiate a chat. Non-premium members are able to initiate chats with new people eight times per day. Conversely, premium members are can get stuck into 25 new chats per day. 

Chatting with Natives

The auto-translate feature is just…bad.

If you’re familiar with LINE or KakaoTalk messenger apps, you’ll feel pretty comfortable using the chat function. 

It works just like any other messenger app: you send a message, they send one back! Except that HelloTalks has a bit more to it than that:

Auto-Translate

This would be the shining star of HelloTalk—were it not for the fact that it uses Google Translate. Sometimes Google Translate isn’t too far off the mark, but by and large, the auto-translate is wildly offbase. 

Single-tapping any message bubble auto-translates it to or from your target language. If your buddy sends you something in your target language and you don’t quite understand, you can get an instant translation. 

More frustrating than that, is that non-premium members only get five of these translations per day, whereas premium members get unlimited translations. The app is literally charging you to use a free service, and not even a reliable one, at that. 

Transliteration

There are other features you can use if you choose to ignore the auto-translate function. Pressing and holding any message brings up another menu. This menu allows you to transliterate languages written in alphabets other than Latin (Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic, for example).

Narration

Another feature is the “speak” function, which narrates the message for you. You can adjust the speed at which these narrations are spoken in your settings. Unfortunately, this text-to-speech function is also powered by Google Translate. This means you’re getting a computer-generated narration, so it’s not at all natural-sounding.

Corrections

You can also correct any message sent to you if your buddy is looking for input on their written skills. They can do the same for you, as well. We’d say this is hands down the most useful feature on the app. 

Media

Also on the chatting side are your standard features, like sending photos, videos, or short voice snippets. 

There’s a doodle feature too, which you can use to send finger-drawn pictures or hand-written characters. We could see this function being quite useful for games with your partner! Or for doing writing drills for characters in non-Latin alphabets. 

Sending Gifts

Lastly, and mostly to our displeasure, there’s the “send a gift” function. If you’re familiar with Reddit, it’s basically the same thing as giving Reddit gifts. You pay real money to send people virtual stickers. It’s a cash-grab, plain and simple. Nothing about this enhances your language ability. We wish less effort went into things like this and more into improving the app itself.

Interacting with other people and offering corrections to help each other learnthis is the heart of HelloTalk.

Moments

This is the “Facebook” side of HelloTalk. Basically, you post whatever you like; your mood, a poem, a photo of your dinner with your caption. Typically you’ll want to do this in your target language, but many people post in their native tongue anyway. 

Then other people can like and comment on your post! The same features that are available in the chat are available on the Moments page. You’ll be able to offer corrections on other people’s posts, and others can do the same for you. 

But we find ourselves again asking the question, why? What does this application offer that Facebook doesn’t? The answer is, not really much of anything. Other than the corrections function, everything that’s touted as a unique feature on HelloTalk is really just an integrated implementation of Google Translate. 

Sure, it’s convenient to have everything in the app. But why would you pay the amount of money that HelloTalk is asking for when it only takes a few extra clicks to access the features it offers?


HelloWords, HelloLanguage, and Online Tutoring

We wish we had more to say here. But the trial gives you laughably little to even try out of these features. 

When you sign up for a subscription, you receive messages from HelloWords and HelloLanguage (with “language” being the language you selected to learn). HelloWords gives you an allotment of five free words per day. HelloLanguage gives you five free “lessons” that are really just dialogues. Without opting into separate subscriptions, we couldn’t even see more of what these features have to offer.

In the case of HelloKorean specifically, the lessons were quoted as “provided by Talk to Me In Korean.” We reviewed that programme not too long ago, so we can confidently say: just go buy Talk To Me In Korean instead.  

As for the Online Tutoring section, it offers two options; a one-month crash course for $29 or one-on-one lessons. 

Again, you’re able to get a sense of some sneaky money practises here. The one-on-one lessons offer a “trial” session for $10 but HelloTalk does not tell you how much any subsequent lessons are. And if you read the fine print for the group course, it tells you it’ll only begin once the course fills to 20 students. 

Nothing about this is transparent, and it just makes it that much harder to justify the price tag.

Who is HelloTalk Best For?

If you’re comfortable chatting with complete strangers in a relaxed, unstructured setting, HelloTalk is for you. Some people enjoy the flexibility HelloTalk offers because it allows for real conversations. Other programmes that offer a similar platform often have stricter guidelines for topics to follow. 

In practice, however, HelloTalk ends up being a real shot in the dark. You really have no way of knowing who you’re talking to because of the lack of vetting. By default, the app shows your age, gender, and location (country, at the very least, if you haven’t specified your region). 

In that regard, it’s almost akin to a dating app. As a matter of fact, some users have even commented that it is actually used as a dating app! We shudder just to think about it. 

For some people, this isn’t an issue. And that’s totally valid! For those who have more qualms about their personal information being shared, though, this could be more of a concern.

What Languages Does HelloTalk Offer?

Much like we noticed when we reviewed Verbling, HelloTalk offers nearly every language known to man…in theory. 

Also like Verbling, the actual mileage of some of the less popular languages will vary. 

Many languages have few speakers with which to chat, if at all. You can and probably will find at least one person, but it’s not guaranteed. And if you don’t mesh well with that person, your options are much more limited too. 

If we had to put a finger on which languages HelloTalk reliably offers, we’d say the following: 

  • English
  • Simplified Mandarin
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Arabic

Keep in mind that many of these languages have different dialects, such as Latin American Spanish versus European Spanish. You’ll want to make sure that you find a speaking partner which speaks the dialect you’re learning, or you may end up lost. 

How Much Does HelloTalk Cost?

In 2021, you have to buy a subscription for HelloTalk once you’ve installed the app. It wouldn’t even let us bypass the subscription screen upon download—if you want to see the app, you have to at least opt into the three-day trial. You'll need to submit a payment method for the trial, too. 

This confused us because all of the marketing that the site offers suggests there is an option for a “freemium” business model—that is, a free option that allows you access to most of its features with ads.

To be fair, the subscription rates are fairly competitive for the market. You can subscribe for $4.99 per week, $8.99 per month, or $49.99 per year. The annual rate breaks down to about $4.20 per month, which is the best deal. 

However, the subscription isn’t even through the app itself. For iOS users, your subscription is forced through Apple Subscriptions. We can only assume it’s similar for Android users on the Google Play store. Just trying to find where the subscription went in order to see the different options was a struggle. 

You can’t find their prices anywhere on their website, either. We wish this was more transparent. 

All of that, we could forgive, if not for the additional blatant cash-grabs. 

Want access to HelloWords and HelloLanguage? Sure! Just add on two subscriptions to the one you’re already paying. You read that right: each feature has its own additional fees. And they’re not cheap, either! HelloWords is $46 for the first year and $66 for every year thereafter, or $100 for a lifetime membership. HelloLanguage is $83.99 a year, or $174.99 for a lifetime membership. 

Alongside the push for buying coins to spend on stickers, and it’s just adding insult to injury here. There’s more a focus on making money than there actually is on improving the app for language learning.

What are the Pros and Cons of HelloTalk?

Pros

  • Relaxed structure allows for freedom of conversation
  • Practising with real native speakers, not pre-programmed robots
  • Lots of incorporated language tools (if you're willing to pay for them)
  • More than 30 million active members speaking 150+ languages from across the world.

Cons

  • Separate, expensive subscriptions for different features
  • Shares your personal info by default
  • Gimmicky cash-grabs waste time and resources that could be spent on improving the app
  • Charges you for services that are available free elsewhere

Are There Any HelloTalk Alternatives?

HelloTalk vs. iTalki

italki

If the freedom of structure is what you’re looking for, we'd recommend you give iTalki a try. This tutor marketplace gives you the option to choose from professional instructors or casual conversation partners and tutors. Even the most casual of partners through iTalki have at least some experience guiding you in their native language. Best of all, sessions are solely focused on your target language, so you really have nothing to lose.

HelloTalk vs. Verbling

Even with its flaws, Verbling still has a better execution of the all-in-one-place format. Instructors are more thoroughly vetted and have stricter guidelines about how they interact with their students. You’ll find their rates more expensive than iTalki, but for the quality of the education you’re getting, it’s worth it. This is more for students who want a more traditional language instructor rather than a conversation partner, though.

A Round-Up of our HelloTalk Review 

As much as HelloTalk is hyped up, we were greatly disappointed by what it had to offer. Sure, for those who prefer a more relaxed environment to find language exchange partners, it’s hard to go wrong with HelloTalk.

We just had a hard time seeing past the constant price tags that kept popping up everywhere we turned in the app. Not only that, but its biggest selling point—the auto-translate feature—is powered by Google Translate, which is notorious for too-literal and inaccurate translations. There were a few privacy concerns that caught our eye, too.

On paper, HelloTalk’s platform is ideal for the informal student who just wants to get some language practise with native speakers. Maybe make some friends along the way. But we’d recommend you utilise something like iTalki or Verbling to find your next language partner to get your money’s worth.

Barring that, you could always hit up good old social media, and use free messenger apps like LINE or KakaoTalk and accomplish the same thing.

Ori Starling

Ori Starling is a writer, editor, and translator based out of the United States. Their interest in languages began over 25 years ago, teaching themselves Spanish at a young age from tapes so that they could speak with family. Since then, they've studied Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese, with plans to continue their lifelong language learning journey.