So I Gave in and Tried HelloTalk

Yes, even though I told myself I’d only try it once I’m actually able to converse in Japanese. I’m weak.

But after staring at the HelloTalk app icon on my phone for months on end, I could no longer quell my curiosity and signed up for an account. I mean, the worst thing that could happen is that I’d get ignored, right? Or encounter someone rude, but eh. I could always block those.

So minutes later, I had a shiny HelloTalk account of my own, and without delay, typed up my profile information. I made absolutely sure to state that while my Japanese is extremely limited, I’m more than happy to just teach English for the time being. Even though I’m also there to learn, I didn’t want to burden potential language partners with having to teach me everything from A-Z.

Now, due to the nature of my profile info, I didn’t think I’d get many if any at all, language partners. Much to my surprise, I got about 7 within hours and by the next day, the number doubled.

By the end of my first week of using HelloTalk, I’d spoken to 40+ native Japanese speakers.

Here’re my observations regarding this app thus far:

It’s fun and addictive

It’s crazy how easily accessible Japanese native speakers suddenly are. Once upon a time, the thought of communicating with one seemed almost impossible, thanks to this massive thing called the Language Barrier Reef.

But now, I’m able to reach out to a huge community of Japanese people, and since the majority of them are at least able to carry a simple conversation in English, the language barrier is no longer so daunting.

I’ve had a pleasant experience so far. Most of them are incredibly helpful and I can receive answers almost instantly should I ask a question in the Moments section. Which also happens to be one of my favourite pages to creep on; they’re always posting gorgeous pictures of their travels, both in and outside of Japan, facts about their culture and Japanese language tips.

It’s incredibly convenient

The beauty of HelloTalk is that you not only have easy access to native speakers of the language you’re learning, you can also communicate with them through methods beyond texting. There’s no need to give out your Facebook, Skype, Discord, LINE or Kakaotalk details, no.

All you really need is HelloTalk, because just about everything is there. You can text, send audio recordings, audio call and video call.

Pretty nifty, right?

It’s great for networking

This should’ve been blatantly obvious, but I didn’t realise it until more and more Japanese people who live, are visiting and are going to visit Malaysia approached me, eventually asking to meet up. At first, I thought it was odd for people to so casually ask for meet ups, some even going as far as to ask this in the Moments section. That was, until one of the people I text with mentioned wanting to attend an English Conversation School. I was like, whaaat? There’s such a thing?

I’d known beforehand that there are ALTs in Japan (these are teachers who essentially chat with students to help them practice using the language) and that you can hire someone to speak to you in English for a price, but I didn’t think there’re actual schools for it. English Conversation Cafes too even.

Suddenly, the requests to meet up don’t seem that strange anymore. Of course, I pretty much ignore those who obviously aren’t interested in studying and will only consider those I’ve spoken to for awhile/aren’t creepy. I’ve only met one so far, and that was an interesting experience.

That said, to anyone reading this post, please make sure to meet in public if you do decide to accept such an invitation. A coffee shop is a good option; casual, simple and you can make a quick getaway in case the person turns out to be weird. And remember, that ol’ “Don’t get in a stranger’s car” thing our parents used to tell us when we were kids still applies now.

There’s more to teaching via conversation than meets the eye

So this is something I learned when I was thrown into my first audio call. I manage well enough when it comes to text messages; after all, I have more time to formulate a proper answer/question.

But when it comes to audio calls, it’s a whole different ball game. At least with text messages, I can pretend I’m just texting any other person on the internet- at the end of the day, I only have a tiny avatar that may or may not be them to represent them.

With audio calls, though, it’s not quite the same. Suddenly, there is a stranger’s voice on the other end of the line and it all gets too real. This isn’t some avatar I’m speaking to, it’s a real person. In creeps that familiar first-meeting nervousness and I find myself blanking momentarily. What am I supposed to say?

This is the part where I fall back on fail-safe questions like “Hey! How are you?” and “What are you studying/sort of work do you do?”. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to get rather chatty, if a bit shy (yeah, contradictory, I know, but it makes sense if you speak to them) language exchange partners, the vast majority of which being Japanese men. Once they feel welcome, they seem to enjoy talking- so much so that they often, and subtly, take the lead in the conversation.

Teaching English via conversation… Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? I mean, all you have to do is talk with them so they could practice using English, right? Alas, it’s not that easy. Just like any other lesson, there needs to be a plan.

In a way, I’m extremely grateful for this, because they weren’t the only ones who learned something, I did too. To further illustrate this, I’ve already started preparing a list of first call questions for my next audio call with whomever it may be.

Patience is a virtue

While most of my language exchange partners are able to hold a conversation via text, it’s a bit more tricky during audio calls, which I quickly found out. Due to the lack of English speakers around them, it is difficult for them to put what they’ve already learned in theory into practice.

So more often than not, I’ve had to slow down my speech in order for them to catch up.

This lack of practice also means they take quite awhile to finish their sentences. I have, on more than one occasion, accidentally interrupted them mid-sentence, because I actually thought they were done. Oops.

The Japanese actually have a lot to say

I don’t know if it’s just my luck, but nearly every single person I’ve conversed with has a lot to say, despite their low speaking and listening proficiency. They may not be able to express themselves well in English, but they leave me impressed all the same.

They’re very careful in their thought processes and when they do give answers, they are very well-constructed.

On the other hand, most of my language exchange partners tend to be quite shy as well, so I have to be careful not to accidentally do anything that might make them withdraw.

As proof for how talkative they can be, my longest call lasted for an hour and a half, with the second longest lasting for a solid hour.

They’re also very self-depreciating

Or modest, which is a better word for it. As it is part of their culture to downplay their strengths, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. But still.

Despite listing themselves as Beginners in English, most are able to carry as well as understand an English conversation via text. A far cry from my meager Japanese knowledge and I list myself as a Beginner. Honestly, I don’t even know enough to hold a conversation.

So, yeah. Haha. Give yourselves some credit, okay? Okay.

There really are gaijin hunters out there

I’ve always known that they exist, but I didn’t think they’d blatantly state on their profiles that the reason they’re learning English is because they’d like to have a white boyfriend.

Okay then. To each their own.

These people are the minority, though. Most female users tend to state on their profiles that they are not looking for romance. After witnessing how they can get bombarded with messages, I can see why.

Like any other social media, there’re pervs out there

As expected. But what can you do about it, huh? All you can do is block/ignore them and move on.

Thankfully enough, I’ve not had to block anyone just yet. The guys on this app are a lot less sleazy than the ones found on any other social media out there. Another point for HelloTalk.

In conclusion…

Despite how often it crashes, I really cannot recommend HelloTalk enough. I never realised how easy it is to connect with a huge community of people who speak a completely different language until this came along. And through it, I’ve found so many who love nearly all of the same things I do than I have on any other social media site- and even, real life.

Really happy, and I already have a tiny personal list of people I’d love to eventually meet face-to-face. Like how often can you find someone who shares the exact same love for languages I do? Or those who have near identical taste in entertainment that I do? Not a lot.

Seriously cool. 100000000/10 do recommend. I can’t wait till I can try this out in Chinese!