Learning a new language is hard. Remaining motivated to continue learning it is even more difficult, especially if you are trying to learn alone.
Hello Pal is a language learning app that aims to take advantage of the power of instant messaging, the global connectedness of our smartphones, and the benefits of communication to language development in order to make learning a new tongue as easy as possible.
Readers of our sister site Android and Me may recall I reviewed the Android version of Hello Pal in June, 2015. Back then, I was thoroughly impressed by the app’s capabilities, allowing you to converse with native speakers or other language learners from around the world in minutes in a language you’ve never spoken before.
The Android version has done well, amassing a large global user base, and the Hello Pal team is back with an iOS version of its popular chat app.
For those unfamiliar, Hello Pal is built a lot like an ordinary IM app but connects you with other users around the world and provides you with the tools to speak to each other in a number of languages. While chatting, the app gives you a better understanding of the meaning of the words you are saying with its intelligent translation tools, making it conversational and fun to learn a new language.
To begin using Hello Pal, you’ll need to set up an account. This can be done through the app by connecting your Facebook or Google+ account or by signing up with an email address. During the set up process, you also declare which languages you speak and which languages you wish to learn, as well as provide some personal info. The information you include helps to recommend you “Pals” who speak or wish to learn the languages you select. You can flesh out your profile with more information for better chat matches, but all of the extra personal details are optional.
Chatting with your Pals remains as pleasant in the iOS version as it was in the Android app. Thanks to the in-app communication tools, you can easily pair up and chat with native speakers or other language learners around the world. One fantastic piece of news I discovered when setting up the iOS app was that my chat history was backed up and moved across from my Android testing.
There are a number of ways to communicate with a Pal, all integrated into one message feed. Text Chat allows you to type freely in your own language or a learned one and even allows you to type a desired word or phrase and translate it into the desired output language. From my experience, the translation engine works really well and gives you a good understanding of the written language.
Learning how to speak a new language out loud is also incredibly important and Hello Pal makes this easy. Voice Chat allows you to speak freely in any language, practicing out loud. Similar to Text Chat, you can type first and get an accurate translation but this time you can record your voice and send the clip itself to the recipient. You can listen back to any recorded clip before confirming/ re-recording and sending.
The best tool for chat, in my opinion, is Phrasebook. It provides contextual and conversational topics that help to maintain a conversation and ensure you and the recipient are conversing an appropriate skill level. You are provided with phrases, translations, and professionally recorded audio pronunciation to help you get to grips with the words you are using and you can send phrases as text or record your own audio. Full Phrasebooks are available for English, Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, French, Korean and Spanish. ‘Lite’ (limited) Phrasebooks are also available for Thai, Portuguese, Hindi, Italian, and German with more being added over time.
In the most recent version of Hello Pal, the team has also added a gaming component to the app called Play. In this mode, you compete against your contacts to see who has learnt the most of the new language by translating phrases in a quiz format. Some of the initial translations are super easy but as you progress through levels, you begin to really test your knowledge. A bit of healthy competition is good for keeping entertained and inspired to continue learning. Play can be a little slow and buggy at times, but is still technically in beta so will hopefully continue to be improved.
Overall, the Hello Pal team has polished an already excellent offering and ported it to iOS successfully. Layouts for chats and Phrasebooks have been improved and the whole UI has been given a lick of paint to bring it up to date since its initial release. Minor qualms for me include the lack of an iPad version (coming soon) and support for the larger iPhone screen sizes — currently the app is just blown up for the larger devices. It still takes a little while to get into using Hello Pal and the in-app tutorial/chat bot is worth checking out to get up to speed. Beginners should also take a look at Hello Pal’s YouTube guides.
Whether you commit to learn a new language will depend on your own perseverance, but there’s certainly no better way to learn than to practise communicating with others. Hello Pal allows you to do this with users around the world, on the go and on your phone.
Check out Hello Pal on the App Store where it can be downloaded for free.