HelloTalk or Tandem: What’s better for language learning partners?

I’m new to learning another language, but I was inspired to find practice partners early in my learning journey. Here’s Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Wait to Find Language Learning Partners.

If you’re trying to choose between HelloTalk and Tandem, I’m going to talk about my experiences with these apps and compare the two. Keep the following in mind as you read through my comments:

  • I wrote this blog based on my own experience with these apps in the Pixel 3XL Android environment.
  • Some of the things that I noticed or was bothered by may not bother other people.
  • I’ve only used these apps to find Japanese-speaking partners, so YMMV depending on your native and target languages.

TLDR: I went with Tandem because of its superior privacy policy and design, and lower price for pro.

What they both do well

HelloTalk and Tandem both serve the same function, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on these features because they didn’t affect my decision. Here’s a list of what they do equally well:

Transliterate: I can only read a handful of kanji at this point, but I do know some words by how they sound. The transliterate feature is awesome because it spells the message out in romaji so I can try to figure out what it says without using the translator.

Translate: Sometimes even if I look up all the words, I still don’t understand what my partner is saying. Or sometimes I have a good guess but want a way to be certain. The translate feature in both apps is pretty solid, but both apps limit the number of messages you can translate per 24 hours unless you pay. You can always copy and paste the message into Google, though.

Corrections: Both apps allow partners to correct each other’s messages, and it’s easy to understand what was updated.

Text and audio messaging: This is the core feature for both apps, and they both do it well. Audio messaging is a great way to practice listening and speaking skills without the pressure of having to think of what to say in a few moments while someone is waiting for you to speak. I didn’t get any audio messages in HelloTalk, but Tandem allows you to easily fast forward or rewind if you need to play it back a few times.

Web portal: They both have a web portal, so you can access your chats on your desktop if you don’t want to keep typing on your phone. The web portals don’t have full functionality, but you can send and receive messages.

Voice and video calls: I can’t comment on this feature for HelloTalk, but Tandem’s video call feature works as expected.

Block: I haven’t had to do this yet, but both apps allow you to block and report users.

Where HelloTalk is better

When you have a partner’s chat open, their local time appears right below their name. This is helpful since I try to avoid texting people in the middle of the night. Since many of my partners are in Japan, our time difference (16 hours) means we’re often awake when the other is sleeping. Having the time right below their name makes it super convenient to know when it’s ok to text rather than having to go into their profile to check.

HelloTalk has a social posting feature that is fun. Anyone can correct your post to help you with your learning, and you can follow your partners to see what they’re up to. I’m not active on social media for various reasons, but I would enjoy practicing my Japanese by posting on a social platform. Tandem allows you to follow people, but it’s not clear why you would do that right now.

Onboarding for HelloTalk is super easy: You create an account, then you’re in. Whereas in Tandem, you fill out a little quiz that they claim helps them match you with partners, which makes it sound like they (or at least an algorithm/AI) are actively using your responses. They don’t say your responses are posted publicly on your profile. I didn’t reveal any deep, dark secrets, but I’d have liked to know how that information was presented since I would’ve written it differently. The good news is that you can easily edit this in your profile if you made the same mistake I did.

Though HelloTalk’s design had a more spammy feel to it, Tandem uses actual tricky marketing tactics. When you sign up, Tandem shows a message saying each account is reviewed by someone on their team and could take up to 7 days to process, but you can rush the process by upgrading to pro. I read a review (which unfortunately I can’t find now, otherwise I would link to it) that warned new users that 1) it doesn’t take a week and 2) upgrading during onboarding is more expensive. My account was approved in just a few minutes (YMMV), and indeed, pro was cheaper when I upgraded after being approved (as of October 2021).

Where Tandem is better

In terms of design, Tandem is much cleaner and more appealing to my tastes. It’s simpler and feels less flashy in a good way.

Tandem’s privacy policy is great, and they have rules in places to protect you. For example, you can’t share photos with another user until you’ve exchanged some secret number of messages. In contrast, you can’t use HelloTalk without giving it complete access to your photos, even if you’re not trying to share a photo right then.

Again, YMMV, but my Tandem partners have been serious about learning with me. It’s been a month, and I’m still talking to mostly the same partners as I did when I first started, whereas I was only on HelloTalk for a little over a week and those partners dropped off pretty quickly with the same level of effort on my end. Additionally, my Tandem partners usually message me once a day or every few days.

I can easily find people my own age to partner with. At first I was open to talking to anybody — after all, one of my dearest friends is more than 10 years older than me — but I eventually decided to restrict age to make conversation a little easier.

Where they both need attention

HelloTalk and Tandem could both use some updates to their design, user interface, and user experience. HelloTalk feels a bit clunky or spammy (not because of ads), and although Tandem has a nice overall look and feel, the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) needs a little love. Maybe I only notice these things because I used to be in product management for an app, but I have quite a few comments about the UI and UX for both apps.

For example, the bottom nav is prime real estate in an app, but Tandem uses it for areas of the app that will make them money instead of prioritizing the user experience. I understand they need to make money, but this design is especially flawed because I’ve already upgraded to pro. Now the Pro tab is totally useless and I have to dig around in the very long user profile menu to find things I need.

Why I went with Tandem

When you look at the two sections above, it might seem like I complained less about HelloTalk than Tandem, so why did I decide to go with Tandem? For 3 main reasons:

  1. Privacy
  2. Price
  3. Aesthetics

Privacy isn’t as big a deal to me as it should be, but I try to make good choices when I can. I saw this Reddit post about HelloTalk sending information to Facebook. I decided to go with Tandem because it’s under GDPR and that makes privacy much better for users. Here’s Tandem’s privacy policy if you want to read it; in contrast, I couldn’t even find HelloTalk’s privacy policy on their website.

As for price, HelloTalk is more than twice the cost of Tandem when you buy an annual subscription. You can use either app for free with ads, but if you’re interested in upgrading, Tandem was $20 annually when I purchased in October 2021. HelloTalk has an option for a lifetime purchase, which is a great option if you think you’ll use it for a long time. Ideally, I would like to continue with my current partners and eventually exchange phone numbers to text normally, but that only works when neither of us needs the translate function as often.

Again, aesthetics was a factor in my decision to continue with Tandem instead of HelloTalk. When I downloaded Tandem after HelloTalk, I felt like I graduated from a kiddie app to a grown-up app.

As with everything in life, find the one that works for you. Some of the navigation and design elements might not bother you. Whenever I’m looking for an app to solve a problem or fill a gap in my life, I read reviews and find recommendations, then I choose to the top 3 or 5 and try them out myself.

Tandem was the clear winner for me, but try them both and see which you like.

Photo by Greta Hoffman from Pexels

Teena Merlan