jīn yú zài shuì lián yè zi xià biān yóu zhe ne. And for those of you who do not read pinyin Chinese, “The goldfish are swimming under the lily pad.” In the past few weeks I have been using an app called HelloTalk, to practice my Chinese with others who use the same app to practice their English. (And there are tons of other languages as well.) So first of all, a shout out to some of my Chinese language partners (Caroline, Vergil, Renae, June, Jocelyn, and Kimberly). There are lots of ways that we can practice language via social media and apps. The HelloTalk has been exceptional for me, because of some features that I’ll describe below.
First, the sentence about the goldfish in my backyard pond. This week I was trying to review how to use adverbs of location in Chinese (next to, to the right of, to the left of, underneath, etc.). So, I sent my Chinese language partners a picture of my backyard fish pond, together with some comments about where the fish and the water lilies were located. In the end I got help from a number of my speaking partners, often reinforcing the same conversation with multiple people. First we had to get through the difference between lotus flowers and water lilies. Then we needed to figure out the difference between lilies and water lilies. We even touched on the difference between fancy carp and goldfish. And then finally I got hints about how to talk about the relative locations. Literally dozens of sentences were going back and forth with all of my partners. The point is that I was practicing real language, using actual forms I was hoping to focus on, and with help from native speakers of Chinese all along the way.
Here are some of the features that I most benefit from with HelloTalk.
1. Audio or Text. One can send messages either as audio or as text. For users of WhatsApp, you will recognize the convenience of sending messages either as audio or text. The lag time between comments gives me enough time to digest the messages, look up words and characters that I do not know, and figure out my next comments too.
2. Conversion options. The audio files that Chinese speakers send to me, if I do not understand them completely, can be converted in a number of ways: Chinese characters, pinyin pronunciation, English translation. I often find myself listening to the audio comments, then switching to see the Chinese characters, then switching to pinyin for those characters that I cannot read, and then switching to English translation for those pinyin words that I do not know. It is easy in HelloTalk to use any of those modalities.
3. Correction Features. HelloTalk offers a convenient way to correct the previous comments from others, which are similar to the ‘track changes’ and ‘review comments’ that one finds in word processors like Word. It has been an easy way to review mistakes, or focus on grammar, and to provide additional examples.
4. Exceptional Community of Learners. HelloTalk seems to do a good job of making partners available who want to practice learning. It hasn’t felt weird or artificial, and people seem to bond quickly. There is a strong gatekeeping to make sure that people feel safe talking to others.
There are other features as well (group chats, note taking), but these are the four that I find myself taking the most advantage of. I actually use HelloTalk in conjunction with several other online applications, and for me it has been another part of my total language learning package. Recently I shared HelloTalk with my Portuguese students at the university. The next day I was teaching a Portuguese grammar class and I mentioned that every Brazilian knows the words to the poem ‘Minha terra tem palmeiras onde canta o sabiá.’ Right in the middle of class one student turns on HelloTalk and asks his Brazilians partners if indeed they had heard of this poem. “Ah, Prof. Kelm, I just asked some Brazilians if they know this poem. Some said that they had heard of it, but they really don’t know the words all that well.’ Point for my students, and point for HelloTalk, which became an instant resource in the middle of our class.
Check it out, http://www.hellotalk.com/
And here’s the app download link: http://www.hellotalk.com/#r:129932013531564298
The basic service is free, and the premium service is very inexpensive. I am happy to recommend that ya’ll give HelloTalk a try.