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Survey Call: How English Speakers are Learning Thai with HelloTalk

Survey

Using Language Exchanges to study from afar…

A growing number of students are using HelloTalk (language exchange app) to learn Thai. In 2014 when I was contacted by Zackery Ngai (the brains behind HelloTalk) there were only a handful of Thais and students of Thai signed up. And now a mere two years later, the numbers have exploded.

Thai native speakers:100,359
Active on a monthly basis:13,427

Thai learners:12,940
Active on a monthly basis: 3,500

Wow. That’s an impressive leap.

There’s no doubt in my mind that chatting with online language partners can be an inexpensive way (in both time and money) to get up to speed without having to live in-country. And if done right, language exchanges can also come in handy for meeting new friends in a target language.

Marc Belley recently wrote an excellent article – Finding Thai Language Partners – where he reviewed the latest language exchange websites and apps, as well as shared tips on how to use them. When reading the comments seems not everyone has been successful with online language exchange, so to understand how students of Thai are getting HelloTalk to work well (as it does with Marc and others), I decided do a survey.

–>> If you are an English speaker (doesn’t matter if English is not your first language) and are learning Thai with HelloTalk, please fill out the below survey. I’ll leave it open for a month and then share the results.

Note: It’s been years since I’ve used SurveyMonkey so fingers crossed the survey will be glitch free.

WLT’s HelloTalk Thai Survey…

Survey closed (deleted).

How James McGregor uses HelloTalk…

James McGregor (from the FCLT Facebook group) is another student of Thai who has been successful with HelloTalk. Using the questions from the survey (I actually ran the questions across both James and Zackery first) James agreed to share his experiences with the app. Expanded, of course.

1) Why did you choose HelloTalk?

I initially choose HelloTalk because it was set up as a smart phone application. At the time I discovered HelloTalk I only knew about web-based language exchange services. Compared to HelloTalk, they were outdated and not as simple and easy to use.

2) Please list other language exchange websites and apps you’ve used, if any.


1) My Language Exchange: Before stumbling upon HelloTalk I was initially using mylanguageexchange.com to find Thai language partners. But as I mentioned before, it was an extremely outdated website and I didn’t really like the design and layout of the site. I haven’t revisited MLE since finding HelloTalk over a year ago and would not recommend it to anyone.



2) Thai Friendly: I have used and continue to use thaifriendly.com to practice my Thai with Thai people. I have had nothing but very positive experiences using this website for language exchange. But, I must warn people that TF is mainly a dating website purely for Thai females/ladyboys to find foreign friends or boyfriends. So use it to practice Thai at your own discretion. Some men who don’t have much experience living with Thai people in Thailand, and/or who aren’t yet speaking Thai above a beginners level, may run into problems when weeding out some of the undesirables who try to contact you.

3) What is your present Thai level? – beginner, low intermediate, intermediate, high intermediate, advanced.


I would say at least low intermediate, pushing into intermediate.

4) At what stage of studying Thai did you start using HelloTalk? – beginner, low intermediate, intermediate, high intermediate, advanced.


I started using HelloTalk when I was at the upper beginner level (being able to go to restaurants and coffee shops or taking a taxi comfortably without having to use English) but I felt that this level is still too low to fully connect and have a real conversation with a Thai person about everyday life and interesting topics. I could read Thai but there was a lot of vocabulary I didn’t know, so conversations ran out of steam, going absolutely nowhere after a very short while. When feeling frustrated and realizing that it was me who was the problem (not Thai people), I stopped using HelloTalk. After about six-seven additional months of study and having improved dramatically in Thai (learning a lot more vocabulary), I decided to give it another try. I went back to HelloTalk and found that my experience was a lot better, hence more exciting.

5) How do you choose your Thai language exchange partners?

I tend to check out the person’s profile and will contact them if they have an interesting audio introduction, written introduction, or if they’ve posted interesting photos or statuses on their wall. I tend to ignore or not really pay much attention to people who just send an initial message of “Hi” but I will usually reply to those who have read my profile then sends a message that is longer and more eye-catching than just a one word.

6) What problems have you run into when chatting with Thai language partners?

To be completely honest I haven’t really run into any problems when chatting with Thai language partners. I guess the only problem I had with HelloTalk would be when I first started and was still a “beginner”. This made it hard for the conversations to go anywhere (in Thai) as my vocabulary was extremely limited at the time.

7) How often do you chat on HelloTalk? – daily, a couple times a week, a couple times a month.


I have really cut down on using HelloTalk because after finding a few really decent Thai partners there I started to chat with them exclusively on Line. But when I was at my peak of using the app I was chatting every single day.

8) How has your Thai improved since you started using HelloTalk?

My Thai has improved a lot since I started (reading, writing, speaking and listening). But you really do need to put in the effort to see these improvements. You need to be able to hold the interest of the person you’re talking to, and that person also needs to be interesting enough for you to want to put in the time and effort to constantly exchange Thai/English with them as well.

The “correction” feature especially helped to improve my Thai. This feature enables Thai native speakers to correct your sentences in your messages and status. I have found that if you are able to form a close enough connection, Thai people will not hesitate to help out by correcting your mistakes. It’s a bit daunting at first when almost every single message you write is corrected, but eventually you’ll come to realise that it’s effective in helping to improve the grammar, sentence structure and even the words you choose.

9) What advice can you share about learning Thai via HelloTalk?

I don’t believe HelloTalk should be the only tool to use when trying to learn a language. I’ve found it effective when combined with watching Thai TV, listening to Thai music and reading Thai daily.

First get past the very beginner stages in learning Thai, and then you will find many Thais wanting to talk to you. From my experience they are appreciative and show much more interest if you have at least a little bit of genuine cultural knowledge of Thailand – if you show genuine interest in Thailand and all things Thai. Don’t be rude, and if someone stops talking to you, just move onto the next person. There are thousands of Thai people who are online everyday who would like to make friends with a foreigner.

I have come to realise after talking with hundreds of people through HelloTalk that Thai people are some of the most talkative and social group of people I’ve ever met (hint: they are the perfect group to help you learn your target language!)

Thanks James! Having a passion for resources, I always find it interesting to hear how other language students are using different tools to improve in their target language.

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting experience James. But I guess I’m so shy and so introvert that even online I couldn’t make it…

  2. Bernard, have you tried language exchange? As you know, I’m in the same seat as you are (shy/introverted) but someday I hope to get out of my cozy world.

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