Language Exchanges | The Very Best Websites and Apps: Part III

When traveling to a foreign country isn’t an option, the next best way to connect with native speakers is through language exchanges, which have recently skyrocketed in popularity. Language exchanges are online platforms that connect with you native speakers of various languages all over the world.

When used correctly, language exchanges can be a godsend – they’re an easy and fun way to connect with people from different cultures and learn a foreign language. However, with hundreds of language exchange services out there, it can be hard to know which one to pick. Here, we’ve done the work for you, and selected the very best language exchanges that will serve as a great asset for any language learner.

1. Speaky

Imagine Facebook, but instead of invasive advertisements and annoying self-absorbed status updates, your news feed consists of profiles of active and engaged language learners who want to help you learn your foreign language of choice. Enter Speaky, the most in-depth social network for language learners that we’ve seen yet.

After creating your profile – which involves uploading a picture, adding interests and basic information, and of course which languages you speak and are studying – you are instantly connected with thousands of other language learners. You can also connect with your Facebook and/or G+ account, which syncs with your photos and information on your already-established social networks. With the site’s clean and user-friendly design, it’s easy to scroll through prospective language partners’ profiles and see if their interests align with yours.

Two features of Speaky stood out to us. First, those who are familiar with language exchanges understand the challenge of scheduling a chat with people who often live in vastly different time zones. As such, Speaky displays the time zone of all of its users prominently on their profiles. Further, it comes with a calendar feature, which allows you to specify the times in which you’re available, as well as schedule chats or meetings with your friends.

Second, the message system comes with a color-coded correction system, which allows you to correct your partner’s mistakes (see below). This seriously aids in remembering the errors as well as how to correct them. Aside from text chat, Speaky supports voice calls as well.

langexc3_image1Further, Speaky allows you to connect not only with native speakers, but non-native speakers of various levels. This can be useful in creating study groups, which are easy to manage given Speaky’s extensive scheduling features. And lastly, Speaky comes with an excellent (English-language) blog, which has useful language-learning tips and stories from various community members and polyglots.

Our favorite features: The excellent scheduling and message correction systems, combined with its clean interface which is intuitive and pleasing to the eye, make Speaky a delight to use. The community is active and diverse, ensuring that anyone who speaks (almost) any language will be able to find a partner.

Room for improvement: Though their website is user-friendly, there’s currently no iOS app for Speaky, which would be convenient for smartphone users.

Overall, we can’t recommend Speaky highly enough. It’s a relatively new language exchange service – it was established in the past couple years – which means that it will only continue to grow as one of the leading language exchange services. LiveMocha and Busuu should be worried!

2. Gamelingu

langexc3_image2When you first log on to Gamelingu, the first thing you’ll notice is that the layout is modern and aesthetically pleasing. The focus of Gamelingu is making the service as pleasant and convenient as possible for language learners, and it unequivocally succeeds in this goal.

Simplicity and convenience rule in Gamelingu. Setting up a profile is quick, easy, and intuitive. If you have any questions (as I did), the support staff is very attentive, and actually make themselves available as conversation partners. This contributes to Gamelingu’s overall inclusive feel, and makes users feel welcome from the start.

Members are able to choose from text, audio, and video chats. In my experience, the Gamelingu community is active and open; I received more messages from Gamelingu members than from any other service on this list.

Our favorite features: The chats come with some really cool features; for example, the video chat comes with a timer, so you can set an allotted amount of time to speak each language. This is helpful to avoid accidentally spending an entire chat speaking one language – a common pitfall of language exchanges.

Room for improvement: Currently, the community is heavily skewed in favor of English and Spanish speakers. If you’re learning either of those languages, it’s great, but if you’re looking to practice a different language, it may be hard to find a partner.

You might be asking, “Why the name Gamelingu?” Gamelingu is currently developing a series of language-learning games that you can use to break the ice with your conversation partners. We’re excited to see this materialize, as games are a great, fun way to up your language skills.

Bottom line: Gamelingu excels as a meat-and-potatoes language exchange: it offers all the basic features of a language exchange, plus extras which are useful and convenient. Combine it with an active and friendly userbase, and you’ve got a winning recipe. We’re looking forward to seeing how they spice things up in the future with the addition of games. We’re confident it will be a major contender in the crowded language exchange market.

3. Versify

langexc3_image3The philosophy behind Versify is that the best way to learn language is to practice in real-life, face-to-face settings. Available on any computer as well as Android phones, Versify is dedicated to connecting speakers from all over the world so that they can have video conversations and practice their language skills.

Here’s how it works: you create a profile, list the languages you speak and want to learn, choose the hours you’re available each day, and voilà! You’re all done. Making a profile is easy, and after registering your account, you can immediately start scheduling video chats. If you’re not technologically inclined, no worries: Versify comes with extremely in-depth FAQs that will clearly answer any question you could have.

Once you’ve created your profile, you browse through the other members on the site. You can filter by “Schedule Matches”, which means that Versify only shows people who have listed that they are available at one of the timeframes you’ve selected. This ensures that you will find someone who can chat when you’re available, and removes the hassle that comes with time zone differences.

The video chat itself runs smoothly, though like all video chats, it requires a fairly fast and stable internet connection. There’s also a text chat within the video, which is useful for correcting errors; however, the emphasis is on face-to-face rather than text-based communication.

Our favorite features: Schedule matching is awesome! This way, you don’t have to waste time chatting with people who aren’t available when you are. It makes Versify especially useful for those who are busy and don’t have much free time to practice. Another great feature is the credit system: each minute you speak your native language, you earn a credit; each language you practice one, you spend a credit. This ensures that you’ll always have a balanced give-and-take during conversations.

Room for improvement: Versify is new, and as a result, its following isn’t quite as extensive as some others on this list. As a result, it can be hard to find someone whose schedule matches yours, especially if your availability is limited.

Bottom line: Versify is right in that face-to-face communication is a great, authentic way to practice your language skills, especially speaking and listening. If you’re worried about not knowing what to chat about, check out our suggestions for discussion topics with language partners. Overall, Versify is an exciting new service, and as it gains traction, its utility as a tool for language learners will only increase.

The services on this list will be a great supplement to any language learner’s regimen. Of course, they’re not meant to be a replacement for tailor-made classes taught by a trained professional, but they’re a perfect way to practice what you’ve learned in class with native speakers. Can’t get enough language exchanges? Check out the other articles (Part I, Part II) in our series on language exchanges, and start connecting with new friends from all over the world.