The upcoming shutdown of the once leading language learning community Livemocha shows that the technological platform a product is based on is as crucial to the success and survival as the offering itself. Livemocha missed the trend of mobile device based language learning and consequently lost its market share and appeal to consumers.
Smart phones have increasingly replaced stationary PCs as our primary device to access the Internet, search for information, play games and to communicate with others. HelloTalk, an edtech startup based in China, uses these features to offer language learners a global community of like-minded people.
Founded in 2012 HelloTalk quickly grew through word of mouth, surpassing 1 million registered users in March 2015 and adding an additional 2 million users by the end of March 2016. The community sends around 4 million messages each day and between six to seven thousand new members join HelloTalk on a daily basis.
The team at HelloTalk took proven concepts out of social media and integrated them into a dedicated language and culture exchange platform. HelloTalk Moments, for example, is a timeline similar to what people already know from popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram filled with posts about culture and languages from the community.
There are several tools to help learners break down communication barriers. HelloTalk features one tap translation for text message and text-to-voice / voice-to-text. Community members can voice call each other for free and leave recorded voice messages. Other features like group video chats and interest-based channels are planned for the near future.
We sat down with HelloTalk founder Zackery to ask him about the latest developments.
In March 2015 HelloTalk surpassed the 1-million-user-mark, and now one year later the community is close to being 3 million members strong. What drives your impressive growth?
HelloTalk mainly grows organically through Appstore/Google Play search and users’ word of mouth referral. In 2015 HelloTalk also started doing some marketing which helped.
What are the benefits of launching a language learning product exclusively on mobile
devices, and have you experienced any drawbacks also?
The benefits are that users can take advantage of their spare time and communicate through instant text and voice messages, as well as voice and video calls. Users can also know the local time and location of their counterparts, plus search language partners based on city.
The drawbacks are that sometimes users prefer to do deep learning on desktop computers. Also, certain users prefer to use desktop versions during work time.
You are launching a new version of HelloTalk. Tell us more about the new features and how they are going to enhance the learning / cultural experience. What excites you most about the new apps?
Our new version allows users to post feeds related to language and culture. We also pioneered adding language learning features such as grammar correction, translation, transliteration into feeds. These innovate language learning features allow users to learn languages in a totally fun and exciting new ways. Since launching language Moments feature about two months ago, we are seeing about 15,000 posts a day which is very impressive.
What are the most popular languages people learn on HelloTalk, and what are the most common language pairings?
About 60% of HelloTalk users learn English, followed by Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese. The most common language pairs are:
Korean <> English
Japanese <> English
Chinese <> English
Last time we talked you started to learn Spanish. How is it coming along?
Unfortunately I haven’t done much on this part cause I am too busy improving HelloTalk with our whole team. This is a bit ironic…
Technology has made huge progress when it comes to instant translations (Word Lens, Skype Translator, etc) and HelloTalk also provides its learners with similar features. Some people say that as a consequence language learning won’t be necessary in the future. Why do you believe that it is still important to learn a foreign language?
I think instant translations fulfill the need of casual use such as travel or basic communication in trade shows, but ultimately people want to communicate more than just that. I actually think instant translations can be used to help people learn languages, the same way HelloTalk uses machine translation to help users learn language through chat.
What are your further plans for HelloTalk in 2016?
We hope to grow the user base to 5-6 million. We will introduce the following new functions (to name a few):
– Dictionary, language learning news reader
– Short video and voice feed posts
– Groups (based on location, topics, interest)