When studying Japanese or any foreign language, everyone knows that practice makes perfect! But it can be hard to stay motivated to practice everyday, especially if you don’t have any Japanese speaking friends available to talk with.
Luckily there’s an app for that. Actually, there are multiple apps for that! Today I’d like to introduce three great chat apps for practicing Japanese. I’ve personally tried all three and would highly recommend Japanese learners struggling to stay motivated to practice or looking for Japanese speaking friends to try them out.
To Learn: HiNative (https://hinative.com)
HiNative (from the makers of Lang-8) is the ultimate question & answer community for language learners. Have a question about Japanese grammar? Want someone to correct your pronunciation? Need someone to check if your sentence is correct? With HiNative you don’t have to make friends or wait to be matched, just post a question and it’ll go out to all the native Japanese speakers in the app to answer. Most questions seem to be answered within a few hours, sometimes even within a few minutes!
HiNative is great for helping you practice and polish your Japanese because you can get help from native speakers and other language learners in real time without having to bother friends or classmates 🙂
Tip: You can use HiNative for all kinds of languages, not just Japanese! Also check out their sister service Lang-8 (http://lang-8.com) for even more language exchange services.
Cost: You can use all of HiNative’s major features for free, but some features (such as voice answers, search of your past questions, priority questions) require a premium membership.
To Have Fun: Festar (http://festar.jp/en)
Festar is actually a Japanese chat and dating app, but the international settings and English version make it a great place to find language exchange partners and Japanese speaking friends too! When you sign up you’ll be asked what languages you speak (English, Japanese, or Korean) and what countries you would like to match with. Include Japanese and Japan to and you’re sure to meet some new Japanese speaking friends! Personally I have met a lot of Japanese and Korean users interested in making English speaking friends.
Festar is a 10 minute chat app that matches users based on their hobbies (including mainstream things like cooking and travel as well as minor things like Evangelion and karaoke!). The cool thing is that since online users are matched in real time if you get matched you’ll be talking right away. However you only have 10 minutes to chat so you’ll have to type fast! After the 10 minutes is up you’ll be asked if you want to keep talking to your new friend, and if you both choose yes you’ll be able to message that user anytime. If one of you didn’t feel a connection and says no, oh well! You can go get matched with a new user and chat with someone else, kind of like chatroulette… but without the creepy guys.
Tip: Japanese users are most active in the evening Japan time (GMT+9), so if you aren’t matching with many Japanese users try logging in at a different time. Also make sure to add Japan related interests to your profile, like Japanese food, anime, Kyoto, Tokyo, and more to get matched with other Japan lovers in your home country or other English speaking countries!
Cost: You can use Festar to match and chat 10 minutes a day up to three times a day totally free, but private messaging features and unlimited daily matches require a premium membership.
To Practice More: HelloTalk (http://www.hellotalk.com)
The HelloTalk app is a mix of serious learning and causal chat. Dedicated to language learning, the app focuses on helping getting language learners matched with partners so they can enjoy language exchange and practice each other’s languages. You can sort through a list of users and even search for users near you that speak the language you want to learn and immediately send them a message to see if they want to chat. In addition to text messages you can also exchange voice messages and even call each other, so it’s kind of like a Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp exclusively for language exchange!
Unlike HiNative or Festar there are no specific topics in HelloTalk so what you chat about and where you take the discussion is totally up to you. Many Japanese users want to learn English so you’re sure to find some friends! Remember there may be a big time difference between where you are and Japan though, so replies may or may not be instant.
Tip: Make sure to include some Japanese in your profile to show that you’re interested in speaking more than just English! And don’t get discouraged if someone doesn’t reply to your message, just keep messaging other users until you find a friend you can get along with!
Cost: You can use HelloTalk’s basic features for free, but some advanced features (such as in-app automatic translations) require a monthly subscription.
As with any language learning tool, these chat apps are what you make of them and may or may not work for you. It can be hard to find the perfect language exchange partner that is at your level and willing to help you. Depending on your Japanese language level you might feel a little embarrassed at first or find it hard to say anything meaningful too. But that’s okay! Neither Rome nor Tokyo was built in a day, keep practicing, keep trying, and がんばって！