Shared Talk / Hellolingo chat rooms: Less creepy than it sounds

Disclaimer: Shared Talk has now moved to become Hellolingo.

After building up my vocabulary and honing my grammar in Spanish for a couple months I began looking for new challenges. While I felt I’d reached a decent level with the language, I still didn’t get much joy out of speaking with natives like Edwin or the Peruvians in my soccer team. The biggest difficulty was that they spoke too fast for my level and constantly asking them to repeat themselves, or speak slower or more clearly always ruined the flow of our conversations. For me, Shared Talk’s text-based chat rooms were the perfect solution: dynamic, real-time conversations with native speakers coupled with time to consult dictionaries, cross-check conjugations, and think of interesting things to talk about.

When I started using Shared Talk my Spanish was theoretically quite complete but I had little experience putting that knowledge into practice. Talking about simple topics such as hobbies or describing where I live was still quite laborious. As I describe it: the words and concepts were already there in my mind, they just weren’t “near my mouth” yet. As you meet a lot of new people on Shared Talk you get a lot of practice talking about these basic concepts. This might sound a little repetitive but I actually found it challenging and exciting. Each new conversation was another opportunity to make a good first impression, which can only boost my chances of making friends in the new language, right?

Interacting with native speakers gives you a feel for the language you simply can’t learn from a grammar book. For example, in English we might ask “Do you work?” or “Are you a student?” rather than “What do you do with yourself?”, which to me anyway sounds a little cheesy. But in Spanish, I noticed I was most commonly being asked “¿A qué te dedicas?” (“To what do you dedicate yourself?”). Another one is the subjunctive voice, one of the few ways Spanish is more finicky than English. As I was used to more formal news pieces I wondered, “Do they actually follow that rule when they speak?”, and it turns out that yes, they do!

As I mentioned in my last post, I think it’s extremely important to be attentive and open-minded in language exchange. If I know I have been struggling recently to differentiate between the preterite and imperfect pasts then I will make sure I take note of each time the native speaker uses them. I find it a lot easier to internalise abstract concepts by taking note of correct examples rather rote-learning rules and trying to manipulate them myself.

Language exchanges are also fantastic opportunities to share culture. When I first started using Shared Talk I realised how little I knew about Hispanic culture and society and I’m sure I made my fair share of faux pas. Latin societies apparently place more importance on the family than Western ones, but does this theory hold any water in real life? What is it like to grow up in the middle of Mexico? What bands, TV shows, or movies are popular over there? What do people aspire to? I’ve learned a lot about the Spanish-speaking universe through talking to native speakers and I think this has been just as satisfying as learning the language itself.

The first good friend I made on Shared Talk was a girl from Peru. She’s quite well-travelled for a Peruvian and has lived in England for a decent amount of time. I definitely think her experience with and interest in English-speaking culture made it easier for us to relate to each other. As my Spanish and knowledge of South America have improved, making friends on Shared Talk has certainly gotten easier.

If you’re aiming to forge strong friendships via Shared Talk, prepare to be patient. It is a naturally hit-and-miss process. Beyond finding common interests, the language barrier, and cultural differences there is time difference to contend with. Even if you have a great first conversation and you exchange Skype or Facebook details, I know from experience that you might never catch each other online ever again! I’ve had the most success speaking with South Americans in the late morning/early afternoon Australian time.

Curiously, I’ve found more success waiting for people to talk to me rather than the other way around. I have no idea why “Tim S” from Australia is so popular but he is haha. In fact, when I sat down to start this post, I logged on to take screenshots and had to tear myself away from my laptop a good hour and a half later after four concurrent conversations with chic@s from four different countries in America Latina!

As you might have noticed, I haven’t really discussed meeting Spanish-speakers from Spain. This is simply because I haven’t had very much luck in this regard. Maybe the time difference with Spain is more awkward? To illustrate this, the only Skype conversation I’ve ever had with a Spaniard was after midnight Australian time – early afternoon in Spain. In the same vein, I would not recommend Shared Talk for German. There are usually less than 5 Germans online and I have not found them to be the most talkative lot. I have not used Shared Talk for any other language so you will have to find that out for yourself. I reckon you’d get good results for languages like Chinese, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian though.

Before I forget: You might be a little apprehensive about meeting strangers on the internet but I’ve personally never met anyone on Shared Talk who wasn’t there for the right reasons. In any case, normal precautions should apply. Only give out information and contact details you’re comfortable with.

This has probably been my longest ever post but I obviously had a lot to say. It’s probably my favourite website for practicing Spanish because after a while, it’s more about meeting new people than practice at all. I don’t think I will ever get lose interest in Shared Talk even as I reach proficiency.

Takeaway: Shared Talk is the gateway to meaningful conversations with native speakers. With the extra time to cross-check, notice, and understand, you can quickly improve your production and comprehension of your target language. It is also the perfect opportunity to share culture. Be patient, open-minded, and enjoy it. You will feel it get easier with each time you log on.

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