Language exchange is extremely popular in Korea, and for expats, this is one of the best ways to meet locals outside of a formal environment such as school or work. On the other hand, many Koreans are also interested in it because English fluency is a valuable asset in terms of finding a job or boosting up academic records. Due to the busy lifestyle the country is known for, not many people have the spare time to go to a language cafe or private lessons, so language exchange apps are a great way to practice your preferred language regardless of any circumstances. To help expats find the right app for them, we have listed our top five language exchange apps in Korea in this article.
Using apps is a great way to learn a new language and make some long-lasting friendships. However, always proceed with caution when scheduling a meeting with a person you have become acquainted with online. Basic common sense should always be on your mind when dealing with virtual strangers; therefore, we recommend you schedule at least the first few meetings in public places such as cafes or restaurants. Although Korea is a safe country in general, there are still people who use the online space with ulterior motives, so if you are approached by anyone suspicious, make sure to block and report them. Also, never disclose too much personal information online, especially your address, bank account details, or ID registration numbers. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers, here are some other free apps to learn Korean you might be interested in. With that out of the way, let’s proceed to our recommendations:
Photo Credit: Hello Talk
Best for: multilingual community, practicing with a teacher, finding locals
Scope of Service: 1:1 language exchange, study groups
Age Rating: 12+
With more than 20 million subscribers and 150 languages available, HelloTalk is one of the biggest language exchange platforms worldwide. Similarly to most other apps on this list, the ratio between Koreans who want to learn English vs. English-speakers who are looking for someone to practice Korean with is in favor of the Koreans. Therefore, it should be relatively easy to partner up with someone and achieve great results in no time. Moreover, the application is centered around the idea of forming a multilingual community, so there are even study groups where more people can team up with an actual teacher. Besides chatting, HelloTalk features voice messages, photo sharing, and phone calls, which makes it a convenient way to practice speaking as well as writing. For expats in Korea, you can set the search engine to look for people in your respective area, thus expanding your social circle. In addition to all that, the application has its own blog with tips for successful language exchange such as how to create study habits and successfully manage your profile.
The application has many positive reviews on various platforms. Here is what nealusc shares on reddit about his experience with learning Korean in particular:
This app is incredibly valuable for learning Korean. Vocab never “stuck” for me until I had regular conversations with native Korean speakers and kept seeing the same words pop up over and over again.
Photo Credit: Meetup
Best for: group gatherings, finding events, hangouts
Scope of Service: group activities, introducing events
Pricing: Free (Subscription required for organizers)
Age Rating: 12+
Similar to HelloTalk, this is also an application that allows access to plenty of languages, each one of which has its own subthread in the “Topics” section. This way, various Korean language groups are formed according to the location, needs, and interests of the participants. Besides language, there are groups focused around other Korea-related aspects such as culture, history, dramas, music, etc. The best thing about it is that it uses your locations to give recommendations of not only groups but also events organized by members of the platform. Since most language exchange cafes are situated around famous areas like Gangnam, Itaewon, and Hongdae, people living in other locations are often deprived of the opportunity to meet in a natural environment that feels more like a hang out rather than tutoring. If you check on Meetup, however, you will be surprised how many smaller-scale gatherings are available across Gyeonggi-do Province and other regions.
Pauline Doris Lynnette Russ shares her experience with the service on Facebook:
This site is a great place to do fun things together with people whom you just met and you can make and build a friendship with without the drama . Also you can choose your interests.
Photo Credit: Tandem
Best for: finding friends within the community, professional consultation
Scope of Service: language exchange, tutoring
Pricing: Free (Additional prices for tutoring)
Age Rating: 12+
This application is very similar to HelloTalk, although their community is slightly smaller. The interface of the app is easy to use and enables you to list your study goals as well as hobbies and favorite topics, which allows users to form groups of interests. Moreover, you can even describe your ideal conversation partner to avoid potential mismatch of your study styles or schedules. By using the “Community” section on the website, you can limit your search of partners to a certain area, so that it is easy to eventually meet people to exchange language with in real life. In addition, the application also has its own blog, which is slightly different than HelloTalk’s because it focuses mostly on language learning in general, rather than tips on how to use the app itself.
Amongst the numerous 5-star reviews on Tandem’s website, a user named Mikhail shares his experience:
I feel privileged to have met sensational people through the app. You not only learn and develop another language, you also learn about cultures, popular sayings, and get tips.
Photo Credit: italki
Best for: educational purposes, online tutoring, extra income
Scope of Service: 1:1 tutoring
Pricing: KRW 10,000 - 20,000/hour
Age Rating: 4+
Unlike our previous picks, this app is more educationally oriented. Rather than connecting you with Korean speakers who are looking for an English-speaker to hang out or chat with on an equal basis, italki gives users a chance to browse for an online tutor. Although tutees need to pay for the language-learning services instead of returning the favor in English, they can also register as teachers in their respective language. Therefore, in addition to polishing your Korean fluency, this app is also great for earning some extra income if you are a certified teacher but circumstances do not allow you to work full time. Italki is also a good start for beginners who want to practice the language with a native Korean speaker but do not yet have the capacity to engage in conversations freely. Also, it is a good choice for expats who are interested in finding a job in Korea to practice interview scenarios online.
Here is how italki user Anna reviewed the service on their website:
Italki is perfect for people who have little time, not enough budget to pay for a private tutor, and especially people who like the idea of talking with people from all around the world.
Photo Credit: MEEFF
Best for: Korea-based, meeting Koreans nearby
Scope of Service: matching
Age Rating: 17+
Although this application and its purposes are quite controversial, it had to make our list because it is actually made by Korean developers and, therefore, has the largest amount of Korean users compared to other apps. Advertised as “Tinder for friends”, MEEFF strongly resembles a dating app with its “swipe left or right” interface. Also, if you don’t manually change the settings of your preferences, it will automatically match you with members of the opposite gender only. That is why it is used massively as a dating app connecting Koreans with expats. If you are considering signing up, make sure to state your purpose of joining as clearly as possible. Thankfully, you can see the profiles of everyone who has sent you a private chat request, so if you encounter anything unsettling, you do not need to respond. On the bright side, you can also browse people according to their location and set the filter to as close as 5-10 km away from you. This, combined with MEEFF being one of the most widely-used language exchange apps in Korea, guarantees that you will find someone to converse with nearby in no time. Also, many users actually do look for nothing else but language exchange and foreign friends through the app, so if you keep an open mind about it, you can actually make great acquaintances in your neighborhood or on campus. In any case, we would like to point out that in comparison to all other apps on the list, this one has the highest age rating, set at 17+.
Reddit user shares his thoughts on the app:
I’ve used it quite a bit. I’ve met up with a lot of people to talk and just chat via kakao. I have two people I’ve been talking to for nearly a year.And while you stated you’re not looking to date using it, one of my coffee meet upsturned into my current relationship. Just be very clear about your intentions in your profile, so that if anyone gives you even the slightest bit of flirtation you can tell them clearly that you said ahead of time you weren’t looking to date or find a partner.