Review of WeSpeke

WeSpeke review
 

We all know the best way to study and learn a new language is by speaking it with a real, live, breathing, warm blooded human being. Sometimes however, finding an appropriate learning partner can seem like a daunting task.

This doesn’t have to be the case anymore. Language learning platform and social meeting place WeSpeke is one way that you can find a nearly limitless supply of willing guinea pigs for all of your language experimentation needs!
A few weeks ago I sat down with Jenna from Little Kiwi Linguist and together we took a whack at WeSpeke’s features and functions.

WeSpeke pairs users with one another based on a series of interest based compatibilities.  If you’re interested in movies, video games, books, etc, WeSpeke will help you find a learning partner (or fifty) with similar interests to your own with whom you can converse about your mutual interests.

When you create a new profile you select your native language and one language you would like to study. From there you navigate a constantly updating and growing list of others interested in learning your own language.

Lets take a look at the good, the bad and the rest.

  

 

Pros

 

  • Real conversation with real people.

This is how you learn, period. For all of the wonderful programs and mobile apps out there that can and will help you learn a new language nothing is more powerful, more effective, or more interesting than speaking to another human being, and WeSpeke can give that to you for next to no effort.

By selecting and refining your interests – whatever they may be – WeSpeke pairs you with someone with whom you share commonalities. It’s a great way to initiate conversation with people from other countries, with whom you may not share a common fluency.

Once you’ve found your match(es) you can choose to either speak with them via text, audio or even video chat. More on that later though.

  • Super simple

WeSpeke is very simple to set up, navigate and start learning with.

I encountered virtually no difficulty figuring out how things worked, where to go for help, or how to access various features, and I doubt you will either.

  • It’s free.

’nuff said, right?

  • Highly customizable searches

A wide range of filtering options make it possible for users to select their ideal language learning partner. Looking for someone specifically learning your language? Done! Looking for a male or female partner? No problem. Age range? Yep!

 

The ability to surf through a range of users to find the person you’re looking for can certainly add an element to language learning and cultural exchange that you can’t always find elsewhere.

Then again, it does kind of remind one of Match.com, doesn’t it? But more on that later…

  • Matches you according to interests

When you first create an account (or link your social media account) on WeSpeke, you’re given the option to peruse a very wide selection of interests, hobbies and curiosities that are then matched on a sliding scale with other users. The higher the rating, the more likely you may be to find a partner with similar interests with whom to strike up a conversation.

  • Notebook feature

One of the most useful features that WeSpeke has to offer its users is its notebook.

As a conversation progresses you can take notes on any word or phrase that piques your interest that you think you may wish to remember later. These notes carry over from conversation to conversation between partners allowing you full access to the things you’ve picked up at any time.

  • Mobile applanguages around the globe

Yes! It comes in a mobile format for both iOS and Android platforms.

Unfortunately the mobile versions do not as of this writing have video or audio features yet, though I have been told that they may in the future, so we’ll just have to stay tuned for that.

 

Cons

 

  • It’s slow

And I’m not just talking about a little slow. I’m talking paint drying slow or the half life of plutonium slow.

I’ve spoken to over 100 fellow language learners on WeSpeke now and every time I find a new one I make sure to ask about their experience with and opinion of WeSpeke.

Unfortunately I’ve been met with a relatively large amount  of negativity that originates primarily from the speed of the website or mobile app. Almost every single person I spoke to, whether they liked WeSpeke as a whole or not claimed that they were turned off by the page load times, search filter update time or lag during voice or video calls. At first I figured it was more of a minor nuisance than a major problem but after a couple months of use it has become abundantly clear to me that one of WeSpeke’s greatest issues is its user retention rate.

Fortunately the developers are aware of this issue and have stated that it will hopefully be alleviated in the near future.

  • Low user retention rate

People just don’t seem to stick with WeSpeke for very long. I’ve spent a lot of time on the site in the past few months and can say with relative confidence that it is rare that you’ll ever speak with a learning partner a second time if you don’t take drastic action to make a very strong impression as quickly as possible. Most people I’ve found that are interested in speaking with me further suggest that we take it to Facebook or Skype.

The vast majority of the people I am “friends” with haven’t been seen or heard from since our initial encounter and my “friends list”, very rarely shows any activity, which is kind of disheartening.

I think this lack of user retention correlates directly to the site and app speed.

  • Only lets you select one language

While certainly not a deal breaker, WeSpeke currently allows users only one target language at a time, which is unfortunate for those of us interested in learning more than a single language. Hopefully in the future this is changed, which would allow for a larger learning partner pool.

At the moment my recommendation is to use the biography section (that so few people use!) to list other languages you either speak or are learning to speak.

 

WeSpeke as a dating site for language geeks?

 

Well, no, not exactly. WeSpeke is about learning a new language while exploring other cultures around the world.

At least that’s what it’s supposed to be. In my opinion this is neither a pro nor a con, simply an interesting side effect of a language exchange site set up to be a linguistically charged version of match.com. Personally I think flirtation – as long as it is consensual – between language learners can be a healthy thing so long as it doesn’t begin to detract from the learning process.

If you start using WeSpeke it quickly becomes rather apparent just how similar it can be to various dating websites, and that’s not entirely too far from the point. WeSpeke does pair people along similar lines to find ideal matches based on interests, age, location and personality, which is more or less exactly what sites of a more romantic nature do. This creates the occasional flirtatious dynamic between users.

It does come with some concerns though and after the issues surrounding website speed the second most common complaint I hear – almost exclusively from the ladies of WeSpeke – is being approached by pretentious looking guys taking shirtless muscle selfies in their bathrooms looking for tongues of a different kind. There is thankfully a block button if things get out of hand, but I’ve never had to use it. Despite the occasionally “heightened” nature of the website I have never personally encountered anyone who was outright rude or unpleasant in any way, but I have heard the complaints on several occasions.

At the end of the day intimacy is not what WeSpeke is intended to be for and I would very strongly caution against anyone attempting to use it as a dating site. WeSpeke does speak out firmly against sexual harassment in its guidelines. It’s up to you to be civil and bear in mind why we’re all here – to learn languages.

 

Language lessons

 

In beta right now, WeSpeke is beginning to offer online courses of a slightly more structured nature. At the moment they are quite basic and can be unlocked using “points” that users can purchase.

While WeSpeke remains free, you do have the option to spend money on the purchase of these points, either to spend on the beta lessons or saving until such a time comes as there are more courses offered.

I took the beginning Spanish course and didn’t find it to be especially engaging or informative. This could just be that it wasn’t at the right level for me and they will probably improve with time. I’m not ready to rule this feature out yet. I think it could be very useful and engaging in the future, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

The verdict

 

 

Despite the listed cons, I actually really like WeSpeke. Sure, it’s slow, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do: pair like-minded language learners and foster real world communication. One thing that I and many other users like to do is to use WeSpeke primarily as the starting point before pursuing other forms of communication elsewhere. It does the legwork when it comes to finding you your perfect match(es) and setting up the initial conversations. If you both find that you enjoy working together and are comfortable you can always take the conversation to Facebook, Skype or any other means of communication to avoid the slow connection and page load failures.

WeSpeke isn’t the only chat platform for language learners out there, its competitors consist of apps such as Tandem and Hellotalk, but it is my current favorite despite its few shortcomings. I highly recommend checking it out and spending more than a couple days formulating an opinion. Speak to multiple partners, at least five or so, before passing judgement. It might surprise you how much fun it can be.

You can check out WeSpeke here. 

Have you used WeSpeke before? Do you use another language exchange site or service? Tell us about it in the comments!

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  • Geroezemoes

    I have a WeSpeke account but I don’t use it. The ‘dating site for language geeks’ aspect is what puts me off. Whenever I register on a language exchange website, I’m always only contacted by men… including men who don’t want to learn my language and don’t speak my target language. The result is that I don’t trust men on language exchange websites anymore, even though I know that’s an irrational reaction. I’m sure the majority of men on these websites are just honestly looking for language exchange and nothing more. Still, I would feel more comfortable with female language exchange partners, but my mother tongue is Dutch and I’m learning Arabic – not a very common combination unfortunately.

    • I can absolutely see why you’d feel that way. It’s not an uncommon sentiment at all – especially among women who have the misfortune of being somewhat more objectified than men and thus more readily targeted for this sort of thing. Though certainly not exclusively. One look at my own partner history will indicate that I have been contacted primarily by women. I don’t attribute this necessarily to flirtation as the vast majority of these exchanges are not of that nature. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few, a dynamic I would maintain can be healthy if mutual, but isn’t always. To be fair, I haven’t been hit on exclusively by women either.

      Instead I attribute this particular phenomenon to there being a higher ratio of female language learners to male right now. This is evidenced by both my site and social media pages followings being disproportionately female as well as what seems to be an increasing disparity between women and men in institutions of higher education in Western countries in recent years. While certainly a generalization, individuals with higher degrees of education are more likely to pursue languages and travel, either academically or independently, hence the current gender climate in language learning.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Anthony659225

    Brian, excellent article. When you join WeSpeke, does it also work the other way — i.e., requests from non-English speakers to work on English with you? Did you get any such requests? And if so, how did you respond?

    Also, I’m interested mostly in reading and writing. I noticed a sample conversation in the article. Are you saying there is a lag between writing a comment and getting a response? Is that what you mean by slow? That would be frustrating. Thanks.

    • Yes, Anthony. I have received many requests for English exchanges – moreso than I have made myself, that’s for sure. I usually reply in the same way that I would if I were making the inquiry.

      One primary issue that I mention is that it’s often difficult to retain users. For whatever reason people rarely speak to a partner a second time, so I was always willing to accept new learning partners. It never became too much because 90% of them never get past initial introductions. Maybe I’m just a repulsive human being.

      There is a small amount of lag between comments and responses but the issue is primarily how the browser app bogs down your entire connection and can influence the load times of any other websites or Internet activities you may be running on your computer at the same time, such as games, videos or even things like Facebook. The biggest issue is that the pages take ages to load, applying filters or refreshing your contacts lists takes for ever, and there is occasionally an awkward anomaly in which you select another person’s chat window but it doesn’t switch off of the previous one in time, resulting in some rather awkward exchanges.

      As far as reading and writing go though, it’s a pretty great tool and still worth the hassle in my opinion.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Jordan Hulet

    I teach in a high school. I am worried about the safety of the site. How is it monitored?

    • Hi Jordan,

      As far as oversight goes it’s a bit hard to say. They do offer a blocking feature that allows you to block people you don’t want to talk to. If inappropriate behavior does come up it can be reported and the team seems to be pretty quick to respond to such instances – though I had none personally.

      There does not appear to be any sort of direct file sharing either. So people can’t send you unwanted files or images directly.

      My recommendation for an optimal experience at the high school level is to try to coordinate WeSpeke interactions with another class in a country that speaks the language you teach in a sort of regulated language exchange. Something like video pen-pals.

      This would – at least in theory – place students with other students of comparable ages with their own teacher supervision.