UTalk is a fun online language program that you can use to start your language learning journey. This program is designed to help you build a basic vocabulary so you can quickly start using your target language.
Speaking of languages, uTalk offers lessons in over 140 different languages. This includes all of the more popular choices such as Spanish, German, French, and Italian as well as a few unexpected options like Igbo, Khmer, and Manx.
The idea behind this program is that learning is better and more effective when it is fun. With that in mind, the founders designed lessons and practice exercises that feel more like games than studying. Founded in 1991, this is one of the first language learning programs to integrate gamification into language lessons.
Thirty years of experience and constant improvements have resulted in a well-rounded and engaging program that is fun for language learners of all ages. There isn’t a lot of in-depth grammar instruction or advanced material, so I can’t say that the program is comprehensive, but I can definitely say that it is a fun beginner or supplemental program that you will be excited to use.
Similar to all language learning programs, uTalk has its pros and cons. Here is a quick overview of some of the features I like and a few that I don’t. If you’re intrigued, keep reading for an in-depth look at this engaging language learning app.
There are three purchase options for this program: Single Language Subscriptions, Premium Subscriptions, and uCoins.
Single language subscriptions vary depending on the language and how far you pay in advance. If you pay monthly the price ranges from $3.99 to $7.99 per month. For six months the price goes down by about 35%. If you purchase 12 months in advance, then the price goes down by 50%.
A Premium subscription is $9.99 per month. This will give you full access to the entire program for as long as you are a subscriber.
You can also purchase uCoins which can be used to buy individual courses or lessons. The price for the coins depends on how many you buy at a time.
The number of languages available on this program is mindblowing, certainly way too many to list here. From Afrikaans to Zulu, they offer common and uncommon languages alike. They even have dialect-specific lessons. For example, there are seven different English options including American, British, Indian, Australian, Canadian, Cockney, and Scottish.
They also offer lessons in over 100 languages, so if you’re not a native English speaker or you want to practice your third language using your second language, you can do that as well. You can take Russian lessons in Spanish or Dutch lessons in Italian. According to the website, there are over 20,000 combinations so there is no end to what you can learn.
Pretty much any language you can think of, there are at least a few lessons for that language. If you do discover a language that they do not offer, they encourage you to email them so they can add it to the roster. For a full list of languages, check out their website or the app description on the Google Play Store or Apple Store.
uTalk Initial Thoughts
My first thought when I started researching this program was, "Why haven't I heard of this before?" As one of the first language programs to use games as their primary lesson design, uTalk should have come across my desk before but somehow I missed it.
Thankfully, the easy-to-navigate platform and simple lesson plan made it easy for me to get up to speed.
You can access uTalk via their website or through their mobile apps, available for both Android and iOS. For the purposes of this review, I mostly focused on the Android app with a few quick forays into the online platform.
The layout on both versions is clean and professional. I did not have any trouble finding the formation I needed right from the beginning. The only thing that was slightly hidden is the prices which you won't find until after you create an account. This is not uncommon for programs like this, but that doesn't make it any less annoying.
I did like that both the website and the app are so clean. Some language websites are over-crowded with gimmicky statements and advertisements. They try so hard to make their program sound incredible that the substance of the program is lost. That is not the case with uTalk.
They offer simple descriptions of the program and founders as well as their school programs and partnerships. The fact that I can describe the entire website in a single sentence is a good sign to me. The less time they spend decorating their website, the more time they have for improving their actual program.
They are also very clear about the purpose of the program. You won’t find any exaggerated promises about learning a new language in 3 minutes a day or anything like that. The founders make it quite clear that this program is designed to help you learn key words and phrases in a fun way, nothing more.
I enjoyed finding a company that is honest about their product. This transparency helps users to have realistic expectations before making any commitments. That alone encouraged me to dig deeper into this appealing app.
Getting Started With uTalk
Getting started with this app couldn’t be easier. Once it is finished downloading, it will take you directly to a page where you can choose a language. This is nice because it gives you the chance to see all the options before you sign up.
Another great thing is that most of the languages offer “Free Starter Words”, allowing you to try out a few lessons before starting an account. If you like what you see, it’s time to sign up.
You can create a login unique to uTalk using your email address or you can use an existing account through Facebook or Apple. They also offer special rates to academic institutions, so you can have an academic account as well.
I chose to create a unique account. All I had to do was provide my name and email address and create a password. The whole process took me less than a minute from downloading the program to starting my first lesson.
Each course is divided by topic. The number of topics varies by language, but they offer up to 180 hours of content for each language so as you can imagine, there are a lot of subjects to choose from.
For this review, I decided to check out some of their Hebrew and Latin American Spanish lessons so I could compare the number of subjects and the quality of the lessons. I also looked through a few of the lesser-known languages just because I was curious about how much material they were offering for each language.
Every language that I looked at had approximately 65 subjects to choose from ranging from Greetings to Military Peace Keeping phrases. Many language programs say that they offer obscure languages, but then only provide one or two lessons in that language. With this program, you will find a wide variety of topics for every language, all 144 of them.
Each topic is divided into six sections: Phrase Practice, Easy Game, Speaking Game, Hard Game, Memory Game, and Recall Game. Are you noticing a pattern here? You guessed it, the entire program truly is based around games.
Phrase Practice is where you are introduced to new words and phrases. You’ll be given a list of words and phrases that you can listen to and then practice. The cool element of this section is that you can listen to native speakers saying the words as many times as you want. You can even slow down the recording to help familiarize yourself with the pronunciation.
Once you’re comfortable giving it a try, you can record yourself saying the words and then listen to a side-by-side comparison of yourself and a native speaker. This is uTalk’s way around using glitchy voice recognition software. Instead of relying on a computer to tell you if you’re pronouncing it correctly, you can use your own ears.
If you think it sounds right, you can mark it as correct and move on. If you don’t think it is quite right, you can mark it as incorrect and try again. I have never used a program that utilized software like this, so I found it quite intriguing.
The Easy Game is a basic ‘match the word with the picture’ game. If you know a little of your target language already, this is an easy game, but if you’re a true beginner you may want to prepare yourself for some wrong answers.
First, you’ll be shown four pictures and you will hear the word or phrase in your target language that goes with each picture. Then the pictures are shuffled around and you’ll hear a word or phrase again and you have to match what you hear with the picture.
This sounds simple enough, but without any real context to make the pictures make sense, it can get a bit confusing. They mention in the app description that you should not expect to get correct answers your first few times through, so do not be discouraged if it takes you some time to get good at this game. The name is misleading.
Once you practice for a while you will start to see the benefit of using such a challenging format. This game will help you to associate the new words with pictures instead of trying to translate them all the time which will save you time when you eventually beginning speaking your target language.
The Speaking Game is also quite different from anything I have ever encountered in a language app. This game has two parts. For step one, you have to record yourself saying words and phrases in your target language. These recordings will be associated with pictures, so be sure to look at the pictures when you are recording.
Don’t worry, you do get to listen to native speakers saying each word before you record it yourself so you will not have to worry about mispronunciations. You can listen to the native speakers as many times as you want before making your recording.
Step two will have you matching your recordings to the correct pictures. You will be shown nine pictures each time and you have to choose the one that goes with whatever word or phrase you hear.
This is a fun game because it offers both listening and speaking practice. Plus, it’s kind of fun hearing yourself speaking a new language!
The hard game is another round of ‘match the word to the picture’, just a bit harder. In this one, you will go through several rounds.
In the first round, you will be shown five pictures and you have to match what you hear with the pictures. Once you have matched four words or phrases with the correct picture, you will move on to the next round which will have six pictures.
This continues with each round having an additional picture until you reach the final round which has nine pictures and you will have to match eight of them with their correct word or phrase to finish.
This comes with all the same challenges and benefits of the Easy Game. If you don’t know the language at all, you will struggle a little. Some of the pictures are not exactly self-explanatory.
For example, the picture used for ‘auxilio’ is a hand reaching up through a grate. If you know that ‘auxilio’ means ‘help’ in Spanish then the picture may make sense, but if you don’t know that in advance you may walk away thinking that ‘auxilio’ means ‘reach’ or ‘zombie attack’ or something.
This is a common problem with programs that try to use pictures for translations. This works well for nouns, but when it comes to expressing ideas using pictures alone can cause more confusion than not.
The Memory Game is similar to a traditional memory game, but with a language learning twist. In this game, you have to remember the cards and recall which picture goes with which word or phrase.
It starts out by showing you two pictures like flashcards. The cards are then turned face down and you will hear a word or phrase and you have to choose the corresponding card. Each time you match them correctly, you will move on to the next round which will have more cards.
This game is timed which gives it an exciting element. This is another hard one, so be prepared for a challenge.
The Recall Game allows you to test yourself on all the words and phrases that you have learned in that topic. This is a less challenging but equally useful way to review the topic you’re in before moving on to the next one.The Recall Game allows you to test yourself on all the words and phrases that you have learned in that topic. This is a less challenging but equally useful way to review the topic you’re in before moving on to the next one.
You will be shown a series of pictures that correspond with what you’ve learned throughout the current section. The pictures come up one at a time with their translation. You simply have to record the corresponding word or phrase in your target language.
Every time you make a recording the app will automatically play your recording followed by a recording of a native speaker so you can see if you got it right. If you did recall the correct answer you can mark that picture as correct. If you remembered incorrectly, you can mark it accordingly and it will come up again at the end so you can have another try.
This is a bit slow-paced, making it less like a game but I still found it useful. It gives you more chances to practice each word and more opportunities to hear them spoken by native speakers. I like that each one keeps coming up until you get it right.
Throughout all the games and lessons you will be given the chance to add words and phrases to your own personal phrasebook. If you run across certain phrases that are particularly useful to you, you simply add them to the phrasebook and you can go back to review them at any time.
Like most language programs, uTalk does utilize Spaced Repetition Learning, so the words that you struggle with should pop up more frequently throughout your lessons, but it’s still nice to be able to select certain ones that you want to work on at your own pace.
You can only use the phrasebook if you have a subscription which I will go over in more detail in a later section.
Gamification and uCoins
When they say this program is like a game, they really mean it. Not only are all the lessons like games, but they include a lot of gaming elements throughout the entire program. There is a point system, achievements, and, of course, a pay as you go option.
I like a good game as much as the next person, so I found the gaming elements kind of entertaining. I like that they are integrated into the program as a perk instead of a focus. As you complete lessons and earn points, getting to see the achievements pop up is just a little extra motivation to keep going.
One thing that I found quite interesting is that you can actually earn uCoins as you go. Most gamified language apps, such as Duolingo, have some kind of point system and in-game currency that you can earn, but you can’t do anything worthwhile with the points once you’ve earned them.
With uTalk, you can earn uCoins that can then be used to purchase full lessons. I’m not sure if there is a limit to how many you can earn, but in my first 25 minutes of touring the app, I earned 75 uCoins which is enough to purchase almost two topics. This would be a somewhat slow way to go through the program, but you could potentially get through a fair number of lessons for free if you’re willing to earn the uCoins.
uTalk Pay To Play
If you do not want to take the slow road, then one of these paid options is probably a better choice.
A single language subscription is exactly what it sounds like. This plan grants you full access to a single language for a small monthly fee. You can also combine subscriptions if you want access to two languages but, depending on which languages you choose, it may be cheaper to purchase a Premium subscription.
The Premium subscription, which is $9.99 per month, gives you access to the entire program and all new content as it is added. Having a subscription also gives you access to the phrasebook which is a nice feature.
Paying with uCoins is a bit more complicated. You can either earn uCoins or purchase them in the increments that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The coins can be used to purchase specific subjects or entire courses.
The best option for you will depend on whether you want to learn more than one language. If you are strictly interested in one language, you could purchase an entire course for $64.99 and simply be done with it. You won’t be able to use the phrasebook, but you will have access to every topic within your chosen language.
If you’re like me and could never stick to just one language, then a monthly subscription is the way to go. $9.99 a month is a small price to pay for full access to thousands of hours of language practice.
Drawbacks To uTalk
Every program has a few drawbacks. Thankfully, uTalk’s drawbacks are few and fairly obvious so you don’t have to worry about any major letdowns.
Repetitive Practice Exercises
No matter what you’re trying to learn, practicing can get boring after a while. This is especially true if you’re practicing the same way over and over every day.
Playing the same memory games every day can get boring too, so it’s no surprise that these practice exercises can wear a little thin sometimes. That being said, these exercises are quite different from most other language programs, so this is a great option if you’re getting tired of your other studying tools.
Not For Advanced Speakers
Like most language programs, uTalk is designed for beginners. This means that there is very little material here for advanced learners who are looking to become truly fluent.
That does not mean that you won’t find anything though. There are a lot of unique topics covered here such as farming, golf, the Olympics, and disaster relief phrases. If there is a specific topic that you’re not familiar with or want to brush up on, this app provides an easy way to practice just the words and phrases you need.
If you have made it this far into my review, this is not going to come as a surprise. There are not very many language apps that are truly comprehensive simply because of the limitations of the platform. Like all the other programs in this genre, I would strongly recommend that you do not rely solely on this program to become fluent. You will have to combine it with other programs to fill in the grammar and conversational gaps.
Alternatives To uTalk
uTalk is a fairly unique language app in that the practice exercises are unique. That being said, there are loads of other programs out there that offer a similar learning experience and may fit your learning style a little better.
Babbel is an extremely popular language learning program and there is a reason for that. This app offers loads of learning materials and engaging practice exercises that will have you wanting to practice your target language every day.
italk is a great choice if you would rather skip the app and go straight to speaking with a native speaker. Italki has thousands of tutors who are there to help you master your new language in a fun and exciting way.
Pimsleur provides somewhat more traditional language lessons for those who want to build a solid foundation, but still want to begin speaking their target language as soon as possible. These 30-minute lessons combined with quick and easy practice exercises are the perfect recipe for language learning on the go.
uTalk Review: Final Thoughts
Utalk is a fun app that offers unique practice exercises for those who enjoy a more gamified learning experience. With an integrated point system and achievements, this app definitely feels more like playing than learning.
The best way for you to know if this program will work for you is to try it. You can use their free trial or simply purchase the program and take advantage of the 60-day guarantee. The bottom line is that this is a good program that offers the knowledge you will need to learn Spanish, it just isn’t right for everyone.
Even with a few drawbacks, like the lack of advanced content, I would say this is a solid program that I would recommend to beginners and intermediate learners alike. If nothing else, it is a great option for those who are looking to brush up on a particular topic in their target language.