uTalk iPhone and iPad Application – Learn 113 Languages!
Be More Than a Tourist.
It’s the perfect way to describe this language learning app, which up-skills your tourist game.
The uTalk application for iPhone and iPad provides users with free basic words and phrases for 113 languages.
uTalk describes itself as a “beginners app [that] hardwires basic speech into your brain so that it feels like your first language.”
The application was developed by EuroTalk, a company with over two decades’ experience in language and education, and over 10 million customers. EuroTalk engaged in extensive research on how the brain learns to create this app. It came up with uTalk, which teaches languages in a fun, interactive way.
uTalk provided us with a complimentary Premium upgrade to review the Thai language pack.
For context, us Nomads are currently living in Chiang Mai, which is a provincial part of Thailand. Some residents speak English as well as native English speakers; some residents don’t speak a word of English. English skills are a lucky dip here.
The uTalk application is free for the Starter Words, $11.99 for the Essentials upgrade, and $19.99 for the Premium package.
Pick your language, and check out the Starter Words for free in 113 languages. Starter Words, Essentials and Premium all have the same easy to use, fun structure. So if you begin with Starter Words, you’ll have the hang of the app if you later upgrade to Essentials or Premium.
- The first step is Practice Words. You move at your own pace, scrolling through basic words and phrases useful in every day conversation. We learn sawatdee – hello, khaw khum karuna – please and ne ra ka tao rai – how much is that.
An image is shown with the Thai script relating to that image, the phonetic spelling of the image in English, and an audio version of the Thai word – in both male and female voices. The image is useful as a memorisation aid, and is used later in the games to test your knowledge.
When you’re scrolling through the words and the images, you can listen to the Thai versions of words using the “play” icon, then record yourself saying the word with the microphone icon. The playback function assists you to get your pronunciation right, particularly with a tonal language like Thai.
Next is the fun part – the games! If you have a competitive nature, and enjoy seeing yourself progress with a skill, you’ll really love this app.
- The Easy Game does as it promises and goes easy on you. It flashes up a series of 4 images, speaking the Thai words for each. Next, just one Thai word is spoken, and you have to match the word to the correct image on your screen. It runs you through a series of 10 words to match up with images.
I found this a really useful way to reinforce what you’d learnt in the Practice section. I felt pretty chuffed getting 100% on the Easy Game. It seemed that our prior 8 weeks in Thailand hadn’t all gone to waste!
- The Hard Games is similar in structure to the Easy Game, but more challenging (as you’d expect), using more combinations of words, images and phrases to test your knowledge.
- The Speaking Game is the one I found most useful. An image flashes up with Thai Script, and you hear the Thai words. You click on the microphone, and record yourself saying it.
- The Memory Game was a challenge. It starts off easy enough, flashing up two images then covering them on the screen, like a card game. A Thai word is spoken, and you have to recall which card has the appropriate image. It moves up to three images, then four images, five images, and finally with 6 images.
I found this game the most tricky out of all of the knowledge testing games. I don’t know whether this is a reflection of my memory skills, or my Thai skills. Probably a bit of both!
- The Recall Game is similar to the Speaking Game. It’s great for consolidating everything you’ve learnt through the other practice games, and focusing on getting your intonation right.
With each game, you’re told immediately in Thai yes or no, so you know quickly whether you’re correct or not.
And there’s a game within the games. And as you complete each game, you collect objects from different destinations around the world. If you liked FourSquare, I think you’ll enjoy this part of the application.
In comparison to the Starter Words, which has one topic, Essentials has 11 topics and an extra 300 words and phrases on top of those you learn in Starter Words. The sections I found most useful were:
- Holiday/vacation phrases like “do you sell stamps?”
- Food and drink phrases. I must admit, asking for chips (fries for our American and Canadian readers) was a key phrase I needed to learn! Knowing how to say Khaw man furang thod, kha instead of merely pointing at fries has gotten me a smile and an extra scoop!
- Numbers up to 20. This is of real assistance when you’re buying food or need more than one of anything wherever you are. When you can explain that you want beef curry by pointing at a sign, but not explaining you want a double serving, it can get a bit tricky.
- Shopping phrases – in a place like Thailand where you are swooped upon as soon as you enter a shop or look at a market stall, it can be handy to have “I’m just looking” or “could I try it on” in your vocabulary.
- Other topics included are first words, transport, accommodation, general phrases, restaurant, colours, and a section in Thai on Thai icons and landmarks.
The Premium kit comes with everything in the Starter and Essential packs, and an extra 24 topics beyond these.
Speaking from a Thailand context, Premium is useful for anyone who is hanging around for an extended holiday.
If you want to chat to locals and immerse yourself in the culture, this upgrade helps with conversational Thai skills.
If you want to go shopping in the markets, it helps you with your Thai numbers, and therefore your bartering skills. Same goes for catching songthaews and tuk tuks in Thailand. The more Thai you know, particularly around the 20, 60, 100, 200-500 numerals, the less likely you are to be charged double, or more, as a farang (foreigner).
My favourite topics were:
- Fruit and vegetables. While this is useful for ordering in restaurants, it’s really helpful when you do your fruit and vegetable shopping in Thai markets and stalls.
- Numbers up to 10 Million. Aside from your vocal skills, a lot of Thai stalls will have dual pricing: English pricing, and a different price written in Thai. If you can read the Thai writing, you have a better chance of getting the Thai cost.
- Likes and Dislikes. One of the best ways to learn a language is speaking with a local, and these phrases are fantastic for getting a discussion going. Soccer (Football) is really popular here in Chiang Mai, with the favourite teams being Chiang Mai FC and Manchester United. If you’re a football fan, learn how to say Do You Like Football in Thai to get the conversation going!
What Could Be Improved?
Male and female voices are used to correspond to masculine and feminine grammar changes. Though it was obvious to me, it may not be crystal clear to some users what this difference is, without being explicitly stated.
One thing uTalk can’t replace is the benefit of a conversation with a teacher, or an in-person conversation with a native language speaker. The app won’t laugh hysterically at you when you make a mistake, like a Chiang Mai local would. It’s aimed at the beginner’s level in learning languages, so it does seem to recognise this limitation.
Who Needs The uTalk App
- People spending more than a couple of weeks in countries where English is a second language.
- People who intend on learning a new language, but want the basics down-pat before they start an official course.
- People who want to supplement their language courses in a fun way.
- People with specific dietary requirements for ethical, religious, or allergy reasons. Personally, being a vegan, I have to know how to explain that I can’t eat meat, seafood, dairy, fish sauce, or oyster sauce here in Thailand. Many dishes that seem innocuous enough contain fish sauce, so mai sai nahm bplah – no fish sauce – has become a staple phrase for me, along with mai sai kai – no eggs, mai sai nahm man hoi – no oyster sauce, and mai sai nom – no milk.
You’ll get best results from playing around with this for half an hour or so every day, and from trying out your new skills with native language speakers. In Thailand, you know pretty quickly if your intonation is off – the Thai people love a good laugh, and they will laugh openly when you make a mistake!
And the highlight of the app for me is the Instant Word Search – in a remote, provincial area of Thailand no one can understand you? Do a quick search for the phrase you’re after, listen to it, and you have an instant language dictionary, replete with correct pronunciation!
Overall, Starter Words gives you a good feel if you’re going on a short holiday.
Essentials is good for when you know you’re going to an area where English is a second language, and not necessarily spoken.
Premium is perfect for those of us who have very specific needs (like us vegans), want to immerse themselves in the culture of the place they are visiting, or plan on an extended holiday and want to be treated as more than a tourist.
Price: Starter Words – FREE, Essentials – $11.99, Premium — $19.99
Version: 2.1.0, Size: 94.2 MB
Languages: English, Arabic, Basque, Bokmål, Norwegian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Simplified Chinese, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Vietnamese
Device Compatibility: Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5 and iPhone 6.
Disclosure: As mentioned at the introduction of this post, we received a complimentary upgrade to Premium in exchange for an honest review of the product. Our views are always our own.
App Download: utalk.com/app/northandsouth
Are you going on any trips soon outside your country? Have you used a language application before?
Keep an eye out, on 30 March 2015, we’ll be having a giveaway with uTalk on an upgrade to their free app!