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HiNative Review: Useful But Not Exceptional Q&A App

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Quick Review

3.7 

Summary

HiNative is a Q&A app for language learners that want to have questions answered by native speakers. It’s available for iOS, Android and desktop, and it has over three million registered users. A free version is available that offers the basic features of the app.

Features

The app is pretty basic, but it works.

Features

Many users are very helpful, but not all questions receive intelligent responses.

Value

The basic functions of the app are available for free, but you’ll need to pay for audio or video features.

Price

The basic features of HiNative are free to use. A premium subscription is available for $5.68/month paid monthly, or $4.96/month paid annually (a $59.63 payment).

Languages

HiNative supports just about any language.

While learning a new language, one of the best resources available is other people. Native speakers are one of the most reliable sources for authoritative answers to your language questions. They know intuitively and deeply how the language is supposed to be used.

More than that, they know how it’s actually used in daily life; something that doesn’t always align with the prescriptive language rules you’ll learn in a textbook.

If only there were a way for language learners to ask questions directly to a large pool of ready-and-waiting native speakers…

Enter the (adorable? disturbing? I’m still undecided) flying squirrel mascot of HiNative.

The HiNative logo, showing the flying squirrel mascot and an orange

Created by the Lang-8 team, HiNative is a Q&A app aimed at helping learners of just about any language achieve better understanding by connecting with native speakers.

It was developed for mobile, but can now be used on your computer as well. It’s a network of more than three million registered users that have language questions for native speakers.

It’s a collaborative effort — users can ask any question they like to a large audience of native speakers, and they earn points by helping others. Naturally, the size of your audience will depend on what language you’re learning.

For this review, I tried out HiNative for Italian and Albanian. My questions about the Italian language were all answered quickly, while some of my Albanian questions went unanswered.

Questions

The Q&A feature is HiNative’s main function. I think the potential for usefulness is really high here. There have been plenty of times during the self-study of a language when I have a question that can only really be answered by a native speaker.

While the potential here is high, the execution feels off. For example, here’s a screenshot of some questions on my home screen.

A screenshot of questions that are posted in languages other than English.

At first, this really frustrated me. How am I supposed to help with any of these questions? I don’t speak any of these languages.

It took me a while to realize that after selecting a question, you’ll have the option to do a translation.

Example of a question after you select it from the home screen. Orange text appears that says,

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The translations worked well most of the time, but the process would be smoother if things were translated automatically. Selecting each question in a foreign language to see a translation to then see if you can answer it is a clunky way to do things.

I also came across a lot of “questions” that weren’t really related to language learning. There were a bunch that were just a “hello” or “how are you?” and some just posted a sentence saying that they want to become fluent in English.

I would be much more attracted to this app if the community seemed like it was made up of serious language learners. Instead, I get the feeling that there are a lot of younger students and generally bored people killing time on it.

Question Templates

Asking questions in a language you don’t understand can be difficult. To address this, HiNative provides a bunch of templates to help you construct your question.

A list of the different question templates available on HiNative.

This is a nice touch, and it’s necessary. It aims to make the questions users ask easier to understand, and the templates cover the different kinds of questions you’d want to ask pretty well. Even with the templates, though, there were a fair few that were unintelligible.

Answers

Answering questions in the app is pretty straightforward. You simply select a question and type out an answer. If you have a premium membership, you can record audio in your answer. This is pretty cool for offering pronunciation help.

The answers you provide are how you gain points in HiNative. You can earn Quick Points or Quality Points, but more on these later. Your contribution can also become a featured answer to the question, which is pretty neat.

Screenshot of a featured answer on HiNative. Featured answers are displayed with a yellow border and a crown icon.

Bookmarks

This is a helpful feature, especially for users that have asked a lot of questions. The ability to look at and search the questions you’ve asked in the past makes HiNative kind of like a personalized dictionary.

Interestingly, a free membership allows you to make bookmarks, just not use them in any way. You’re free to bookmark as many questions as you want without paying for a membership, but you can’t access or search them.

I’d prefer it if it was clear that the bookmark feature isn’t at all useable for users that don’t pay. It’s especially annoying because it’s the only feature listed under “Free user” in a table of their premium features.

A list of the features available for users with a free membership and those with a premium membership.

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That’s right, you can bookmark questions and answers for free! Just don’t expect them to be useable in any way.

Layout

The way the app functions is pretty simple, and so is the layout. There are four main sections of the app: Home, Search, Notifications, and Profile.

Home

The main section of the app, this is where you’ll come across questions asked by other users. You can apply a filter to only show questions about the language you’re interested in, unanswered questions, or those that have an audio component.

The home section is where users can see a live feed of questions asked about their native language.

Premium members have access to “priority tickets,” which position your question at the top of other users’ question feeds. Selecting a question from the home screen gives you the option to translate or answer the question.

Search

For the more popular languages, chances are someone else has already asked the question you have. It’s often worth it to search previously asked questions instead of waiting for a new answer.

The search section of the app, where users can search for previously asked questions.

I thought this feature was really helpful for the more popular languages. Unfortunately, searching in less common languages isn’t possible. I wasn’t able to search for answers to questions about Albanian, for example. Here’s the list of languages you can search:

This is the drop-down menu of languages you can search on HiNative.

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Notifications

This part of the app functions like you’d expect it to. You’ll get a live feed of notifications from the app. You’ll be notified when someone answers your question, when someone mentions you in a comment, and when someone likes your answer.

The notifications section of the HiNative app, showing points earned,

Profile

Your user profile is where you can see or change the language you’re learning, as well as additional information like points.

Screenshot of the profile page, showing basic stats and points for using the app.

You can also see your participation stats. These are things like how many questions you’ve asked, the number of answers you’ve given, likes, and bookmarks.

Points

The points feature in HiNative adds an extra element of engagement to the app and provides extra motivation for being a helpful contributor.

I like this addition. I’m a sucker for points and levels, and while the points system doesn’t make the app much more useful, I think it improves the experience at least slightly. I also think the community is probably more helpful because of this feature.

There are two different types of points you can earn from answering questions, Quick Points and Quality Points.

Quick Points

Screenshot of the quick points meter, showing Level 8 and 72 points.

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You can earn quick points by answering a question quickly. In order to earn points, you must answer a question within a specific period of time, and your answer must receive a “Like” from either the question asker or another native speaker.

Quality Points

Screenshot of the quality points meter, showing 27 points.

Quality points are awarded to users who provide high-quality answers to questions. Answers are deemed high-quality if they’re liked by other native speakers or if they’re chosen as a featured answer for a question. These points are supposed to let other users know how accurate an answer is.

The number of points you have has little impact on how you use the app, but it’s fun all the same. I’m sure they have a positive impact on how helpful the community is. I certainly found it motivating to find ways to help others. I could, however, see the motivation factor waning significantly after prolonged use.

Pricing

The free version of HiNative functions like a basic text-based Q&A app, and it works.

For learners interested in utilizing extra features like listening to or recording voice and video, there is a premium membership available for a recurring subscription.

The monthly subscription is $5.68/month, and the yearly subscription is $4.96/month ($59.63 total). These subscriptions renew automatically.

The price options for a premium HiNative membership. There's a monthly option and an annual option.

Alternatives

There are a few other Q&A apps out there for language learners. StackExchange is an option, though it doesn’t offer as many languages as HiNative. StackExchange also requires some prior understanding of the language; it’s not for beginners.

Another type of app that bridges the gap between native speakers and learners is the language exchange app. Both HelloTalk and Tandem connect language learners of reciprocal languages in order to facilitate language exchange. This is another great way to ask questions to native speakers.

A resource with a useful Q&A section and a language exchange aspect is italki. It’s primarily focused on connecting students and language tutors for online lessons, but offers these additional features for free as well.

Additionally, there are a lot of other language learning apps out that would be worth looking at.

Final Thoughts

HiNative serves a useful purpose. It takes advantage of the fact that nearly 60% of the global population now has internet access and is bringing speakers of different languages together.

The fact that most of its functionality is available for free is a great thing. It opens up the app to a much wider user base, making it a much more effective resource.

The biggest change I wish I saw with the experience is with the community. The number of questions that weren’t actually about language or that seemed like a plea for help with school homework was slightly off-putting.

Overall, I do think HiNative is worth adding to your repertoire of language-learning resources. It’s free, and I think it functions best when used like an interactive dictionary. It isn’t a resource that will teach you how to speak a language on its own, but sometimes it takes a human to answer and explain tricky questions. This app can help with that.

It’s probably not worth paying for, but HiNative certainly has some merit as a go-to resource for one-off help from native speakers.

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