Slowly is a free mobile app that isn’t primarily meant to be used to learn languages, nor is it one of the most common ways to practice writing in a foreign language. That doesn’t mean that this Slowly app review doesn’t belong here! I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t share this potential method of learning a language with you.
Back before the days of smartphones, instant messaging, and emails, we used snail mail. It would take days (or even weeks, depending on how far away your mail was going) for a letter to arrive, and tons of people miss this method of communication for a variety of reasons.
What does this have to do with learning languages? As it turns out, a lot! In this Slowly app review, I’ll touch on the reasons why it shouldn’t go ignored as a language learning resource, and, as always, what kind of language learners can benefit from it!
Slowly: app walkthrough
When you get your first look at Slowly, there’s no mention of language learning. Like I said, it’s not really meant as a language learning app. That’s not to say that it’s not a great way to get in practice, though!
Slowly is explained as a way to meet pen friends from your smartphone. And it’s free! Which real-life snail mail is not.
After downloading, you’ll plug in a TINY bit of information, but really not much. Fortunately, Slowly is pretty respectful of common sense internet rules, and just requests that you set up an avatar and nickname.
I got a little frustrated when it was telling me my nickname contained characters that were not allowed when really it was just too long, but whatever, I guess.
You can pick out a few subjects that you’d like to talk about (up to 30), pick out up to 5 subjects that you don’t want to talk about, and then pick languages! You also tell Slowly your proficiency in this language, which then shows up on your profile for other Slowly users to see.
Even just here you can see that this app has some potential for foreign language practice! Realistically, all any language learner needs is a person to talk to who speaks the language, and Slowly definitely offers us access to this!
Then Slowly will let you know a couple of important nuggets of info, and you’ll get started finding pen friends.
That first image is the thing that makes Slowly so great for language learners like me!
The awesome part of snail mail is that it takes a while. It’s not instant. A lot of people love the nostalgia of that, which is fair. Personally, I don’t appreciate it for that particular reason.
If you’re like me, you get overwhelmed by too many instant messages (using something like Tandem or HelloTalk), especially if they’re not in your native language and it takes you more effort to read and respond. That overwhelm is a major turnoff and becomes a serious obstacle to getting in more writing practice.
With Slowly, it takes an entire day to send/receive messages. I like how this gives me a chance to breathe. It’s significantly less stressful for me. I don’t have to feel rushed to understand any messages, nor to express myself in the language, which can be really difficult sometimes.
Anyways, Slowly offers you two ways to meet new pen friends: auto-match or manual. I don’t personally like auto-match, but here are the options you can choose from in your new auto-match pen friends.
If that’s not your thing, you can filter through potential pen friends and reach out to the ones that sound (read?) like someone you’d want to talk to. And, of course, everything is pretty anonymous – there’s no real picture, no real name, nada!
You can see which languages these potential pen friends can communicate in as well as which country they’re from, which I love.
The most important stats are when they were last online and their “sent:received” ratio. There’s no limit to how many people you send mail to or how often you send mail, it’ll just take a minute to get there (and get back to you when they respond).
For example, mail that I send to/receive from Spain takes 20 hours to get to its destination. Mail that’s going to/coming from different countries in South America takes just 8 hours.
Nonetheless, send a message to anyone you want! The only requirement set by the app is that your message is at least 100 characters, which makes sense. Imagine receiving an actual piece of mail and it just said “hey”. That’s something that only works in the atmosphere of instant messaging; otherwise, you’d just be wasting your actual money.
Pro tip: I didn’t receive any letters from people I didn’t initiate the conversation with until I wrote a bio. Once I did that, I started getting letters!
A couple of things to note about how all this works.
- You’ll always know what letters are coming from who, and when they’ll get to you. Basically, you’ll be able to see everything except for the message itself.
- Once you work up a history of talking back and forth with someone, you’ll always be able to see all of your messages together, which is fun!
- Because of the nature of this app, conversations have to be…simpler. This isn’t a chat where you can easily reference every little statement – it’s more like you got a letter from someone responding to your letter, but since you don’t have the letter you sent, it can be hard to remember what you’re talking about.
- If you’re “friends” with someone, you can share other types of media. It doesn’t really have much to do with the actual “pen pal” part of it all. Basically, if you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve actually built a relationship with a pen friend, it’s another way for you two to connect!
- Many people like to collect stamps, just like with normal snail mail. You can collect stamps by having pen friends from a variety of different countries, or you can go ahead and buy them with real money (though it’s totally unnecessary, and goes to support the app).
And, really, that’s it! The Slowly app is a pretty simple concept for connecting with those who speak your foreign language natively, without a lot of the pressure of face-to-face conversations or instant messaging.
It’s not a language learning app, and that might matter
I’ve mentioned that Slowly isn’t built specifically for language learners – it’s more of an “accidental” option for language learners who would really benefit from it.
However, because it’s not particularly meant for language learning…it’s not perfect. For example, in comparing Slowly to HelloTalk, there is quite a bit of deficit.
I mean, HelloTalk supports text, audio, video chats, real-time corrections…there’s a lot of options. And Slowly just doesn’t have any of those features. It’s just like writing physical letters to a pen pal, except it’s digital.
The fact that Slowly is simple is one of the reasons why it’s so great but definitely has its pros and cons. Other features would make Slowly more desirable for language learners, but, at the same time, the lack of features is part of the charm. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword.
But there are three main reasons why Slowly could be more beneficial to you as a language learner (as it is for me):
- Like I’ve said, the pressure is gone. HelloTalk stresses me out. Instant messaging is great for real quick conversations, but I get overwhelmed when it takes me a minute to figure out how to write a message in a foreign language, just to have to do it all over again a few minutes later.
- Slowly allows you to operate in more than one language for free! HelloTalk makes you pay for more than one language (it’s only a few bucks a month, but it’s more than free!). With Slowly, talk to as many people as you like in as many languages as you like. No worries!
- Total anonymity. If you’re feminine-presenting or have a feminine name, you know what it’s like to hop on a texting app and get bombarded with texts from men. That issue is solved with Slowly!
Slowly app review: who it’s for
With this Slowly app review, understand that it doesn’t have a lot of the tools that HelloTalk or other resources have, but I don’t think language learners should necessarily turn their cheeks to the practice or the friendships that are possible either.
For one, if you really value the nostalgia of snail mail, Slowly is a fun app to use no matter if you’re trying to work your foreign language skills or if you’re just interested in connecting with other English speakers.
For two, Slowly is a nice option to slow down (and I just realized that’s why it’s named Slowly!) your communication and take away the instant-ness of modern-day conversations.
Slowly is like the Speechling of speaking practice for the introverts of language learning; let’s take away the pressure of live conversations while still working on our foreign language skills!
Regardless of whether you feel comfortable using Slowly in the language you’re learning or not, Slowly is a really fun way to connect with strangers that you would’ve never connected with before, while also keeping your identity protected for internet safety reasons.