How does a woman from the American Midwest get interested in learning Korean and Mandarin? We recently had a conversation with Deborah (@hello_deborah_) to discuss her language-learning journey. Hailing from Indiana, USA, home of basketball and the world’s largest single-day sporting event, the Indy 500 🏁, it may just be easier to describe the multi-talented Deborah by who she isn’t than who she is. A graphic designer and marketer with her own successful creative agency, we dive into how she manages her roles as a mom, business owner, certified English teacher, and community builder on HelloTalk while pursuing her language learning goals.

Member Focus – an interview with Deborah

Hey Deborah, thanks for taking the time today! I have to ask what’s the story behind a woman from Indiana getting inspired to learn Korean and Mandarin?

The short answer is travel. Our first real international trip together was to Italy in 2019. I had taken Italian in college but didn’t brush up on the language before our trip. I really regretted it. I felt uncomfortable trying to speak Italian with the locals. That was a big lesson learned. If we are going to make a once-in-a-lifetime trip, then I’m going to make learning some of the language a goal to really experience the culture. 

My husband is half-Chinese, and his mother is from Taiwan. He was born and raised in the States, and we were meant to visit Taiwan with her and our son in 2020, but COVID-19 happened, so it got delayed. We just returned from our rescheduled trip last month. It was a wonderful experience to show our son that side of his heritage, and travel with his grandmother to see where she grew up. Since my mother-in-law was with us to interpret, we didn’t have too much pressure to learn a lot of Mandarin. But I was still able to feel comfortable going out on my own occasionally thanks to my wonderful HelloTalk language exchange partner.

Next up will be a trip to South Korea later this year. We have very good friends who are now based in Korea that we haven’t seen in ten years. For this trip, we won’t have a built-in interpreter with us at all times, so I’m taking the learning more seriously. I took an online language class and one of my fellow classmates recommended HelloTalk. While the online class was great, you only got to speak with the Korean teacher for 20 minutes once every 2 weeks, which really isn’t enough to progress in the language. 

It took me a few weeks to understand all that HelloTalk was capable of, but I posted a couple of Moments and through those and my profile information I met a Korean language partner very quickly. We had so much in common – a fellow graphic designer, mother, and also in my time zone! 😂 My exchanges with my Korean were interesting because we had so much in common! We became fast friends and formed our first HelloTalk group together – the Art & Design group! I wish HelloTalk existed when I was taking high school French and Italian in college.

You’re quite the community builder on HelloTalk, could you tell us about some of your groups on HelloTalk?

The Art & Design group is a community where artists and designers from around the world share work that inspires them as well as their own work. You typically only see work in your country, so to have that exposure has been really interesting! 

To date the now global group is home to graphic designers, illustrators, UX designers, video game artists, calligraphers, fine artists, woodworkers, photographers, architects, and even a few engineers who come together to practice languages through their shared interest for all things art & design! Deborah also has several other learning groups on HelloTalk:

  • Learn English Together (LET) – a learning community to practice, share resources and ask questions to improve your English
  • Business English – a learning community to improve your English for your career
  • Learn Korean Together (LKT)a group to connect with other learners, practice your Korean, and discover helpful live classes and learning resources

That’s awesome! What would you say is unique about the HelloTalk community?

My favorite part of HelloTalk is that people from around the world, with different backgrounds and cultures, come together with a common goal of learning a language. In our LET group (Learn English Together), we now have over 8000 members and over 30 volunteers from all over the world (native and advanced speakers). The volunteers are so diverse! There are teachers who are both native speakers or teachers of English and other subjects in their countries, college students, business owners, an individual who works for the United Nations, and dedicated learners who find ways to help, to name a few.

I admire anyone on HelloTalk who volunteers their time to host Voicerooms and Lives to help language learners. It’s been a huge help to me in learning my target languages. Everyone in LET has a very warm and welcoming nature. That’s what I look for when I recruit teacher partners and volunteers. They’re there to help, but at the same time they also get something out of it – in different ways. Teachers get to level up their language skills and others learn English to progress their career opportunities.

Reciprocity in action – Deborah voluntarily hosts Voicerooms for people to practice English on HelloTalk. In exchange the community helps her plan for an upcoming trip to Korea 🇰🇷

You mentioned many group volunteers receive something in return for their time. Aside from improving your language skills, what is something you’ve gained from being on HelloTalk?

I’m a naturally shy person, but I often put myself in positions where I have to go outside my comfort zone. When I lived in Washington DC. I was president of a marketing association there. The year I was president I had to speak at 60 in-person events (education, networking, and socials). I can 100% say that my speaking skills have vastly improved being on HelloTalk more so than as president of that marketing association. There is something about the multitasking required in a room that has helped me be much less nervous.

What are some of your future plans?

I received my TEFL certificate, which is very helpful to teach on HelloTalk, but I actually have future plans for that as well. Someday, when my husband and I retire, I plan to turn my graphic design studio into an art gallery to sell my art: painting, and photography. We want to travel and live in other countries for three months out of the year. My idea is to take all the skills I’m gaining through HelloTalk to tutor English when we’re in those countries to help offset the costs of travel and having a second residence for part of the year.

How do you juggle all these interests: community building, HelloTalk, running a business?

Since I am my own boss I already didn’t have a regular work day. Now that our son is grown, I had reached a point where my mornings were mine—I played tennis, went for walks, and did volunteer activities in my community. Then I would make up those hours in the evenings or weekends for my business. Now, most of my mornings are taken up by HelloTalk. People often wonder how I manage everything on HelloTalk, but it’s not just me. We have over 30 amazing volunteers for LET, and even my smaller groups have volunteers who moderate rooms and answer questions. For the LET groups, we’re about to open our 18th group next week, and we’ve just implemented a system where each group has an Advocate. This person acts as an admin and primary point of contact, correcting responses to the daily tasks, answering questions, and coordinating help from other volunteers. 

How do you spend your time on HelloTalk?

I have three sides to my activities on HelloTalk. First of all, I continue learning activities for Mandarin and Korean. I love that I can go at my own pace. Second, most of my time is dedicated to volunteer activities through my groups, moderating for amazing teachers, helping to create HelloTalk events or hosting Voicerooms or Lives of my own. I currently host a weekly Read + Shadow English and a weekly English Practice Room with an Art & Design theme. I also co-host a weekly Business English Sense Live with Monique and a private Kids Voiceroom for parents who are teaching their kids English with Para. That one is super sweet! 

I also help create HelloTalk events like “Learn English Through Music.” There are many talented musicians and singers on the app. Probably because studies have shown that there is a correlation between people who are good at music and those who are good at learning languages. Combining English learning with a singing contest has been very popular. 

My third and newest activity is that I now offer paid one-on-one teaching sessions. There are many amazing and fabulous true English teachers on HelloTalk, so I decided to carve out a niche for myself utilizing my time in the corporate world. I specialize in teaching business-focused English in my one-on-one classes. This includes interview skills, presentation skills, and how to create an elevator speech, helping my students feel comfortable at business networking events. My focus is on students who are intermediate to advanced and need to interview in English, level up their skills for a promotion, or simply work more comfortably with their clients and English-speaking counterparts.

What’s some of the hard parts about English?

For many, it’s the idioms that are challenging. Because idioms aren’t literal and need to be learned. I use idioms all the time. As a graphic designer, I’m a visual learner, and my memory is visual. Idioms help me paint with words. Teaching idioms, especially on the business side, has been very popular. 

Some languages, like Mandarin, place the same weight on every word, but in English, you stress certain words, and there’s more of a rhythm to it that perhaps learners aren’t used to. It takes practice. Learning on HelloTalk myself, I discovered shadowing, which is when you have a native or advanced speaker speak, and you mimic what they say. This helps you get the right pronunciation and rhythm. I push shadowing all the time because it has a big impact. Learners can do it without even coming up on stage. 

Finally, many learners struggle to understand English spoken with different accents or dialects worldwide. It’s an extra skill set that HelloTalk is perfectly suited for practicing. I always encourage learners to join rooms hosted by non-native speakers so they can practice. It’s an important skill because they will encounter many non-native English speakers in real life.

Do you have a standout HelloTalk experience or turning point interaction?

I have two experiences that really influenced my journey on HelloTalk as a teacher. The first was when I was researching how to be better host for my Art & Design weekly voicerooms, I stumbled on Para’s English Practice Voiceroom. I was inspired by how well Para, a college student, managed his room. He connected, encouraged, and entertained his students in a way I hadn’t seen on the app before. His moderators were almost professional in how smoothly they ran the room. Para eventually asked me to organize his group chat, because it didn’t have the same vibe of his room at the time. I morphed that group chat into becoming LET (Learn English Together). I recruited volunteers and teachers to partner with us so that it could be a resource for members and HelloTalk teachers. Plus, by moderating for Para in his rooms, I became much more comfortable hosting my own rooms. 

The second turning point for me was when an LET member asked in the chat if anyone was available to help her prepare for an interview the next day. She was a woman from Egypt who was interviewing in English for a job she had previously been rejected for. We worked on a few typical interview questions. Additionally, I boosted her confidence by leveraging my corporate experience from being on both sides of the table, encouraging her to view her interview from a new perspective. She ended up getting the job. This experience made me realize that I have a lot to offer in terms of Business English to the learners. It motivated me to obtain my TEFL certificate so that I could teach Business English classes as a Live Tutor on HelloTalk. That led me to start a separate Business English group where other teachers who teach Business English can also be a resource.

What’s one piece of advice you’ve received in your life that has stuck with you?

I once had a mentor who gave me the best piece of advice. She advised me to question the status quo and propose new ideas when I had a lot of self-doubt about handling the marketing for a firm when I only had a graphic design background. She told me that my fresh perspective could bring valuable insights and solutions. I took that to heart and became a bit of a rainmaker for that company. I feel like I’ve carried that through to my activities on HelloTalk. I didn’t let my lack of teaching experience hold me back from finding a new passion and encouraging others to find ways that they can help others on the app.  


HelloTalk is a social platform for learning about languages and culture. The app connects you with native speakers for free and lets you practice languages through chats, voice calls, Livestreams and more! Join the HelloTalk app and explore new cultures and languages on the world’s largest social platform for language learning.