If you’re an avid language-learner and you’re interested in continuing your journey from the comforts of your own home (either due to lockdown or because that’s the method that best suits your needs otherwise) we have a recommendation for you! Have you checked out italki*? This platform is a great way to interact with teachers and other natives who can help you through one-on-one classes and other resources. We’ve used it to continue improving our Spanish language skills and we believe it could help you, too. If you decide to sign-up, please consider using our referral link at the end of this article (it’s a win-win, we promise)!
What is italki?
Italki is a language-learning platform primarily used for taking one-on-one virtual classes with teachers from around the world. You can search for native (and non-native) teachers of almost any language imaginable. Once you find a teacher you want to work with, you request a lesson booking at a time that suits both of you. In addition to connecting you with teachers, it also offers other resources to further develop your language skills. (Read more about that below.)
Why do we recommend it?
Learning a language is a continuous, complex process. While you can get a great start with vocabulary acquisition on language-learning apps like Duolingo, italki allows you to really put your speaking and listening skills to use. Meeting teachers over video chat provides real-world immersion with the language in a setting that feels personal and comfortable. Because the classes are one-on-one, you know you’re going to be able to take things at your own pace and ask as many questions as you need (without worrying what anyone else might think). You can also choose to schedule lessons of varying length (generally 30, 45, or 60 mins) or focuses (e.g. Conversational, Business, Test Preparation, etc.).
Is it free?
Joining the platform is completely free and this will give you full access to the Community tab, which provides some useful resources even if you don’t choose to take any classes. However, the classes are paid and prices vary depending on the teacher. Generally, you can get a discounted rate if you agree to buy a package, rather than a single lesson, with an individual teacher.
Before proceeding to booking lessons, you will need to purchase italki credit through the ‘My Wallet’ option in the drop-down menu from your user profile. You can do so by using a credit or debit card, bank transfer, PayPal, or a few other services. It should be noted that the service charge for any of the following is higher than you may expect. Therefore, we recommend purchasing larger amounts of credit at a time (thus purchasing less frequently) to reduce the fees slightly.
Who can use italki?
This platform truly is beneficial to anyone looking to improve their language skills. It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete beginner or very experienced―italki can help you find a teacher who will accommodate your needs and interests. Take the time to really read through teacher profiles to get an idea of whether or not the teacher will be a good fit for your level and needs.
How do you choose the best teacher?
In the “Find a Teacher” feed, you can find the right match for you by filtering for the language, country of origin, and a variety of other factors. You may also want to be aware that there are two different types of teachers―Professional and Community Tutor. The difference is that Professional teachers need to upload accredited teaching certifications to prove their teaching abilities, whereas anyone can sign up to be a Community Tutor.
Depending on your needs, you may be perfectly happy with a Community Tutor (more than half of the teachers we take classes with are this ‘type’) but you might want to take this into consideration. Generally, Professional teachers charge more per hour so you will have to test out a few different teachers and decide who you feel best with.
Teacher profiles can also help give you an idea of what lessons with that teacher will be like. Take the time to read through their “Me as a Teacher,” “My Lessons & Teaching Style,” and “My Teaching Materials” sections. On this page you can also read student reviews and see their prices for different kinds of lessons. However, take the ‘hourly rate’ with a grain of salt as, occasionally, teachers have that rate set to what they charge for 30-minute lessons. We personally find this deceptive, but it happens so just check the prices for each sort of lesson before you invest too much time in a teacher (if price is an important factor to you).
How do you book a class?
Booking a lesson is quite easy! Once you’ve created a student profile, simply click on the “Find a Teacher” button on the right side of the top banner. You will be directed to a list of thousands of teachers and you can watch their intro videos and read through their profiles to get a feel for them.
Once you find a teacher you like, choose either ‘Check Availability’ or ‘Book Now’ on their profile to find a time that works well for you. We personally like to go directly to the ‘Book Now’ option as otherwise you can find a time that works through ‘availability’ but then need to exit and find it again through the ‘book’ button anyway.
Pro-tip: When you first start with italki you have the opportunity to take trial lessons (which are 30 minutes long and often at a discounted rate). This is a great way to test out a few teachers you think you will like. However, be aware that you are only allowed THREE trials, after that the trial option/pricing will disappear when you’re looking through teacher profiles. We didn’t realize and probably didn’t choose our teachers as strategically as possible. If money is a big factor for you, you may want to optimize your trial choices by choosing teachers who offer very affordable trial lessons rather than teachers who charge the same for their trial as their typical 30-minute lessons.
Do you need any additional technology or software to take classes with iTalki?
Not necessarily. Italki has its own classroom platform which, admittedly is still in a beta stage. In general, our experiences with the platform have been positive but a number of teachers who have been using the platform longer say it’s sometimes unreliable. For that reason, it would be beneficial for you to have Skype as a back-up option as that’s the alternative most teachers use. However, we’re seeing more and more teachers offering to give classes on other platforms as well, such as Whatsapp video, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.
For ideal videochat conditions, we recommend that you buy a video camera (if your computer does not already have an integrated one) and a headset with an external microphone. While your standard earphones that have a mic built into the cable will generally work fine, a headset like this one will help limit echo and background noise.
What can you expect in the class?
Classes can be quite different, depending on the teacher and topic you choose. We have some teachers who clearly invest a lot of time in preparing lessons, integrating vocabulary and/or grammar exercises, texts, videos, and audio clips into each class and assigning homework. We also have other teachers who don’t prepare anything and come to class simply with the intention of chatting. In general, you should be able to get a feel for which kind of approach you should expect based on their teacher profile.
As we mentioned in our article about making the most out of studying virtually, italki is a platform where you really get out of it what you put into it (and what you look for). Dani, for example, likes to get a bit of both worlds and tends to book one class per week with a very structured teacher and one class per week with a more laid-back conversational teacher. Still, when she feels inspired she will sent text or videos that she’s watched to the conversational teachers in order to focus the class a bit more.
Are there any other features aside from lessons?
As alluded to previously, yes! There are many additional features in the ‘Community’ tab that you might find useful. This tab is labeled in this way because it’s a place for students and teachers to come together and support each other in their learning process. You can read articles in your target language, participate in discussion boards, connect with language partners, upload writing you’ve done in your target language in order to have it reviewed by native speakers (as well as correct others’ writing in your native language), and more. While you certainly don’t have to participate in the Community section, you may find it’s a great place to get further practice and feel supported in your language-learning journey.
Are there any downsides to using italki?
Although we enjoy using and recommend italki, there are a few cons worth noting:
1.) The pricing is not consistent because teachers are able to set and change their own prices at will. While this is a definite perk for the instructors (not often available to them on other platforms) it can be a pain for students. We have had a number of teachers raise their prices after our first lesson with them, pushing them out of our price range. Also, it can be frustrating that price is not always equivalent to the quality of the class. Depending on the cost of living in the country of your teacher, they may offer very affordable rates while being an excellent teacher whereas others living in more expensive countries may charge high rates for mediocre lessons. The same can be said about teachers who have taught many classes vs. few classes.
2.) The reviewing system is not ideal. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to leave a review of your teacher immediately after the class ends. As soon as you confirm the lesson happened, you are prompted to select 1 to 5 stars and leave (optional) comments. We personally feel that only having one five-star scale doesn’t allow students to be honest. Most teachers we find have 5.0 ratings so it seems nobody wants to be the reason their rating drops. However, if everyone give 5 stars (despite each lesson not necessarily being outstanding), it’s impossible to use the rating to tell if the teacher is truly any better than another.
It would be more helpful if you were able to give feedback on a number of factors. For example, some teachers have poor video or internet connection quality. This is not necessarily something that influences their quality of teaching (and so we do not ‘grade down’ because of it). However, it would be valuable information to know. The same could be said about tardiness.
3.) The teachers are occasionally tardy. Because italki is more like a middleman than the direct employer of the teachers, it’s much more common on this platform than others for teachers to arrive late or remain in class for slightly less time that you paid for. Personally, we believe it would help if ALL teachers were required to take a five minute break between classes (i.e. an hour long class would actually run from x:00-x:55) because this seems to be the cause of the issue. If your teacher has a class directly before yours and goes over just one or two minutes, then needs to go to the bathroom or refill their water bottle, they are easily five minutes late to your class. Although italki stipulates “Some teachers may include a 5 minute break in the lesson time,” this is not the norm and teachers seem to be hesitant to do so, resulting in tardiness for the next student instead.
4.) There are frequent lapses between the webpage and the app so, occasionally, the app will tell you that you still need to take an action (e.g. confirm a lesson was completed) even though this has been properly recorded as done on the webpage. We’ve also had problems with the messages not loading on one or the other, which can be frustrating.
All that said, we still feel that italki can be a really useful tool to you if you are looking to improve your language skills. Taking one-on-one lessons really allows for your experience to be personalized, which only leads to more success in your language acquisition and confidence.
Have you studied a language through italki? What was your experience like? Please share with us in the comments below!
Interested in trying italki yourself? We’d really appreciate it if you used our referral link to sign-up! Purchase at least $20 of class credit and we’ll both earn credit ($10 a piece) as a result! That could be 1-2 free classes for both of us―spread the language-learning love!
* This is completely unsponsored―we simply use the site and recommend it to friends, like you, who are trying to learn new languages.