Review of italki
Italki is an online platform that connects teachers and students from all over the world, allowing you to learn from a native speaker from the comfort of your home. Or wherever there’s internet. Setting up your first lesson is almost as easy as a google search – find your language, select a teacher then schedule a time.
Finding a teacher:
There are an abundance of teachers, especially in popular languages like Spanish or English. While that’s great, it also means you’ve got to think about your selection process.
There are two types of teachers on italki – professional and community tutors. Professionals require validation of their experience to be listed as professional such as a teaching certificate or an educational background in teaching. Lessons tend to be more structured, as they decide what you’ll learn week to week (or however you schedule your lessons). It goes without saying that this warrants higher prices.
Community tutors do not require a teaching background. Anyone can be a community tutor and the student typically dictates what the focus for each lesson will be.
This isn’t set in stone as there are sometimes (rarely) tutors who’ll plan out lessons like a professional and professionals who leave it up to the student. Prior to your first lesson, it is a good idea to communicate with your teacher about what you hope to achieve, and what level you are now. That’s why the trial is quite helpful. Italki has a feature where you can have a half hour ‘trial’ lesson with teachers to find what works for you. These are sometimes free or might cost a few dollars.
Teachers pick what times they’re available, which is displayed in your time zone. You click on an available slot then confirm. You have up until 24 hours to cancel your lesson, after which you can reschedule like you normally would. After 24 hours, you can your teacher can sort out when to reschedule and it’s not much more complicated than clicking a consent button.
To account for different currencies, the website uses ‘Italki Credits’. It’s sort of like buying poker chips, where you can buy them in your currency then pay your teacher, where they’ll be converted to their currency. Recently, italki has changed the display so that credits are shown as actual money and you’ll know exactly what you’re spending. Since it’s all online, it’s quite affordable. Professional lessons cost around 20 dollars, Cad, an hour, which is on the more expensive side for the site. That’s keeping in mind that lessons are all private and face to face through Skype.
The curriculum wasn’t as stringent as a traditional class. It followed a generally linear path while occasionally touching on constructs from down the road as we came across them. What I liked is that a significant portion of each lesson consisted of conversational talk – like ‘how are you, what’s new?’ or ‘so what do you think of that?’ after going through a topic. It was a great motivator to try to be descriptive.
There are occasional technical difficulties when it comes to learning and teaching online. Depending on your locations, internet speed and even the weather, you may have to pause your lesson in order to reboot everything and connect again. Sometimes the first five minutes were spent on diagnostics – figuring out who’s computer had the problem, restarting skype, then restarting the whole computer, which usually solved the problem.
All in all, italki is great for all levels of language learning. If you’re a beginner, especially if you’re learning independently for the first time, I’d recommend professional lessons. Not only do you learn your target language, you also get a sense of how to learn a language. For more details, see here.