I previously discussed some of my favorite apps and online resources for language learners. One of the resources mentioned in that post was italki. Learning languages is a long road and there are several avenues you could explore to learn a language. Some people can afford to enroll in a highly intensive course. Others have the flexibility to move abroad and practice a language through immersion. But learning a language with italki is good for a variety of language learners.
If you’re like me and don’t currently have the flexibility nor budget for the two aforementioned methods, don’t fret! I know many people who have learned a language (or several languages) without breaking the bank. For those interested in learning a language with italki and what it has to offer you during your language learning journey, continue reading.
What is italki?
Italki is a website that allows for free language exchange between its users. You sign up and indicate what languages you speak and at what level. For example, I indicated that I am a native English speaker. You also indicate what country you’re from because that changes how you speak a language. You also add what languages you know but aren’t necessarily fluent in as well as languages you are learning.
Again, for each language you indicate your level of fluency from beginner to intermediate to advanced/native. This can help greatly when you’re looking for a language partner to see if the exchange will be equal. For instance, as an (upper?) intermediate Spanish speaker, I can write quite well in Spanish. But if a potential language partner is just learning English, that may indicate that the exchange may be more one sided. Also, knowing what language each person is from because some language learners have a preference for a particular accent or dialect.
I prefer a Brazilian accent for Portuguese. Spanish I’m not too “picky” but I do find the Mexican and Colombian accents in general to be quite clear. However, as someone interested in moving to Spain, I’m also interested in the Spanish accent.
Finding a Language Partner
Through italki’s website you can search for language partners to practice whatever language you’re learning under the “community” tab. You can sort by what country they’re from, gender, what language they’re learning (so you don’t waste their time either if they’re not learning you’re native language/a language you speak) and whether they’re a native speaker. From here you can search those who are online or recently logged in.
Most people have a short bio. From here, you can send a message (some people require you add them as a friend first). If they have a bio, use that information in your opening message. Perhaps you’re commenting about a hobby they enjoy, what city they live in, etc. There are a few things I can’t stand when people message me and I’d urge you to avoid:
- “hi”/”hello” – This is not going to get anyone excited to speak to you. This to me signals laziness and that I’d be doing most of the work in the conversation. There should be a give and take. Nobody likes feeling they’re the only person invested in a conversation.
- “can you teach me english?” – This is rude and comes across rude. Most people come to italki and other language exchange sites to learn a language and learn about others’ cultures. If you just want someone to teach you English for nothing in return I suggest reading below about using italki’s tutor feature.
- “do you have a boyfriend?”/”are you married?” – Need I say more why this is annoying. I never respond to this and I’m sure most women don’t either. Unfortunately on every language exchange app/website I’ve used women talk about this being a problem for them. Unfortunately, due to this I typically only seek out language partners that are other women. I will reply to men who message me (and aren’t creeps) but I typically only reach out to women.
- “let’s talk on skype” – No. I don’t know you. We need to talk for at least a bit before I’m ready to video call you. This is the same for texting/WhatsApp requests before starting a conversation.
Also, I never respond to someone without a profile picture. Or if their profile picture isn’t them (a flower, a dog, a beach, etc.). Sure, people can put fake pictures online, but I try to weed out potential bad seeds if I can.
Language Tutors & Teachers
If you’re willing and able to invest money into lessons I highly suggest it. Sometimes you don’t want to help people with you’re native language and that’s okay! What’s great about italki is that you can find tutors/teachers for a variety of languages for relatively cheap. Of course this may depend on what language you’re learning. But for me, with Spanish and Portuguese I’ve seen prices as low as $5 an hour!
There are two types of teachers on italki, a professional teacher and a community tutor. A professional teacher is someone with a certification/degree in teaching. These teachers typically have more structured classes and have experience teaching. They are also typically more expensive. Community tutors on the other hand don’t have a degree, but they enjoy teaching languages. These are less structured, often focusing on conversation. These teachers are usually the cheapest.
I’d suggest if you’re an absolute beginner, perhaps a professional teacher is worth spending a little more on. But if you’re able to hold a basic conversation and know the fundamentals of the language, you’ll be fine with a community tutor. Speaking is the best way to learn a language and you’ll get plenty of that during a session with a community tutor.
Finding the Right Teacher
Like language partners, italki allows you to apply filters to find which italki teacher is best for you. You can sort by country, language they speak, whether they’re a native or advanced, community tutor vs. professional teacher, hourly rate, and “skills” (good for beginners, advanced, children, etc.). You can scroll through the teachers listed and click their profile to obtain a bit more information about them and their teaching style.
Each italki tutor is required to make an introduction video which is displayed on their profile. In the video they also have to indicate what languages they are fluent/conversational in. I love this because it’s one thing to judge a person’s profile picture and another to see them on video. It makes it easier to gauge whether you believe you’ll mesh well. Also on the italki teacher’s profile is a bit more about them, their experience teaching, what to expect in their class and REVIEWS.
I enjoy when the teachers speak as little English as possible. But I prefer to use teachers that can speak at least some English in case I get confused or need to ask something/clarify in English. Determine whether it’s important to you that the teacher knows your native language.
Paying for Lessons
One drawback for me with italki is that you can’t simply pay for lessons with your debit card or through PayPal. You must buy italki “credits” to use on the website. There’s also a processing fee. The fee varies depending on how many credits you purchase. For $25 USD of credits I paid abount $1.35 USD for the processing fee. It’s annoying that you have to go through these extra steps, but it’s not enough to deter me. I’ve never felt that the site was unsafe or not secure. After you buy the credits you’re free to start scheduling lessons.
Each member is allowed to take 3 trial lessons. Trial lessons are shorter lessons with teachers at a discounted price. Most teachers I’ve seen offer them, but some do not. This can be great to make sure you like the format of the lessons or italki in general before spending full price on regular lessons. Just make sure you don’t book an actual lesson before using up your 3 trial lessons.
Taking a Lesson
Once you’ve scheduled a lesson you first have to wait for the teacher to accept the request. If they did, italki will show you the details of the lesson. Most lessons happen via Skype, but some happen through other channels. Italki has a classroom feature that is available for use as well. I’d recommend having a Skype account because that seems to be the default for most lessons or the backup if another way fails.
As for the lesson itself? That all depends on your teacher and you! One common them I’ve noticed is that teachers all agree speaking is the best way to learn a language. So be prepared and open to speak. My first two lessons on italki were with two Brazilian teachers and I spoke more Portuguese than I ever had. It was a tad daunting and hard, but worth it.
Area to Improve On
A drawback of italki is that there’s no voice note feature. The voice messaging feature is one of my favorite things about HelloTalk, a language exchange app. Without it, italki can only provide so much help before you and your partner want to go over onto another platform such as Skype or WhatsApp. Many language learners want practice speaking and hearing their target language, neither of which they can do with language partners through italki.
Other italki Features
Notebook: You can write entries and have other people comment on them and/or correct them, and vice-versa. I personally haven’t used this feature yet but I see many people do.
Articles: There are a ton of articles that either cover language related topics or gives tips on a particular language.
Tip: italki also has an app for mobile users. However, italki is one of the few programs that I prefer using the desktop version. I find the app to be clunky, slow, it doesn’t have certain features and overall not very efficient.
I hope you found this post helpful. This post is 100% my own opinion. All in all, I find italki to be one of the better language exchange resources out there. You can learn for free or spend a few dollars and get cheap but useful lessons. Have you tried italki? Or do you know of a similar site? Let me know in the comments below.
This post is not sponsored. Italki has no clue who I am! I just wanted to show how learning languages can be easy and cheap.