Comparative Literature students pride themselves on the study of literature in multiple languages. However, during the semester it can be a challenge to prioritize language learning. If you want to fit more language study into your schedule this semester, italki.com is truly a hidden gem for language learners.
Italki is an online language-learning community of over one million teachers and students. What makes italki unique is that it connects you with native speaker teachers around the world through one-on-one Skype lessons.
If you’ve been meaning to work on one or more languages, I encourage you to check out italki for yourself or to share it with your students. Here’s why:
- The online platform
Italki.com is absolutely seamless. The process of scheduling Skype meetings, transferring payments, and evaluating lessons seems like it should be very complicated. However, italki is extremely well organized. When you want to schedule a lesson, you search for a teacher in your price range that is available when you want to study. You schedule your lesson and then connect with your teacher on skype. After the lesson is over, italki handles the payment. This website makes everything so easy that you can focus on your lessons and not have to worry about all of the logistics.
- One-on-one lessons
When I arrived at Rutgers, I was struggling to find ways to improve my French skills. I knew my French was too advanced for an undergraduate grammar course, but not nearly advanced enough for a graduate literature course. Many of us find that our language skills do not match up with any of our options for formal language instruction. One-on-one lessons on italki give you the flexibility to begin at your current level and focus on the specific skills that you want to develop. In my case, I found a French tutor with an interest in reading and we slowly worked our way through a few novels together. The one-on-one lessons gave me so much more feedback than I could’ve gotten in a traditional language classroom or by studying on my own. I progressed much faster than I had when I had been spending many more hours a week in a grammar class in college. Also, the commitment of talking to your teacher each week helps motivate you to continue to work independently on the language in between lessons.
- A wide range of teachers
Italki has a variety of teachers with different levels of professional training, experience, and pricing. Depending on your language level, your learning style, and what skills you are working on, you can experiment with multiple teachers until you figure out what works best. There are professional teachers with a full curriculum who teach grammar and assign homework. Some of these teachers make excellent use of the video chat format by using tools like screen-sharing websites, Prezi, and the Skype chat function. There are also college students with no training in language pedagogy who will practice casual conversation with you. Since you don’t enroll in a formal course, you can experiment with a variety of teachers until you find someone who works for you. After a few lessons or a few months, you can easily start working with someone else. The flexibility lets you experience a wide variety of teaching approaches and also can expose you to different regional accents and vocabulary. Before scheduling a lesson, you can see a teacher’s profile, video introduction, and student reviews, which helps you find someone that you will enjoy working with.
Bonus: Many teachers offer half hour trial lessons for somewhere between $1 and $5. This gives you the opportunity to meet teachers, even those at a higher price point, without spending a lot up front.
- Work as a tutor
If you enjoy taking lessons on italki, you can also sign up to tutor your native language or another language you speak fluently. This is an ideal work opportunity for students because you set your own hours and prices and you can work from home. You can also easily offer more sessions over breaks and fewer sessions during the busiest parts of the semester. I’ve really enjoyed talking to English students from around the world, and working on italki allowed me to fund my language lessons. Also, talking to motivated language learners helps me to continue my own language study.
Italki also offers language exchanges where two students can connect for free over Skype to practice. For example, an American and a Chinese student could meet on Skype and speak in English for a half hour and then in Chinese for a half hour. I have not used this feature, but it offers another way to use this language learning community for free.
- Language challenges
If you like having an extra bit of accountability, italki sponsors language challenges a few times a year. For these challenges, students commit to taking a certain number of lessons in a limited time period (past challenges have included 12 hours of lessons in a month or 20 hours in six weeks). Students commit to the challenge by making a $10 pledge. If they complete the challenge, they receive $30 towards more language lessons. Every time italki announces a language challenge, a group of students commit to the challenge by making a public YouTube video demonstrating their current skill level. After the challenge, many students post videos documenting their progress. Check out these before-and-after videos from the New Year’s 2015 20-hour language challenge.
If you have any questions about italki or would like recommendations of French, Spanish, or Portuguese teachers, please be in touch.