Learn A Foreign Language at Light Speed

This page contains referral links to iTalki.  I don’t receive any monetary reward if you sign up– Both of us get a $10 credit towards lessons if you sign up using the link and take a lesson.

Last weekend, I sat down in the comfort of my own home, put on my noise-canceling headphones, and had a video chat with a Paty, a Peruvian woman living in Lima.  Paty is a student of International Relations, and fluent in Spanish, English, and French. She proceeded to gently correct my Spanish grammar and vocabulary for the next half hour.  In the end, my teacher and I said farewell and promised to meet up again next weekend for another conversational lesson.

The cost for this 30-minute session?  $3.

Frankly, this was the most effective use of $3 towards self-improvement that I have ever spent.  I arranged the lesson through a “sharing economy” site.  Think of it as an “Uber for languages.” The site is called iTalki, and it allows you to connect with both professional and amateur teachers of languages around the world.  From widely spoken languages like Spanish, French, and Chinese to less common ones like Azeri, Tatar, and Welsh, there are teachers available in almost any price range.

Learn A Foreign Language In a One-on-One Environment

I have been learning Spanish this year as a part of our long-term slow travel plans.  We’ve taken some local classroom courses, where a 12-hour group conversation class costs $195.  With that in mind, it’s easy to see how cost-effective the iTalki method is. The same twelve hours with my Peruvian tutor would cost me $72.  You can have a one-on-one session with native speakers, and even in a short session you can feel yourself speaking more coherently and fluidly.  There’s no embarrassment or competitiveness, just you and the teacher addressing your specific weaknesses and reinforcing your strengths.

Some of the teachers are capable of giving detailed grammar and vocabulary instruction, while others are simply good conversation partners.  If you’re learning a language like Spanish or Chinese, you’re in luck, because your currency likely goes a long way for those living in the developing world.  You’re providing your teacher with a great opportunity to earn extra income, and the prices feel like a steal.  The prices do vary widely, however, so it pays to comparison-shop a bit and find the best mix of experience and economy.

Each teacher can offer lessons via their voice or video chat tool of choice, but most choose to use Skype or Google Chat.  Lessons are purchased via iTalki “credits,” where $10 USD is equal to 100 iTalki credits.  You can purchase as little as $10 in credit, which is enough for several hours of instruction should you choose an inexpensive teacher.

There’s Always the Human Element

iTalki has been very rewarding so far, but I will be frank in saying that my first appointment with a young man from Colombia ($5 per hour) didn’t go so smoothly.  I set aside the time to meet up with my teacher, and when the time came, the teacher never appeared.  He did not respond to my Skype contact request, and I was forced to file a dispute with iTalki at the end of the hour.

The dispute was painless, as the teacher never bothered to respond to that either– but iTalki makes you wait a full two weeks to return your credit for the lesson if the teacher does not immediately agree to the refund.  That was a pain, but at $5 an hour, I was not tying up too much money.

I have since learned that you can navigate to a teacher’s page and see how many recent lessons they have given, how many disputes have been filed against them, and other data that would have saved me the wasted time.  I would advise you to check to be sure your teacher has given recent lessons, or at least message them first to be sure you get some sort of response before booking a lesson.

All in all, iTalki is going to be an important part of my language learning going forward.  Though I had a little bit of Spanish knowledge before I started, I can already feel my fluency improving– there’s just something about having a free-flowing, organic chat that helps you to improve so much more quickly.  If you are looking for detailed instruction or just a chance to practice a language, I would recommend giving iTalki a try at least once.

This page contains referral links to iTalki.  I don’t receive any monetary reward if you sign up– Both of us get a $10 credit towards lessons if you sign up using the link and take a lesson.

8 thoughts on “Learn A Foreign Language at Light Speed

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Wow, you’re totally right! I was surprised not to find Cambodian there– I’d figure it would come up long before some of the more obscure ones. I wonder if maybe the list gets updated only when a teacher is available. It’s a shame, that’s one of those places where the value for both parties would be excellent.

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  3. Katherine

    Wow, I can’t believe how inexpensive it is to get personalized attention in learning a language. Conversational practice was always my weakness when taking Spanish classes in school so this could be perfect.

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