I am passionate about languages, and I think that every woman in business should learn a second language, whether she works for herself or someone else. There are numerous resources for learning a new language, and I list some of my favorites (along with the benefits of bilingualism) in this post.
I wanted to write an italki review because it’s my absolute favorite resource for language learners. It’s a website that connects you with professional teachers, community tutors, and language exchange partners so that you can practice actually speaking the language you’re learning.
I have been an Italki member for several years, but I began using it for speaking practice over Skype at the end of 2015, when I decided to up my German game. I now use it to practice German and Spanish on a weekly basis.
If you read in your language, study flashcards, and do exercises, you will learn to memorize vocabulary, read, and write in your language. You will not learn to speak it.
The only way to learn to speak a language is to actually talk to people.
This is the hardest part of learning a language for most people because it can be so intimidating. You will make a ton of mistakes. You will learn from them. Most people will be super nice about it. You’ll get over your nerves quickly. Just jump in!
My first two or three German lessons were awful. I stuttered through every sentence. I had a kindergarten-level vocabulary. I remember a teacher asking me if I’d ever been to Germany and trying to explain that I was supposed to go in 2005, but the subway was bombed in London that year and my mom didn’t want me traveling abroad. That’s a complex story to tell when you have a vocabulary of several hundred words.
Knowing how to order in a restaurant and buy a blue dress are not helpful in those situations, which was about what I came out of school with – after SIX YEARS of German classes. I could write a whole other post on the problems with how we learn languages in American schools.
The more I talked, the more I started learning vocabulary in the context of real life situations. I realized that I remembered words more easily when I was learning them face-to-face while talking to someone. In a few weeks, my ability to speak improved rapidly. I was learning a language! I had dabbled in languages for years with no real results. This was a huge epiphany for me.
I want you to know that you can learn a language too, even if you’re an adult, even if you don’t memorize things well, even if you sucked at languages in school. (For more on those topics, check out Fluent in 3 Months.)
Let me tell you about Italki.
There are three ways to talk to native speakers on Italki: language exchanges (free), community tutors (generally inexpensive), and professional teachers (more expensive). Most people on Italki chat using Skype, either with audio or video. Some people also use Google Hangouts and other chat programs.
A language exchange is when you teach your language to someone else in exchange for them teaching you theirs. Typically, a language exchange is an hour long. You speak for 30 minutes in your language and 30 minutes in your target language (the language you’re learning).
Language exchanges are easier to set up for some languages than others. I’ve had a ton of luck finding Spanish partners who want to practice English. Many German speakers already speak English at an advanced level and aren’t as eager to practice, though I do have a few German exchange partners.
I think language exchanges are easier at an intermediate level of a language. Some partners will break down grammar and vocab for you. Others just want to chat and won’t correct you or do as much actual teaching. Try a few language exchanges with different people until you find a few partners you click with. It’s good to have more than one partner so that you’re exposed to different people, accents, and vocabulary.
Sometimes it helps to decide on a topic of conversation before your exchange. That way you have a plan and aren’t spending your chat deciding what you should talk about. It also allows you to prepare vocabulary and phrases you might need ahead of time.
I use community tutors on Italki more than any other kind of language partner. I have also tutored English as a community tutor.
Community tutors are often language learners themselves. They know the struggles that come with learning a new language. They tend to be passionate about helping others learn their language. Like language exchange partners, some are more chatty and informal, while others will teach you grammar and vocabulary.
Sessions with community tutors tend to be more informal and don’t follow the format of a structured lesson. Working with community tutors allows you to learn to speak naturally, as you would in every day conversation. They are a great complement to your self-study with books, CDs, online courses, etc.
At a beginning/intermediate level, community tutors are patient and can explain basic grammar and teach new vocabulary. They are paid tutors, but their prices tend to be less expensive than the cost of a professional teacher.
The range of prices for both community tutors and professional teachers varies greatly by the language you’re learning and where the teacher lives. The cost of living is much higher in European countries than many Asian and Latin American countries.
My 1/2 hour sessions with German tutors typically cost $7-12, while a 1/2 hour with a Spanish teacher may only cost $4-7. Tutors and teachers set their own prices, so there is a wide range.
Again, don’t be afraid to try out several tutors and have a few that you work with on a regular basis. It’s good to converse with a variety of people. Many tutors and teachers offer a trial session at a reduced rate.
If you thrive on a more structured learning environment or at an intermediate/advanced level and need in-depth explanations of more complicated grammar, professional teachers are the best choice.
Professional teachers have a degree in teaching a language and create structured lessons using textbooks, videos, listening exercises, as well as practicing conversation. They often give homework assignments between lessons.
Once I reached a B1 level of German (go here for an explanation of language levels), I started taking lessons with a professional teacher who could help me understand some of the more complicated grammar.
I am also trying out Spanish lessons with a professional teacher to see if I progress more quickly by adding professional lessons on top of the studying I’m doing on my own.
Prices differences are even more varied among professional teachers. I’ve seen prices from $8 an hour to $40 an hour, depending on the language. A 1/2 hour with my German teacher costs $10, but I pay $9 for an entire hour with my teacher from Venezuela.
When you’re setting your next round of goals, consider working toward learning a second language.
It’s so much fun learning about other cultures and being able to communicate with people from around the world. In the last month, I’ve talked to people from Germany, Austria, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico – without leaving my office.
When you’re ready to sign up to try Italki, click here – you’ll get a free $10 credit right away to start learning your new language!
If you’re learning a language, let me know which one in the comments! Share your favorite resources. If you’re not learning a language yet, which would you like to learn?