italki has played a huge role in my life over the previous 2 years. Earning money as an English Community Tutor online enabled me to have a lot of freedom as a college student. I was able to carry the job with me when I moved to Houston to pursue my master’s degree as well as on my long stays in Brazil.
It’s a great platform not only for students but also for teachers and tutors. However, in this article I want to focus on how it played an enormous role in my language studies as a student.
Conversation practice is the hardest thing to come by in language learning. It’s not like reading or watching a video on YouTube. You need to find someone else that you can depend on to help you improve your speaking.
I’ve never been fond of language exchanges as it’s easy for one person to take advantage of the other. One could insist that they need to focus on their target language in their first language exchange because they have an important meeting in the language the next day then simply never practice with their partner afterwards.
This is the type of story that I often hear from my students and people online in general.
Although I think this could often be overcome by setting some clear rules before you call your language partner. For instance, establishing what language you’ll practice the first and last 30 minutes of the call, assuming it’s an hour long.
Regardless, this process is simplified by finding a tutor or teacher to practice conversation with on italki. Prices per hour can be as low as $4. The average price of a good tutor, however, can vary largely depending on the target language as well as where the tutor is from as a result of student accent preferences.
Good affordable German tutors can be found at $12 per hour while you could expect to pay a Portuguese tutor from Brazil $8.
I’ve had excellent tutors from Brazil that charged as low as $4 per hour, at this price, however, it can be hit or miss. These prices pertain to tutors, a teacher that can provide you with structured lessons will likely cost you more, but it’s not guaranteed as the pricing is largely at the discretion of the teacher or tutor.
My first experience taking a lesson on italki was rough to put it lightly. I had taken German courses at my university for several years but, like many language learners that turned to italki, did not have a lot of speaking practice. I fumbled my entire way through the 30-minute trial lesson trying to communicate. My tutor was nonetheless patient and despite my difficulties it was a positive experience.
Over the coming months, from August 2018 to March 2019, I continued taking occasional informal lessons, using them as an opportunity to improve my speaking. During that time, I began learning Portuguese. My first experiences on italki with Portuguese were more so structured lessons than conversation practice.
I had started studying Portuguese in December 2018 but had a trip to Brazil scheduled for March 2019. As a result, I began lessons less than a month after I began studying and slowly worked my way into “conversation” over several months. It was probably not for a full year that I was able to communicate with a certain confidence.
In November of this year, as I was leaving Brazil, I kindly interrupted two gate agents in Portuguese at the airport while I was checking my bags to make a correction to something they were saying about my flight. These are the kinds of moments in language learning that are most rewarding. What made this one even better was that despite being able to speak English they responded to my comment in Portuguese.
Spending time in Brazil, no doubt, played a huge role in allowing me to reach such a high proficiency in the language. Being in the country put me in vulnerable positions that required me to speak and make mistakes in Portuguese, but italki played a crucial role even while I was living in the country. Taking informal lessons on the application allowed me to build positive experiences speaking and to improve my mechanics as well; pronunciation, word choice, etc.
There has been one thing that has been hands down the biggest key to my success and that’s a willingness to speak. I often see people on reddit asking for advice on how to not freeze up when they have an opportunity to speak and there simply isn’t any good advice for this question. You need to take advantage of the opportunity because you’re never going to become proficient attempting to say the perfect sentence every opportunity you get to speak.
Although I wouldn’t say italki is necessary, it’s a gateway towards being more willing to engage in conversation when you have the opportunity in the real world. This is important because in the real-world people often won’t give you the patience that’s necessary for you to improve, especially when you’re a native English speaker.
It is nonetheless great to have the worlds lingua franca as your native language but for language learners it can be frustrating. Even in a country like Brazil where fluent English speakers are more difficult to find, I often found myself forcing a conversation in Portuguese because those who want to practice will revert to English. I found this to be even more so the case in Germany where it seemed like everyone under the age of 30 could make some degree of conversation with you in English.
For American people in particular, I think it’s easy to be self-conscious about being rude or condescending because of stereotypes that hover over us while we’re abroad. However, sometimes you have to be a little pushy if you want to connect with someone in a foreign language. Foreigners often want to practice their English, as I said above, and, as I often feel is the case, they are skeptical about you being able to speak their language in some countries.
To wrap up this article I want to give a few tips for those that want to get more out of their conversation practice, be it with italki or another platform.
The first thing is having realistic expectations about what your tutor is there for. Conversation practice is more so about learning to use the knowledge that you have learned through input.
The second thing is being prepared. This could mean doing nothing before the lesson, but unless your tutor advertises some means of structure for the lesson don’t expect anything more.
Personally, I have a lot of students that have had a lot of success just making small talk with me on a weekly basis. If you’re not the chatty type but want to practice casual conversation, then look for a tutor that has conversation questions prepared or have some ready for the lesson yourself.
You can find conversation questions for English on my website at languagelearner.blog/english-conversation-questions.
The last thing is something that I’ve already addressed, being willing to speak! Or better yet come to the lesson excited to talk about something that’s happening in your life or a topic in the news that caught your attention.
If you’re interested in booking a lesson with me, you can find my italki profile here.