This is your brain on “Thank You”

November 26th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in tips | Writing - (0 Comments)

This is not a post about Thanksgiving, it is about Giving Thanks. 

Though the Thanksgiving holiday itself is very U.S.-centric, the concept of the importance of gratitude is universal. Since the mid 90s, the concept of gratitude has captured the attention of researchers in the fields of psychology, especially positive psychology, and neuroscience.


The strongest pattern emerging from the study of gratitude is somewhat surprising: although expressing gratitude often means thanking someone else, the real benefit of feeling and expressing gratitude is gained by the person expressing gratitude. Even when expressed to no one in particular, expression of gratitude has some real and measurable benefits.

Among the benefits described by academic studies of the subject are increased happiness, better connections with others, and general improvement of one’s relationships.

Expressing gratitude routinely trains the brain to find reasons to be grateful, and trains the brain to feel happy about positive experiences. In fact, the field of neuroscience generally sees habitual practice of feeling, acknowledging, and expressing gratitude as a great shortcut to happiness, productivity, and connectedness.

As a company that is based almost entirely on connecting people, we believe strongly that the practice of gratitude, and the benefits of expressing gratitude in everyday life are worth celebrating.

So, we would like to say:

Thank You

To all our wonderful users, students, teachers, and tutors: we want to express the immense amount of gratitude we feel seeing the development of our community. This Thanksgiving, we are deeply grateful for all the people donating their time to others by correcting notebooks, writing articles, sharing their experiences in the community discussions, and dedicating the time and effort for learning foreign language from each other, often from opposite sides of the world. We are grateful to see the meaning our effort can take on for those who want to understand speakers of other languages, and willing to dedicate their time and energy to help the online language-learning ecosystem grow and develop.

We are glad to express this idea, and hope that you will find many ways to express it, and many people to whom you want to show your gratitude.

A common practice recommended by positive psychology is of gratitude journaling. Picking a certain time of the day to do a simple mindful practice of finding reasons to be grateful helps make the habit part of one’s life. This kind of continuous practice is familiar to all language-learners.

Imagine how hard it would be to learn a language if you simply spent one day each year binging on foreign-language material, and lived the rest of the year unconcerned with your practice. As with gratitude, language learning is a continuous practice of small, but intentional steps towards a goal, a better understanding, and better connection to others.

On this Thanksgiving holiday, and in light of this idea of continuous improvement and practice, we would like to share this article about Thanksgiving written by a Lakota columnist for the Guardian.

And, of course, we’d like to encourage you to say “thank you” to someone today, in whatever language you want to pick.


Works Cited:

Harvard Medical School: Harvard Mental Health Letter

Psychology Today: The Grateful Brain

US National Library Of Medicine: Gratitude and Well Being


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The Hyperglot and “Hakuna Matata” 

November 19th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in italki Team | tips - (0 Comments)

There are many movies celebrating very particular hobbies. From surfing to stamp collecting, cinema illustrates the thrill of hobbies that capture our obsessions and imaginations.

What, then, about our favorite obsession: learning languages? Though there are plenty of actors who speak multiple languages, and quite a few movies where they switch fluidly among and between spoken languages, it is hard to identify a film that is about language-learning as a hobby.

Enter “The Hyperglot”, a 2013 short film celebrating the self-directed language learner. The story is simple: a talented, self-directed learner of languages in New York City is looking for connection. Switching fluidly among languages, he actually finds a greater degree of understanding from those UN-like him in speakers of languages from all corners of the world.

All of his interactions are with people who would otherwise be passers-by. Instead of leading separate lives intersecting only in time and space, our hero finds real connection with the people and linguistic worlds around him.

After the screening of this film at the NY Polyglot Conference 2015, the italki team decided to get together on a Thursday night, and watch it with a few friends. After the 25 minutes it took to watch the film, the mood of the room had changed. There is something magical about seeing one’s obsession affirmed in a work of art. The conversation among us became lively, excited. Various hidden language talents of the room burst forth and bloomed among us. We even decided to have a small language challenge of our own, to memorize “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King in a language we have not studied before. The choices ranged from Chinese to Icelandic, and we are sure to see some hilarious renditions of this song by italki staff on our instagram feed soon.

The bigger insight from this italki activity is this: language learning is a fundamentally community-oriented exercise. In the same way that we we build community around our passions in a local context, creation of art and media like “The Hyperglot” film provides additional motivation from inspiration and a feeling of partaking in a larger, more global experience. Learning foreign languages in isolation is self-contradictory, as language is the medium of connection and interaction.

Having our passions affirmed by our own “tribes” and communities helps us stick to the work involved in achieving our language goals, not just because of accountability, but because of the real rewards that come from interacting within and belonging to a group of friends. The presence of media dedicated to our passions helps us feel this on an even greater scale, and inspires us to dream and to succeed.

The trick to staying motivated, then, is surrounding ourselves with those who share our passion, as well as seeking out those inspiring works of art that celebrate and affirm our belief that our passion is worth pursuing.

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Check out Videos of Students Who Completed the October 2015 Language Challenge!

So, first of all we would like to thank everyone of you who have joined the October 2015 Language Challenge. Whatever your reasons of learning languages, we hope that by doing this challenge you will have a consistent language learning habit throughout 2015!

Here are some of the best videos that we received for this challenge:

Alex Barnes from United Kingdom completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning German!

In July Alex already did italki language challenge in Chinese and this time he would like to do it in German. He studied Chinese and German at University in England but last year he was in China, so he has forgotten a lot of German. Alex has no particular goals but he wants to improve his pronunciation and accent and to be a bit more fluent when he talks. He has finished his October Language Challenge.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:


Alex Gureev from Russia completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning English!

He decided for this Language Challenge to improve his English skills.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:


Blair from the United States completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning Dutch!

Blair wants to improve his target language that is Dutch.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:


Israel from China completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning Swedish!

Israel decided to learn Swedish because he is leaving in Sweden right now! He has finished his italki October Language Challenge!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:


Helga from Russia completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning Italian!

Helga was going to learn Italian. She speaks Italian quiet well but she was so struggle with propositions, articles and talking about the past.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:


Jesper from Denmark completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning Japanese!

Jesper has just completed the italki October Language Challenge where he was studying Japanese!

And here is the video after challenge:


Pierre Bredel from Brazil completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning English!

Pierre is learning English. This was his fifth italki Language Challenge.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:


Zeeshan from the United States completed October 2015 Language Challenge learning Spanish!

Zeeshan is learning Spanish. This time he was going to a continue practice in his Spanish because he wanted to achieve a really high level. His goal is to able to sustain high level conversations and more advanced topics such as global warming or alternative energies.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:


We really do hope that after the challenge you will not stop learning languages. We hope that this challenge gives you that extra push to keep learning languages throughout the year!


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2015 October italki Challenge Winners – Send us your After Video and earn an extra 50 ITC!

November 9th, 2015 | Posted by Iker in announcement | feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off on 2015 October italki Challenge Winners – Send us your After Video and earn an extra 50 ITC!)

We finished the 2015 October italki Language Challenge! 6 hours of italki lessons in October!

Even though this was only 6 hours, completing the Challenge was definitely hard!  A few of us at italki took the Challenge and here are our results!

Marketa learning Chinese Completed!
Roman learning Japanese Completed!

We just did some calculations and found out that a whopping 94% of Challengers who submitted a Public Video Pledge for the October Challenge actually completed the Challenge!

In italki tradition, we’re awarding 50ITC as bonus for an after video.  Below is Marketa’s AFTER Video for Chinese!

Marketa’s AFTER Video for Chinese

Join us by making your very own AFTER video!

If you won the Challenge, here’s your chance to show off your Challenge achievements in a video. Not only that, but we’ll be rewarding you with an additional 50 ITC! 

Here are some ideas of what you can include in your video:

Show off your improvement in the language you were learning

  • Introduce yourself and tell us what language(s) you were learning for the Challenge
  • Tell us about your italki teacher(s). What did you like about them?
  • What did you learn about learning a new language after completing the Challenge?
  • Do you have any advice for people who are thinking of taking the Challenge in the future?

Label the video: “(italki username) completed the italki Language Challenge October 2015!”

Write a Notebook Entry “I completed the italki Language Challenge October 2015″ and paste the YouTube/Youku URL.

Send the link to your notebook entry to support(at) and we will send you a 50 ITC voucher straight away!

And we leave you with some last words from Marketa:

“October has come to an end and so has the italki Language Challenge. It is the first event of this kind that I have ever attempted, but I already know it will not be the last one. The Challenge helped me realise that having set a clear goal and telling both my friends and colleagues about it made Chinese learning more fun, and helped me speed up my progress. I simply could not fail with this many people supporting me and asking about my improvement!

I cannot tell how much my spoken Chinese has actually improved, but the feedback I received was positive and inspiring. The main reason I signed up for the challenge was to become a more confident speaker and that, I believe, worked out well.”

Congrats to everyone and see you at the next Challenge!


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NYC Polyglot Conference 2015 – A Few Thoughts on #PCNYC15

November 5th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | italki Team | Motivation - (Comments Off on NYC Polyglot Conference 2015 – A Few Thoughts on #PCNYC15)


“What’s in a name?” – William Shakespeare.

On October 10th and 11th the largest polyglot conference yet took place in New York City. The event saw the coming together of 400+ polyglots, and some of the most influential speakers in the field of foreign language education and linguistics. The speaker line-up was star-studded, with talks delivered by John McWorter, Loraine Obler, Barry Farber, and other celebrity scholars, linguists, and polyglots. The talks covered diverse topics from finding work through your passion for language to historical linguistics.

When discussing this event with others, the question that inevitably arises is, “What, or who, is a polyglot?”

So many languages, so little time

A traditional definition of a polyglot is a “person who speaks, writes, or reads multiple languages”. This definition does not quite capture what those attending the Polyglot Conference seem to mean when referring to “the polyglot community”. In becoming a community, the word itself gains a special, distinct meaning.

There are many reasons why one may speak several languages, including upbringing, education, extended family or friends. We collect languages and bits of languages in environments where multiple languages are present. Growing up in multiple countries will very likely to result in someone who at least “speaks a little bit of X, Y, and Z”. Depending on the particular situation and circumstance, a person can grow up perfectly quadrilingual without much conscious effort or significant notice of the linguistic feat.

Attempts to define “polyglot” begs the answer to yet another question: what does it mean to ”speak” a language?

The range of “speaking”, so often designated as “fluency” can be hard to pin down. Designation through a system of proficiency levels (A1 – C2) can also break down. There are, technically, no Esperanto speakers at a C2 level (as the test for the C2 level does not exist), though there are, of course, plenty of fluent and native speakers of Esperanto.

In addition, language is not a perfectly testable skill, and varies with domain specificity. A native fluent speaker of English, for example, would still have trouble comprehending a lecture on human anatomy. Speaking “doctor” and speaking “English” are different skills. Though both are contained within the umbrella designation of “English”, listening to an intense, specialized conversation between doctors can be as incomprehensible to an average English speaker, as listening to a conversation in Farsi or Afrikaans.

The city of New York is teeming with languages. The language landscape of the city is at a rolling boil. Pockets of language communities are everywhere, and though most people speak English, having a 2nd or a 3rd language is entirely unsurprising. If anything, single-language speakers may be in the minority here. The old joke goes “a person speaking 3 languages is trilingual, two – bilingual, and one – and American. New York defies this stereotype.

There is, however, a difference between the polyglot population of New York (or any other place in the world) and the sort of polyglots that willingly cross states, countries, and oceans in order to attend the conference.The people that came together to spend a weekend celebrating language are actively seeking out exposure, continuously learning and exposing themselves to the fear and vulnerability of making mistakes, being uncomfortable, and saying the wrong thing. While many of those in attendance can be quite shy this tolerance for vulnerability is inspiring.

This attitude, this purposeful vulnerability, is something that seems to tie the community together. Seeking out a new environment, a new perspective, a new door of perception through which to connect with others: that is a polyglot. In this sense, a polyglot is someone who actively seeks perspective and connection through the eyes of a speaker of a different language.

What the Polyglot Conference atmosphere has achieved a sense of community, of curiosity, and of support for learning. italki is extremely proud of sponsoring and participating this event, and hope that the speakers and participants, as well as italki students and teachers, will carry this open-minded, can-do attitude into the world.

Our favorite summary of the experience comes from Siskia Lagomarsino, also known as “The Polyglotist”:

“From what I saw this week, the “polyglot community” has grown beyond the definition of a polyglot being a person who speaks more than two languages: it is now a denomination for anybody who loves languages in general, without foolish distinctions based on ability, work or number of languages. “

We are excited to be part of this community, and truly look forward to meeting again in Thessaloniki 2016.


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