Author Archives: Ivan

italki Language Challenges: Here’s the Backstory

May 29th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off on italki Language Challenges: Here’s the Backstory)

The original concept behind the Language Challenge was based on two key ideas: a city marathon, and a smart incentive scheme.

Similar to a city marathon, the Language Challenge brings language learners to socially “train” together to achieve a defined goal. The social element turns the challenge into a public event, and helps the participants encourage each other to complete the challenge.

“Having a defined goal, such as taking 12 lessons, is crucial for focus. In language learning, it’s not easy to set a goal because progress is not easy to quantify, and there is always more room to improve.”

– Kevin Chen, co-founder of italki

The other idea was to offer a reward to people who achieve their goals, and to have the reward funded by the people who fail to achieve them. This concept was inspired by experimental gyms that were testing new payment models, such as charging higher membership fees for people who failed to go to the gym regularly.¹

The first Language Challenge was held in 2012, and the June 2015 challenge is the 10th in the series. The number of challengers has increased in almost every challenge, and over a thousand challengers are expected to participate in June. The Language Challenge attracts learners from all around the world, and many celebrity polyglots and language enthusiasts have participated in previous challenges.

How it works:

Participants pay an entry fee of $10 to join the Language Challenge.  If the challenger completes 12 hours of lessons with an italki teacher within the month of June, they will receive a reward of $30 in italki credits. italki credits are used for 1-on-1 online classes with professional native-speaker teachers.

You still have time to sign up!

And if you want some inspiration for your language-learning in June, head over here:


  1. See the theory behind for “Incentives to Exercise”, Gary Charness(UC Santa Barbara), Uri Gneezy (UC San Diego)

Thanks to all the great people at The Polyglot Gathering in Berlin

May 18th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event - (Comments Off on Thanks to all the great people at The Polyglot Gathering in Berlin)


From April 30th to May 4th, hundreds of language enthusiasts gathered in Berlin to share in their passion for languages, swap tricks of learning new languages quickly and efficiently. 

Kevin Chen, CEO and Co-founder of italki shares his experience:

Being based in Shanghai, we unfortunately don’t get that many opportunities to meet many of our users face-to-face. This is one of the reasons why I was so impressed and inspired by the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin.  Imagine being surrounded by hundreds of people who love learning languages, and who want to make real human connections with people around the world.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 10.22.30 AM

Here are just a few highlights:


  • Speaking with Judith Meyer, the main organizer of the Polyglot Conference.  In addition to managing a great event, she is an amazing polyglot.  I was afraid to test her debate skills in Chinese.
  • Learning more about Benny Lewis and his personal journey.  We’ve known Benny for a long time (he visited us in Shanghai in 2012!), and his message is always so positive.  Being a successful language learner is all about the desire, and an open-minded willingness to try learning in a different way.
  • Meeting Olly Richards and learning more about his personal experiences in learning Arabic in Egypt.  His feedback on Arabic is already helping us at italki.
  • Meeting Richard Simcotts and hearing him speak about what it means to be a polyglot.  He’ll also be co-organizing the Polyglot Conference, which is coming up in October.
  • Getting a taste of the life of an interpreter from Lydia Machová.  For a laugh, ask her about her experiences interpreting for hallucinating shamans and European tourists.
  • Meeting Ulysses Hsiúng-Lúo and getting his unique perspective on the world.
  • Being impressed by Vladimir Skultety, a Slovak whose American accent and amazing Chinese would allow him to pass as a native of either place.

Getting advice from Michael Levi Harris, a polyglot actor who spoke about how actors practice sounding like native speakers.  Check out his hilarious short film (based on his real experiences in New York), The Hyperglot.

I also have to make a special mention of the italki teachers that I met — Alina, Lea, and Shauna!  I know there are others who attended, and I wish I had had more time to meet everyone.


I met so many great people, and this post would go on forever if I tried to list them all.

The whole experience made a strong impression on me, and it fired up my desire to start studying again.  I considered starting Esperanto, partly based on my conversation with Chuck Smith and Katerine Berone-Adesi from the Esperanto community.  However, I want to make one more push at improving my Chinese.  (I’m thinking I will take the pledge in the next italki Challenge in June.)

Once again, if you have never heard of the Polyglot Gathering, I really recommend going.  You’ll meet fascinating people, and be inspired to start or restart learning a language.  At italki, we believe the future of education is moving in this direction — people will be driven by their passions and by a desire to understand the world.  We hope that italki can continue to be an important part of this movement!



Congratulations, winners of the italki October challenge!

challenge_logo201409This event was record-breaking in italki history, with the highest number of participants ever!

This was a short and intense challenge, where we asked you if you could have 12 hours of language learning in the space of just one month. A huge number of you have taken up the challenge.

In all, over 53% of the participants have completed the October challenge.

Of the total number of participants, 2.6% were professional teachers, and 9.6% were community tutors.

How did the language education professionals match up?

You’d be surprised to know that more community tutors have completed the challenge than professional teachers did! Whereas the professional teachers had a rate of 50% (right around the overall average completion percentage of 53%), the community tutors have completed the challenge at the rate of 58%! Congratulations! That is impressive.

The challenge included people from countries all over the world, learning languages like Cebuano, Afrikaans, Catalan, Hebrew, Polish, and dozens of others. Many languages had only a handful dedicated students, and often these language groups had a challenge completion rate of 100%.

The most popular languages studied in the October challenge:

  1. English: 23.24% of the participants took most of their sessions to learn English
  2. Spanish:    16.70%
  3. French:        7.85%
  4. Chinese:      7.04%
  5. Russian:      5.43%
  6. Japanese:    4.73%
  7. German:       4,33%
  8. Italian:          4.23%
  9. Korean:         2.52%
  10. Portuguese:  2.52%

We have also learned how important social encouragement is in any difficult undertaking:

Posting a Public Video Pledge Really Helps!


Of those who have posted a public video pledge, 83%  completed the challenge. We had a lot of challengers who made one here and here and here as well.

Even if some didn’t quite make it, a huge 93% have completed at least 6 hours of language instruction during the month of October.


Congratulations, everyone!

We are still finalizing results, and will be sending out an e-mail to the winners soon.

In the meantime, should you have any issues, questions, or concerns – please write to us:

Check out this handy infographic for the World Cup Challenge Wrap-up:

World Cup Infographic Final-01

Click me to read the World Cup Language Challenge insights!

The second learning challenge of 2014 has finally finished, and we daresay has brought us some interesting insights about learning a language, as well as a bit about the italki community. This has been the biggest challenge by far, with hundreds of students participating.language_challenge_2014worldcup

  • The overall challenge completion rate was 53%. Over half of you have passed the goal of 25 hoursof language-learning in two months.
  • What is even  more remarkable, 23% of the participants have done more than 30 hours of classes during the challenge.

One notable thing that we learned through this challenge: telling your friends, neighbors, anonymous YouTubers and the italki community about your commitment greatly increases the likelihood of you achieving your goals:

  • Of our pledge video participants a whopping 62.5% have completed the challenge
  • 26.2% have completed over 30 hours

A few of the participants went astronomically above and beyond the challenge, with top-3 students having completed:

  • 87.5 hours (from U.K. – studying French and Italian)
  • 87.8 hours (from Spain – studying English)
  • 92 hours (originally from Mexico, now living in the U.S. – studying Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese)