Author Archives: Jim

Italki Challenge: The Game Is On

January 28th, 2015 | Posted by Jim in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off)

Teddy Nee runs a popular language learning blog called Nee’s Language Blog. He’s also taking the 2015 New Year’s Language Challenge and is making regular updates on goal to learn Portuguese for the Challenge. Reposted with permission. Original post here.

Italki Challenge: The Game Is On

English: Flag of Portuguese language of Portug...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been one week after the challenge started and I have taken four classes so far. It was a bit off schedule but hopefully, I can manage to do more classes on the following weeks.

My target language in this challenge is Portuguese, just general Portuguese, means that I do not specify the target for any certain kind of Portuguese (as what we have known, there are Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese from Portugal)

My reason is that because I have known Spanish and I have actually started reading about Portuguese before Italki Challenge. In that case, I thought it might be better to learn another Romance language since I have known one of them.

Quick tips:
As a rule of thumb, learning a language from the same language family with the language(s) that you have known saves much time and effort, since you might have known a large amount of the language traits even before learning it.

Class Tutor and Learning Material

I plan to have as minimum as four classes per week, with one hour per class session, in order to reach the target of 20 hours between January 15th and February 28th. I have an 8-5 job from Monday to Friday, so the only time I have for learning language is after dinner.

I found a tutor from Portugal named Sophia, who I have known before Italki Challenge. She has taught 85 students from around the world and has completed more than 190 class sessions. Apart from Portuguese, she is also teaching Spanish, Galician, andMirandese.

We talk only in Portuguese during the class although it is not that easy to understand even though I have known Spanish, due to its pronunciation. However, I find it easier to understand written text, sometimes with the help of dictionary.

My main goal is to improve grammatical and conversational skill, as well as to learn about the differences among different kinds of Portuguese language. And since my tutor is from Portugal, I am also interested to know more about the country and its culture.

English: map showing CPLP member countries. Es...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Final Thoughts

Learning is a lifetime process, one cannot excel in only a fortnight. Thus, I also practice the language by myself outside of the class continuously.

Most of the time, I listen to Portuguese songs or radio broadcasts while doing things, or even working. My job requires me to sit in front of computer the whole day, so I am much benefited by this condition.

Other than that, I also like to read articles about language learning, business, technology, or sociocultural related topics and I try my best to also read in Portuguese. Basically, I am including foreign language into my daily chores.

Are you also participating Italki Challenge? Share your progress with me in the comment.


How to take your italki tutoring to the next level

January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Jim in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off)

Chris Broholm runs a great blog called Actual Fluency. It’s his way to research language learning but most importantly it is a way to tell the world that ANYONE CAN LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE. He’s currently taking the italki 2015 New Year’s Language Challenge to learn Russian and shared this great post that will help anyone taking the challenge or learning a new language. Original post here.

How to take your iTalki tutoring to the next level

In this post I’ll share a few ways you can take your iTalki tutoring to the next level, as well as give you an update on my Russian mission and iTalki New Year’s challenge.

I’m currently 2.5 hours into my iTalki New Year’s Challenge to complete 20 hours of language tutoring in just 45 days. You can still join the challenge, but be quick as registration ends January 31st.

The iTalki New Year’s challenge is going strong, and I’m really enjoying getting daily lessons. In today’s post I thought I’d give you an idea how my tutoring experience has evolved and also share some of the things I have found to be working really great. I’ll also share an actual recording from a recent session. You can hear me struggle, stumble and pause as I desperately try to speak Russian.

In the second section of the post I will answer some questions that was written to me using the contact page. If you have any question about language learning, you are more than welcome to do the same!

What’s changed in my tutoring

Lenght of sessions

A lot has changed in my tutoring since I began in autumn last year. First I discovered that 60 minute lessons were simply too long. After just 40 minutes my brain would begin to feel ready to explode, after having frantically searched every available cell for Russian words. By 50 minutes I could hardly say a thing, and by 60 minutes I was fried.

I’m sure this is different from person to person, but after I switched to half-sessions twice as often I feel way better. 30 minutes seems like a perfect length for me but also for the kind of discussion I usually have with my teacher.

Speed of the language

After my extended break from Russian studies over the Christmas period I told my tutor that my goals for the iTalki Challenge would be to speak better and also be able to understand radio and television. I also asked if we could speed up the language a bit. Up until now she had been speaking very slowly, which was fantastic when I just started, but as I grew stronger in the language it was time to let go of the crutches!

Now she speaks a lot faster. Nowhere near native-like speed, but a lot faster than last year. I can only recommend that you re-evaluate your goals with your tutor on a frequent basis. Also make sure to let him/her know if you have specific goals, so he/she can plan the sessions.

A clearer goal

My tutoring sessions last year were great, don’t get me wrong. But they lacked the direction I was looking for, simply because I hadn’t told my tutor exactly what I wanted. I was being lazy and simply left it to her to plan each lesson.

Since I stepped up and asked my tutor to focus on the spoken language we’ve started working with Russian tv-shows. And man, is it challenging. They speak SO fast! The first show she had me watch, I literally struggled to understand 1 in 10 words. It’s getting better now with more and more exposure, but most importantly is that we work based on the episodes.

She gives me questions for a section of an episode and because this is my chosen goal, I work much harder to prepare for each session. Looking up words and preparing sentences. I didn’t do this last year.

Often we don’t quite cover the questions because we often go off on tangents related to culture and other normal conversation topics. This makes me extremely confident that I’m on the right path towards conversational fluency.

Listen to me in action!

Here’s a brand-new tutoring session I had with my tutor this week.

We were discussing this episode:

Reader questions about tutoring

These came in recently from a user, submitted via the contact page. You are always welcome to send me a message as well! I read every one of them.

Do you recommend your tutor?

My tutor Anastasia is fantastic. She has endless amounts of patience and has a lot of experience in tutoring on iTalki. You can count on her to prepare interesting materials before every lesson, and she always replied to my questions over Skype outside of lessons as well.

She’s also great at adapting the lessons for my needs, as I explained above. On top of all her fee is very reasonable.

What do you look for, when choosing a tutor on iTalki?

The best indicator for me would be the user reviews tied to the teacher profile. Go in there and see the scores and also if students left actual text reviews. Although iTalki gives the students the option to leave a written review at the end of a session, most are too lazy to do it. So if you see good reviews across the board, it usually means the teacher is doing well.

Experience with other languages, amount of lessons he/she has taught as well as diplomas are other indicators to look for when making your decision. Ultimately though it comes down to trial and error. Just because Anastasia works great for me, doesn’t mean that she is the best fit for you. iTalki offers you 3 trial lessons, which are discounted lessons so you can try out different tutors before you hire one for real.

How often (and for how long) do you think one should take lessons there?

As often as possible! Depending on your budget, schedule and goals in the language. I would just go for as many as that combination allows. My feeling is that you should aim to get at the VERY least a lesson per fortnight, but the more the better.

You can’t take too many lessons. But I believe there is definitely a correlation between the quality of tutoring related to how far apart the lessons are, meaning that the longer you wait in between lessons, the more likely it is that you have forgotten things that you could have potentially refreshed, had you had a tutoring session earlier.

Also by having more frequent lessons your general language learning is more focused, and you are more motivated because you are working towards a tangiable, upcoming goal.

That’s it! 2.5 hours down, 17.5 hours to go!

I hope you enjoyed my post on tutoring. For more information on the topic I highly suggest Benny Lewis’ extensive article on it here: How to find the right teacher for online language lessons.

How is your iTalki challenge going? Let me know in the comments below!

One of our italki Language Challengers, Anil Polat runs a self-travel blog called foXnoMad.  He’s been taking sessions even before the Challenge and is already at 6 weeks where he began Arabic with absolutely no ability.  For our Challengers, this is something that you can expect after you complete the Challenge!  He only did 19 hours so far (at 6 weeks) but it’s pretty close.  Reprinted with permission. Original article here.

By The Numbers: What My Arabic Lessons With italki Look Like After 6 Weeks

craiova romania

At the beginning of December, I began a 3 month project with the language learning site italki with the goal to be conversationally fluent in Arabic. Having now completed a third of the way, here are the raw numbers on my progress and what I’ve learned so far.

19: Number Of Course Hours

I’m taking roughly 5 hours of lessons a week, once per weekday. (I’ve tried two hours sessions but after 60 minutes I begin to lose focus.)

100%: Percentage Of Arabic Script I Can Read And Write

Although it was intimidating at first, I can comfortably read Arabic script as well as write by phonetically sounding out words.

nick miller

2: Number Of Instructors

I spent some time trying out several teachers to get an idea of styles as well as evaluate which might be the best fit for me personally. I eventually fell into a good routine with two particular instructors whose structured lesson plans I’m benefiting from greatly.

1910: italki Credits Used

That would be the equivalent of about $190 for courses so far. Although every instructor sets their own rates, almost all seem to fall into the 120 italki credit (~$12 USD) range. Here’s a bit more on how italki works exactly.

university hall

At Least 100: Words Learned

This one’s hard to quantify but it has to be at least one hundred, not including various common phrases as well.

Where I’m At Right Now

At this point I can conjugate verbs in the past tense from memory and know many of these essential travel word combinations. In a relatively short time, I’ve picked up the structure of Arabic: the rules and grammar which make the language work. Early on I wasn’t sure if laying down this foundation first (prior to speaking skills) would be efficient but the thorough italki instructors have proved me otherwise.

I’ll keep you updated with my weekly progress. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below about the italki process, specifics of what I’m learning, or any tips you might have to make me a better student!

New Year’s Language Challenge Video Pledges (Part IV)

January 19th, 2015 | Posted by Jim in Language Challenge | Motivation | promotion - (Comments Off)

See Who’s Taking this Year’s Challenge – Page 4!

If you are taking this year’s challenge we’re giving away 50 free ITC if you make a video challenge pledge.Life Hacks research has shown that if you put yourself up to something by doing it in public, you follow through because others are watching.  So use peer pressure to your advantage!  So help out your fellow language learners participating in the challenge!  Leave them words of encouragement on their notebook entries!  And don’t forget to sign up for yourself, and get 2015 of to a great start!

This is the second blog listing of New Year’s Language Challenge Video Pledges.  Watch the videos from the previous posts below. We’ve had so many that it’s better to just make multiple posts so they don’t get too long!

This is our 4th page of Public Video Posts! We love that so many of you are willing to make that extra commitment (and earn a bonus 50ITC)!

Part I Here
Part II Here
Part III Here

seven.seagulls  from Ireland is learning Chinese
seven.seagulls (whose real name is Alex) is learning Chinese. She’s actually taking part in another Challenge called the #Add1Challenge and is taking part in the New Year’s Challenge as well! All that matters is that she reach her goal in improving her Chinese. We like Alex makes some very practical and very achievable goals. For example, one of her goals is to be able to order food in Chinese at the Chinese restaurant. You can cheer her on here.


Nildo  from Brazil is learning English
Nildo really wants to improve his English skills. His goal is to be able to have a conversation with his American friends and tutors on italki. He also wants to focus on his confidence. Please send him some words of encouragement in his notebook entry here.


Paulo Ribeiro  from Brazil is learning English
Paulo Riberio is also from Brazil and also is taking the challenge to improve his English. He’s been studying English for his entire life and he really wants to get rid of his accent or at least improve his fluency. He also really wants to get rid of his stuttering. Let’s wish him the best by commenting on his notebook entry here.


Pawel  from Poland is learning Dutch
Pawel really wants to improve his Dutch as he is now living in Beglium and wants to be able to use it to speak with his co-workers. He’s completing a research internship there and has always had a strong love for language learning. Wish him the best by commenting on his notebook entry here.

Click here to watch his video on Youtube


daisu saikoro  from the United States is learning Chinese
daisu saikoro has been to China very recently and is determined to learn Chinese in 2015. He’s also looking for some help. If you can send him an italki gift card, he’d really appreciate it as he feels the Challenge is going to be a bit difficult as he’s also taking care of his great grandmother who is very sick. Please wish daisu saikoro the best by commenting on his notebook entry here.


My New Year Language Challenge: Totalmente Italiano

January 16th, 2015 | Posted by Jim in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off)

The following post originally appeared on Fluent, a great language learning blog written by Kerstin Hammes. Reposted with permission. Click here for the original post.


Now that the new year has begun, I bet you’re feeling fired up to take more language lessons, spend more time studying and set all kinds of new goals. And as a language tutor, you know where I stand on the issue: You should at try working with a 1-to-1 tutor. Good language teachers are the ultimate key to unlocking language learning.

While italki is certainly not the only place for you to find a good tutor, they are definitely one of the most encouraging. For 2015, italki is relaunching the Language Challenge. Sadly I’m too busy to get involved this time, but I’ve found a fearless roving reporter in my friend Tanja. Tanja is taking the Challenge and reporting on her Italian learning progress here on Fluent, and hopefully you’ll feel encouraged and get involved in the Challenge too. You can read more below and sign up until Jan 31st.


Something New – Learning to be Fluent

My name is Tanja, and I have loved languages ever since my very first English lesson, aged 10, but sadly never turned into a “polyglot”. At school, I also took French and Latin while trying, at the same time, to teach myself Spanish at home, with tapes and a book (yes, tapes). At uni, I finally did an intensive Spanish course, followed up by a fairly advanced course in Girona. Ever since, I have been trying to boost my French and Spanish skills, to no great avail. My main achievement is that I own a lot of books in the languages. Some of the French ones I have even read. I also started courses in Swedish, Dutch and Ancient Greek, but never got past greetings.


Fluency, for me, has a lot to do with speaking. I have come to realise that I am simply not fluent in more languages because I am too worried to make mistakes. Of course that’s wrong – after all, I moved to England aged 18 and therefore personally experienced that immersion works. I am a certified TEFL-teacher, I have been teaching classes for decades, not a single lesson passes in which I don’t tell my students that it’s okay to make mistakes. One of my students was “healed” from not speaking when I told her to pay attention to how many times a day, she can’t think of a word in German, doesn’t finish a sentence etc., in her mother tongue. I know the tricks of the trade, I understand how learning progresses, and I am aware that knowing a language isn’t just about being able to read books in it. My retirement vision of living in a house in France (with a big library) has long been marred by the realisation that I won’t be able to negotiate the contract and that my wine-fuelled discussions with my imaginary lovely neighbours will likely never happen if I don’t say more than “Bonjour, madame!”

So why Italian?

In the late summer of 2014, I decided to learn Italian from scratch. Though I still wanted to become fluent in French and possibly Spanish eventually, I made a choice. This time, I would go about it differently. I wouldn’t repeat and revise what I had already studied several times over the course of twenty years, but would start over. I wanted to apply all that I knew about language learning, and I wanted to give the communicative approach – basically, the belief that it is essential to speak and hence, communicate, from the very beginning – another try. Having had a very grammar-focused language education, this was bound to be hard for me, but it would be okay, especially because the other approaches clearly hadn’t worked.

I can’t say I have always wanted to learn Italian. In fact, I never wanted to learn Italian. I thought it was too similar to French and especially Spanish and it would confuse me more than help. I refused to holiday in Italy because it seemed more useful to go to places where “my” languages were spoken – but when in Spain or France, I very rarely used them. Nonetheless, I was fascinated by Italy: the history, the culture, the writers, recently even the politics were of great interest to me. After all, with the Front National being so successful in France, I might have to move my retirement home to Tuscany. Bonus: Italian food is glorious. So in August, I vowed to a friend that I’d learn Italian, and become fluent – fast.

What I Tried

Once the idea had hatched, I checked out the language very theoretically. I also booked a trip to Rome for New Year. By then, I wanted to be able to speak well enough. I tried to find a tandem partner via Couchsurfing and sort of did, but we never managed to meet up. It was a busy September, so I didn’t do much except practise on Duolingo. My plan was to fit a course into my full-time job schedule, and I had my eyes set on one that would be Fridays from 2-6pm, starting mid-October. This was meant to get me to B1-level in a semester. Shortly before the course was to commence, I bought the set course books. Then it was cancelled. This was the point at which I’d normally move on to another hobby – but not this time. I had made a promise to myself and further decided it would be good for my own teaching to feel like a newbie for a change. I searched online and found an offline teacher. The first time I sat in front of R., I was able to say absolutely nothing, Duolingo notwithstanding. I got homework though, and three days later, I had already improved. By the next week, I could write sentences in two tenses. I was hooked, but felt like I was doing most of the studying by myself. I then, having first registered in October, decided to actually use italki. In November I had my first trial sessions – both were very good, and in addition to being super-supportive, my second teacher somehow got me to talk.

How I Learn

So far, since late November, I have had one offline lesson a week (90 minutes) and one to two italki-sessions. I will be participating in the italki language challenge from January 15th, so that’ll mean three hours a week on average. In addition, I study some of the grammar we talk about in the classes on various websites (e.g., I also use my prematurely purchased course book, especially for the offline course. My teacher on italki prepares Anki cards for me after every lesson. I downloaded free Italian Kindle books (though I haven’t read them yet) as well as some learning guides. Since I already know a decent amount of French and Latin words, I have assembled lists of cognates – there are several online for English speakers. I hope these will be more helpful when my grammar has improved a little. Apart from human interaction, my favourite exercise so far is writing just a few sentences a day into my new Italian calendar. In the next few blog posts, I will reflect on how well I am getting on with the different tools.

So far, so good

I think it’s going well – I am determined to succeed in the challenge, if only because Kerstin so kindly gave me the opportunity to share this adventure with you out there. After only four weeks of learning, I am able to understand a lot of Italian – and I always got the pizza I wanted in Rome. A presto!