bizsparkitalki was named Startup of the Day as part of the Microsoft Bizspark program. We’re excited to get the exposure, as we’re still trying to tell the world about italki and the potential for online language learning. You can read a short interview about us on the Startup of the Day page.

microsoft startup zoneBeing part of Microsoft Bizspark has helped us a lot. Through Bizspark, we’ve gotten access to the entire range of Microsoft development tools, from products like Visual Studio to licenses for SQL Server databases. Database licenses, in particular, can be a heavy cost for startups (Bizspark licenses can be used for production servers), and this has certainly helped us keep our burn rate low. Unfortunately, some companies in China do not pay for software licenses, and this reflects a larger problem with intellectual property here, including movies, TV shows, music, books, and more.

rackspace_logoGetting ourselves on Bizspark was easy, and for that, we also have to thank our hosting provider, Rackspace. We’ve been really impressed the service they provide. Running a development center far away from the servers themselves can be tough, and having a strong partner for managed hosting has made our lives much easier.

The italki Team

alipay

Alipay

Learning English is the primary goal of most users on italki, which is natural given that the majority of users are not native speakers of English. Our largest group of users come from China (20% of total users). We’ve just started a marketing partnership with Alipay to make it easier for Chinese users to purchase italki credits.
Alipay is a payment platform owned by the global e-commerce company Alibaba. Alipay works similarly to Paypal, and is very popular in China. For the month of August, we are offering a 10% bonus to purchases of italki credits over $30 USD through Alipay.

Learning English in China

alipay_page

Alipay - italki page

We hope that by making it easier for Chinese users to pay online, this will lead to more transactions on the italki marketplace. There is certainly an immense demand for learning English in China. Chinese students start learning English at an early age (depends regionally, but average age of 10-13). However, after studying English for five years or more, many students graduate with “哑巴英文” (mute English). They often have not had any opportunity to use their English, and the vast majority are taught by Chinese teachers with varying levels of proficiency.

Given the demand for English, English training centers in China are a huge industry. These centers often are very expensive (10,000 – 20,000 RMB or ~$1500-$3000 USD). This amount of money also needs to be viewed in an economic context where the average monthly salary is roughly between $200 – $600 USD (depends on the city and region).

Anecdotally, we’ve been told that many Chinese find their experiences at these teaching centers to be disappointing. The centers are strong at marketing, but weak at delivering real improvement for students. Students have very limited access to teachers and are stuck listening in large classes.

Naturally, we believe that online learning can change this equation radically. italki partners, like Eleutian, can deliver an online product (SpeakENG), direct to students at an incredibly low costs. Students can get Eleutian’s certified teachers or find independent teachers which they can schedule according to their own time needs. In addition, student tuition doesn’t go into supporting building rents in expensive city districts, massive marketing campaigns, or large school administrations. Given the natural benefits of online learning, we think this will become a major alternative to offline learning in the near future.

View the English press release (PDF)
View the Chinese press release (PDF)

The italki Team

We’re always trying to improve italki to make it easier for you to use. As the number of features on italki have grown, we’ve noticed it has gotten harder to find language-specific resources. That’s why we’ve reorganized the site around languages.

  • Language-related features are on the left-side menu.
  • Personal functions are now on the top menu.

italki_menu

Changing Languagesitalki_change

If you want to change the language, simply click on the title of the language or the icon, and you will be able to select another language.

This is an experimental layout, and we’ll be listening to your feedback. If you have suggestions or encounter a problem, please let us know through feedback or by sending us an email at feedback at italki dot com.

Special Request: Translation

Finally, since this is a new version of the website, many areas of the site have not been translated yet. If you see a bad translation or an area which is still using English, please use the feedback button, and write us a short note with both the wrong words and the corrected version. We really appreciate the help, and every correction helps make italki more accessible for everyone!

The italki team

One important aspect of learning a language is getting connected into a community of students and teachers.  That’s why we revised our Groups function on italki.  We wanted to make it easier to have discussions about every aspect of learning a language.  

What we’ve done is create official italki Groups for every languageEach language now has five official groups called:

  • Learning the language
  • Teachers and Schools
  • Tests and Exams
  • Culture and Society
  • Travel, Living Abroad and Study Abroad

We made this change in order to consolidate discussions in each language.  All of the previous user-created groups still exist, and you can still create your own group.  As with before, each group is basically a forum where members of the group can create a topic and start a discussions with other group members. 

We also wanted to highlight a few interesting ways you could use groups.

Many teachers have asked us how they can reach students who are interested in paid tutoring sessions.  Teachers can now post information about themselves in the Teachers and Schools Group (example: Teachers and Schools for learning English).  We think this could be a great place for teachers to market to students, and for students to learn more about a teacher’s background and teaching style.

Another interesting use of groups could be for sharing test knowledge (example: Tests and Exams for learning English.   Now if you are taking a language test such as the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foriegn Language), the HSK (the main test for Chinese proficiency), or the AP Spanish test (US College Board’s test of Spanish competency) — you should be able to find discussions about how to prepare for them in the Tests and Exams group for that language.  

groups

In general, we just wanted to make it easier for the italki community to connect and communicate with each other.  If you have any questions about how to use groups or want to send us any feedback on the site changes, please click on our feedback link or send us an email (feedback at italki dot com). Your opinions really help us understand where we need to improve the site. And keep reading our blog – we’ll be letting you know about our future updates here.

language-marketplaceIt’s been two months since we launched the open beta of our Language Marketplace (announcement), and we wanted to say we’ve been very pleased so far. The Language Marketplace is where students can pay for online lessons and teachers can get paid to teach a foreign language. In this short time, we’ve already had over 2500 teachers register to teach 70 languages online! Of the teachers, over 20% are professionals, meaning we have over 500 experienced language teachers ready to teach you on italki.

Through looking at our marketplace, we’ve also learned a lot about paying students. It’s not a surprise that English is the most popular language to study. Over 50% of the sessions taught have been for learning English. Given that most non-native speakers have a general desire to learn English, we think this is a sign of how much unmet demand there is for English language teachers. Interestingly, learning Chinese Mandarin is the second most popular choice, followed by learning Spanish. As Chinese Mandarin grows in importance, we believe more and more people will look online to find a teacher. In many areas around the world, Chinese teachers may not be available, and online teaching rates seem very reasonable.

We’ve also found that many students are using the Free Trial feature to find the right teacher for them. This is a great way for students to test out a couple of teachers and find the one that has the most compatible learning style. It’s also a good opportunity for teachers to get a better understanding of how the system works, and a student’s particular needs and ability level.

Overall, we think the growth in the number of students purchasing italki credits and bookings sessions with language teachers is a sign that people are getting more comfortable with the idea of learning online. This should be good news for all the internet startups in this space (Edufire, WizIQ, ForteMall, Sclipo, and Moontoast) who have a similar vision that education will eventually come from many sources.

Keep telling us what you think about the site and our Language Marketplace. And keep following the blog — we’ll keep you updated as we put up new features. The italki team