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!

The italki team is taking the 2015 New Year’s Language Challenge

How much Chinese can they learn in 20 hours?

3 members of the team at italki are taking the language challenge to improve their skill in Mandarin. Each of them will have 20 hours of lessons between January and February. Can you do better than them?  Check out their original Public Video Pledges that they made at the beginning of the Challenge here.

aime_circleAimé, Intern

Week 1

In this first week I’ve managed to complete 3 hours of lessons with my teacher Lea. I’m still feeling pretty confident about the challenge and the goals that I set out for myself, although it is a lot harder than I anticipated.

I’m having the most trouble with my pronunciation but my teacher assures me that with lots of practice outside our lessons I will start to see improvements. Before we started the challenge I had a talk with my teacher about my Language challenge goals and she believes its doable if I commit myself and trust myself for the next six weeks and she assured me she will do everything possible to help me achieve my goals.

My goal for the first week was to memorize about 4-5 sentences but unfortunately I came a little short, as I’ve been able to only memorize 3. Going into the second week I am a lot more determined to practicing by myself and working on my pronunciation. My goal this week is to learn 5 new sentences and to start using them around the office.


josie_circleJosie, Services

Week 1

After the first of the language challenge I unfortunately have not been able to take any lessons yet. I’m feeling a little nervous as my schedule has all of a sudden gotten fuller, so taking lessons after work isn’t as easy I thought it would. Also my Internet connection has been bad lately so that doesn’t help much.

Fortunately I have my teacher on WeChat now so it’s a lot easier for us to communicate. We have not talked much about the challenge yet but she is aware that I am taking the challenge and would like to use have as my teacher. I told her what my goals were for this language challenge and she was able to send me an online book to help me get started, which I have found to be very helpful. I also asked her to give me some homework because otherwise I won’t work as hard.

My goals for this next week is to get at least 2 lessons and sit down and study for at least 3 hours. I want to be able to put my notes on flashcards to help with my vocabulary but I haven’t been able to find them anywhere. I’m really hoping my second week of the challenge goes better than my first week but I’m still very confident I am going to kick Kartick and Aimé’s butts in this challenge.



Karthik, Data Scientist

Week 1

After the first week of the challenge I have been able to get 1 hour of lessons under my belt. I’m starting to feel a little anxious, 20 hours is a lot! I thought taking 1 lesson every other day would be easy but in the evenings after work, its usually hard for me to focus on much.

My teacher and I have discussed my goals for this language challenge and she assured me she would make lessons geared towards a more conversational focus that are appropriate for my level, context, and needs.

My goals for this upcoming week are to be able to introduce myself, memorize 20 words of fruits and vegetables and have a 30 seconds conversation. I think I will be able to meet my learning goals for week 2 but I’m afraid I might now meet my session goals once again.

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!


See Who’s Taking this Year’s Challenge

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!

Part I Here
Part II Here

Iván Vallés Pérez  from the Spain is learning English
Iván is a data analyst and is taking the challenge because he wnats to improve his English fluency. His goal is to be able to speak to English speakers without any problems and is committing to taking two 1 and 1/2 hour sessions per week for the Challenge! Please cheer him on here.


Holly from the United States is learning French.

Holly is going to graduate school in Paris next year, so she wanted to improve her French as quickly as possible.  Her goal is to speak with a native french speaker for 1 hour a week for the next 6 weeks.  We wish her the best in the challenge and hope she finds her experience in Paris to be very rewarding.  Cheer her on!


Amy from China is learning French and Portuguese.

Already fluent in English and Chinese, Amy has been taking French for a year and wants to add Portuguese to her repertoire as well. She wants to to be able to speak in French for 30 minutes with a native speaker without frustrating the other speaker.   With regards to Portuguese, she has the same goal but only wants to speak for 5 minutes.  Wish her luck!


Mr. Coffee from France is learning English.
Mr. Coffee wants to improve his English over the next 6 weeks.  He hopes to come as close as possible to being able to speak like a native English speaker.  English is certainly not an easy language to learn so we wish him all the best in his endeavors.  Cheer him on!


Zhang Drawping from China is learning English
Zhang Drawping (who also goes by the name of P!nk Zhang) hails from Shenzhen, China and is a Product Designer for Fisher Price. She wants wants to improve her English over the next 6 weeks. As you can tell from the video, she already speaks very well but still feels like she can speak more fluently as she needs to use her English for work. Her goals are to improve her confidence and fluency. Please everyone cheer her on for this challenge!


Aravinth from India is learning German
Aravinth is starting from scratch and speaks no German and he hopes that this language challenge will give him the ability to reach A2 level German and the ability to understand very basic German conversation. We’re always impressed with challengers who begin a new language from scratch! Send him some words of cheer her on as we all know how hard it is to learn a new language from scratch


Pierre Bredel from Brazil is learning French and English
Pierre Bredel should be given a medal. This is his 3rd consecutive Language Challenge. He’s finished and made Public Video Pledges for the past 2 challenges as well. He’s continuing with his English and French studies and hoping to bring both languages to the next level. Send your words of encouragementto Pierre and wish him the best!


Nancy Wang from the United States is learning Chinese
Nancy is another past winner of our previous Language Challenges. She actually participated in our 2014 New Year’s Language Challenge (view her 2014 Public Video Pledge here)and won that and is now taking her Chinese to the next level by taking on this year’s challenge. She’s at a solid intermediate level and wants to improve her natural speaking and listening ability as well as her self-confidence speaking Chinese. Give her some words of support here!

Click here to view her 2015 New Year’s Challenge Public Video Pledge here

Lauren from the Barbados is learning Korean
We got our first Video Public Pledge from Barbados! Lauren is learning Korean because she’s always wanted to learn the language but has never really gotten around to it. Another very important reason is that she really wants to understand her Korean dramas (and not wait until the English subtitles are added). After the Challenge she also hopes to be able to have a conversation in Korean. Cheer Lauren on here by commenting on her Notebook entry!


AndrewR756 from the United Kingdom is learning Russian and Vietnamese
AndrewR756 wins the award for most unusual language pair that he is learning for the Challenge – Russian and Vietnamese. He’s going to be doing this as well as an hour of listening each day. He also pledges to do an after video once the Challenge is completed. We’re all rooting for you! If you’d like to send him some words of encouragement, please comment on his Notebook entry here!


Mulliro from Brazil is learning Russian
Mulliro is a Community Tutor on italki and teaches Portuguese As you can see and hear in his video, he already speaks at a basic level but he really wants to bring up a level. but he’s also taking the Challenge to really improve his Russian. Please cheer him on by leaving a comment on hisNotebook entry here!


Maxine from the United States is learning Spanish

Maxine has always wanted to learn Spanish and will be travelling to Spain in May. Her goal is a very practical one – she wants to be able to use Spanish when she travels to Spain in bars, restaurants etc… She’s picked some very popular teachers so she will try to fit in as many sessions as she can when they are free. Please  cheer her on!


Tom from the United States is learning Italian and Russian

If you need some inspiration on learning a language, you need to watch this video. Tom is a Polyglot and this is his 4th straight Language Challenge where he is now taking on Italian and Russian. As he states in his notebook entry, “For the previous ones, I have improved my french and Norwegian. (Norwegian) The previous challanges have helped me alot to speak more quickly, travel in europe, and find friends I otherwise wouldn’t have met at all.” Tom is one of those inspirational challenger that you aspire to be. Please cheer him on for this challenge! He’s only learning 2 languages this time around :)