italki 2016 New Year Language Challenge Wrap-up

March 29th, 2016 | Posted by Ivan in event | italki Team | Language Challenge - (Comments Off on italki 2016 New Year Language Challenge Wrap-up)

The 2016 New Year Language Challenged has come to a close, and the experience was and inspiring and productive one.

This has been by far the largest language challenge in the history of italki, and we are deeply grateful to our students and teachers for inspiring us with your passion for language learning.

Thousands of italki learners have completed tens of thousands of hours of lessons, and the language challenge videos that you have submitted are truly inspiring!

As many of you noticed, we have changed the format of the challenge, adding intermediate rewards, while also making entry into the challenge free. Among these intermediate rewards was the chance to win $500 towards a trip to a destination of your choice. We’re very excited to congratulate Cyd, a student of French from the UK!

As is italki tradition, several of our own team members have participated in the challenge. Check out the “after” video of our very own designer, Andrey, who has taken more than 30 lessons in Portuguese, to prepare for his visit to Brazil. Congratulations, Andrey, on becoming a language Captain!

Thank you very much. We are already looking forward to the next one!

italki is migrating our data to a new system! What it means for you…

January 15th, 2016 | Posted by Ivan in announcement | italki Team - (Comments Off on italki is migrating our data to a new system! What it means for you…)

On Monday, January 18th, the italki website will be undergoing maintenance approximately 5 hours and 20 minutes (From UTC 00:40 to UTC 06:00).

We apologize for the inconvenience, and want you to know that this interruption is necessary to implement several important changes to our data infrastructure. As we make changes to make our site function better and faster (as well as making it prettier and more user-friendly) we are also improving the infrastructure behind the site.

After this change, you can look forward to the following enhancements to the site:

  1. Our database infrastructure will be improved, meaning faster and more reliable performance from the site.
  2. Future maintenance and changes to the database infrastructure will not interrupt your access to the site.
  3. Overall, the system will be more resilient, meaning the site will be significantly less likely to experience interruptions.

Our data will now be housed in two separate places, allowing us to continually improve the performance of the site and service without interrupting your ability to schedule sessions and access your data. This will translate into faster implementation of the changes and improvements to the site, and should make your italki experience faster and easier.

We are constantly trying to improve the system, and there are loads of cool new things coming italki that will make your learning easier and more fun (at least from the technical side, as we haven’t discovered technology to download vocabulary and speaking practice directly into your brain… yet).

Thank you for bearing with us, and if you have any concerns or questions during this maintenance period, our support staff are standing by to help. Please use this form to create a service request, or write to our support staff directly: support@italki.com.

 

The Hyperglot and “Hakuna Matata” 

November 19th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in italki Team | tips - (Comments Off on The Hyperglot and “Hakuna Matata” )

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.

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.

 

When I was asked to join the italki October 2015 Language Challenge, I was a little hesitant. Not that I did not want to participate, but I felt a little intimidated – as an introverted person the idea of shooting a video pledge simply scared me.

However, the more I thought about it, the more excited I became about the whole concept of sharing my progress and inspiring other people to take the challenge with me.

How am I doing?

First of all, let me tell you that on its own, 6 hours is not that much time to make huge progress, especially when I work and also have several essays to write for university back in the Czech Republic at the same time.

Right now it is almost the end of week 1 of the challenge and so far I have only finished 2 sessions out of 6. I decided to stick to having sessions with only one teacher throughout the challenge as I seriously need to work on my sentence structure and I feel I would lose too much time explaining what my weak points in Chinese are before each and every session.

Anna, my Chinese teacher, tailored the sessions to suit my needs. During the first half an hour we usually go through a written dialogue from a textbook, reading it out loud, explaining grammar points, new words and structures. The second half an hour is focused on speaking. I summarize the dialogue using given vocabulary, answer various questions about it and then we just have   a random chat about ourselves, our plans or other current topics like Chinese holidays or food. I particularly like this part of our class because not only do I learn about the Chinese language, but Anna also explains a lot about the Chinese culture which is very helpful in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the Chinese mentality and lifestyle.

Finding the right strategy

Revising what I have learned during my italki sessions is a crucial part of learning. Honestly, at first I had not been doing very well. I was lucky enough to realize this at the very beginning though. From then I started adding all of my new vocabulary into Anki, a spaced repetition flashcard program that I highly recommend.

Also, using new structures in sentences and rewriting them over and over again turned out to be helpful. Above all, I found that the most important aspect of the revision process is reading out loud! I cannot stress enough how immensely it helps me. As for me, speaking is essentially the hardest thing to master when it comes to learning a new language.

Having adopted this strategy, I believe my progress will be more evident and I will eventually reach my goal of being able to hold a 5-minute conversation about myself with one of my Chinese colleagues.