italki Climbs a Mountain

August 27th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | italki Team | Motivation - (0 Comments)

Over the weekend italki got to get away from Shanghai. We wanted to get away, see more of China, and get to know each other a little better. In the last year italki has doubled in the number of staff. The company filled up a bus and embarked on a two-day journey to the 牛头山 (Ox-head mountain) national park, in the heart of Zhejiang. 

The area is a magical place. High, wild peaks are covered in a lush green that is rare to see in the sprawling city of Shanghai. The fog, seemingly present all day, but most poetic close to dawn, rolls down the steep inclines. Apparently shredded by the tops of the mountains, the fog dissipates into eddies and currents. It is a cloud that, much to its confusion, has suddenly discovering something entirely unfamiliar to it – the ground.

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The entire italki collective sleepwalked onto the bus at 6:45 am, and embarked on our journey.

 

As the Chinese countryside rolled by in our windows, still half asleep, we could see the pace of life change, bustle of the city and it’s 21+ million disappeared in our rear window.

A few hours passed and the terrain changed, dramatically. The bus grunted and moaned its way up, fighting against the thin air against a steep grade. Out of the windows we could see the bottoms of the mountains. Seemingly close but sinking deeper and deeper into the earth. The mountain roads took us up and along. The bus huffed away, skirting around the edge of the precipice, giving us long, thoughtful look down.

As far as “corporate togetherness” events go, our trip was far from the usual fare. It was remote, physically challenging, and actually fun. 

Our first stop was the “rafting” (not counting a very traditional Chinese lunch in a speck-on-the-map sort of town). If you have images of going down rapids, 6 – 8 people to a boat, anchoring yourself with your foot while you paddle – this was not it.

We separated into groups of two, picked a boat, picked a wooden paddle which resembled a two-by-four, and got into the water. The course of the river itself seemed to resemble a log flume ride more than river-rafting.

Each set of rapids was built up and secured with concrete, creating a … nozzle of a sort. Each of these choke-points was manned by several guys wearing conical straw hats, and operating a long stick of bamboo with a metal hook on the end. They would corral the hapless rafters towards the drops, regulating the timing to prevent collisions. Once your turn came up, the raft would be sent through the concrete nozzle and ride the vigorous foaming water through to the level a foot or three below, and further downstream.  

italki went wild. Splashing each other and finding the best ways to obstruct the progress of their peers through the rapids.

 

We played in the water and sun, before finally settling into the hot baths with herbs stuffed in industrial-sized tea-bags made of fabric. There we socialized further. Moving between flavors of baths, one could hear the bantering in a dozen languages.

 

The Official Proceedings:

The next morning we had a typical company meeting. Each department presented their work for the month and quarter. We talked about the work we expect to do in the future. Each one of these meetings we get a little bit better, a little closer to new features, capabilities. Its a giddy feeling to see progress.

In a building on top of a mountain, here, in the depths of China, the atmosphere was also perfect for the next activity. We have almost doubled in size in terms of staff within one year. A quickly-growing company often risks its warm, personable atmosphere with rapid expansion. It’s also easy to lose a sense of history, of the team’s historical mission in these circumstances.

That’s why, at this celebration of our work and beautiful nature around us, we learned about the history of the Company. We heard stories from those who have started italki: the struggles, the numerous offices, the small, incremental triumphs that brought us here. We connected to our historical mission again, and took that momentum further – trying to envision our futures.

As always, the future is uncertain, but we see the impact of our work. In all the stories of success we hear from our students, in knowing the amount of struggle that went into creating the meaning behind the little pink speech bubble, we are reminded of what we stand for, and why we work.

 

Climbing the Mountain

This trip was fundamentally not about the usual “go team” exercise one expects from any sort of “corporate togetherness” event. Any “go team” moments came from a genuine enjoyment of the company and the sense of shared mission. More than that, though, it is the insights that we gained about one another that really created a sense of  belonging.  We finished up the meeting to get to the most challenging part of our trip: Climbing the mountain.

As an aside I must tell you that Chinese national parks are designed in an odd way. The slopes of natural mountains and lush greenery are crossed by well-paved concrete sidewalks. These often take the shape of an endless staircase. They are kept at altitude, resting on a series of blocks embedded directly into the the face of the mountain. Park visitors climb. There are no dirt trails marked off by logs. The contact with nature is not direct, and feels a bit like a set piece from Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”. Indeed, at times it feels like one can be looking hundreds years into the past, watching a side of the hill or a rivulet in the rock formation. Swaying to their own thoughts, the branches speak with the wind.

We set off to climb.  Thousands of steps snaked endlessly through lush greenery. Breathtaking drops and sights interspersed with desperate sprints, up. The climb was brutal.

 

Before we got to the summit for our well-deserved rest, we had to brave the rope bridge.  The wind breathed and the tension in the wires of the bridge groaned and strained. It’s hard not to be afraid with only a few wooden planks and steel cable separating you from the long drop down.

Still, the only way to get to the top is to move forward. Some shuffle forward inch-by-inch, some brave the bridge getting mid-jump photos.

 

Regardless of the style or the amount of fear, the only way to the top is forward, even though it’s a long way down.

By the end of the climb most of us were breathless. Not only did the climb pushed us physically, but the raw distances and the landscape that stretched out into the horizon left us breathless.

Climbing to the top is it’s own reward.

Exhausted but happy, we slept through most of the bus ride back. 

 

If there is a metaphor to be drawn between what we do and this outing, it is that building a startup is akin to climbing a mountain: often it is just grueling taking step after step after step. Iterative development and gradual improvement is a grind. Taking those steps can seem endless, daunting.

Once in a while, though, you get to stop and look out, to see something new, from a new height.

Finally, in the end, the satisfaction of being at the top is transformative. Seeing the road taken there, far below, as it snakes in and out of view through the wilderness, gives a feeling of flight, of overcoming self and mountain, in order to attain that deep satisfaction of having accomplished something big.

We are looking ahead, shuffling or jumping, we are moving forward. Step after painful step, we are grinding through our ascent.  Together we are climbing. We are climbing not only as a team or a company. We are climbing as language learners, as teachers, as innovators and curious people. We are climbing with and for  everyone who has ever wanted to learn. For everyone who feels the draw of the wild, of new cultures, of the rare air of a new experience, we are climbing with you.

 

 

See you at the top.

italki Learns (about) Esperanto

August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | feature | Motivation | teachers | tips - (0 Comments)

Saluton! This week italki is trying out a new language. We decided to focus on esperanto – the constructed language created in 1887. 

Why esperanto, rather than any other conlang?

Well, first of all, we’ve recently sponsored a language meet-up in Germany, based entirely around esperanto: International Youth Congress (IJK). We saw around 300 young people get together in Wiesbaden to practice esperanto, listen to lectures, and get their 100ITC voucher. 

Besides simply showing support to the esperantists of the world, we are involved in the event and are involved in the esperanto community because esperanto learners need support. The fate of the lone esperantist can be difficult.

There are many reasons to learn this language:

… but, it still seems that esperanto is seen as an odd hobby. There are very few native speakers, and this language, though built on a beautiful dream, has not found as much traction as it’s creator probably hoped.

It is, however, a very useful language to learn. We are actively looking for esperanto teachers, and are doing everything we can to support the community. The most important issue that the lone esperantist has is the lack of speakers with whom to practice day-to-day. Though IJK, polyglot gatherings, and other events help to build community, many esperantists get to meet and practice the language in person.

That’s great, but once the language enthusiasts disperse, there is often difficulty in practicing the language in a natural environment. Sure, there is media out there to support esperanto learning.

We feel that practice, one-on-one, is the best way to learn or keep up a language, so we have decided to put some effort behind building the esperanto community online, on italki.

In the spirit of support for the esperanto community, we have decided to take a few esperanto lessons with our teachers.

italki, meet esperanto!

First, esperanto tutor Teddy presented a “Chinese version” for Chinese speakers in the office, and later that week, we gathered again for the “English version” delivered by esperanto teacher Tim.

Teddy Nee, who runs Nee’s Language Blog and the author of two italki Articles on esperanto, described the basics of esperanto grammar, including descriptions of the different parts of speech, plurals, and use of the accusative. 

Tim Morley (mentioned above for his TEDX talk) gave us a fascinating description of worldwide esperanto community events and organizations such as the World Congress, IJK, and Pasporta Servo.

Members of six cultures and speakers of so many languages, tried to get the basics of this cool language while in our office. Sometimes we just like to take a step back and look at how awesome the future is. 

We’re very thankful and glad that we have such cool teachers, and are really proud to support the esperanto community.

italki June 2015 Language Challenge BEFORE and AFTER videos !

July 21st, 2015 | Posted by Romain in feature | Language Challenge | Learning English | Learning Japanese | members | Motivation - (Comments Off on italki June 2015 Language Challenge BEFORE and AFTER videos !)

Check out Videos of Students Who Completed the June 2015 Language Challenge!

So, first of all we would like to thank everyone of you who have joined the June 2015 Language Challenge. Whatever your reasons of learning languages, we hope that by doing this challenge you will have a consistent language learning habit throughout 2015!

Here are some of the best videos that we received for this challenge:

Alex from England completed June 2015 Language Challenge learning Mandarin Chinese!

Alex is actually living in Beijing and want to improve his general language skills. His family came in July and he wanted to be able to handle every possible situations!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Jonathan from France successfully completed the Challenge!

He choose to learn Spanish with three different teachers from all over the world to familiarize himself with accents and pronunciation, a great idea !

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Pierre from Brasil completed the Language Challenge! His fourth Language Challenge!

He decided to improve his English for this language challenge.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge, we can see the progress:

Jimmy Mello from Brazil took the Language Challenge and complete it!

Jimmy Mello has been a member of italki for two years, and is really involved in learning languages! He’s a Professional Teacher but also an avid language learner!  He decided to learn Polish for this Language Challenge with… his own method: the Mello Method!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

Before the challenge he never spoke Polish before and made some great progress! See for yourself:

Yang from China successfully completed the challenge and learned Swedish!

He had a great teacher and is waiting from the new Language Challenge!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

Yang made some great progress in his Swedish:

Charlotte from Sweden/Germany learned French during this Language Challenge!

Here is the public video pledge that she made before the challenge:

“La langue de Molière” is difficult but here are her progress after one month of learning:

Zeeshan from United States completed the Language Challenge!

He learned Spanish and Japanese due to a personal interest of the culture. Zeeshan feels he made real progress during the challenge and we congratulate him.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Scott from United States decided to learn Spanish during this Language Challenge!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Hank also from United States learned German during this Language Challenge!

He pledged and swore that he would take 12 hours of lessons in June… and he succeeded!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Helga from Russia successfully completed the Language Challenge!

She went on holiday to Italy so she decided to improve her speaking skills.

Here is the public video pledge that she made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Bianca from United States completed the Language Challenge to learn Spanish!

She’s going to be a Reading tutor in Spanish, so she needs to improve her pronunciation.

Here is the public video pledge that she made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Vitor from Portugal really likes learning new languages!

He decided for this Language Challenge to improve his Chinese skills.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

We really do hope that after the challenge you will not stop learning languages. We hope that this challenge gives you that extra push to keep learning languages throughout the year!

 

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Challenge recap!

The June 2015 Language Challenge has ended and it was an amazing success!

55% of challengers completed the challenge!

We did an analysis of this Challenge and it was similar to our previous Challenges (2015 New Year’s Challenge Wrap-Up2014 October Challenge2014 World Cup Challenge2014 New Year’s Challenge). For this challenge:

The challenge was to complete 12 hours of language lessons in the month of June (June 1st to June 30th) to win a reward of 300ITC!

We had challengers from all over the world; 80 countries were represented!

Top 5 countries participating :

1. United States of America
2. United Kingdom
3. Russian Federation
4. Australia
5. Brazil

And we even had some language learners from the below these countries (wow!):

– Syrian Arab Republic
– Puerto Rico
– Turkmenistan
– Zimbabwe
– Trinidad & Tobago
– Angola
– Libya
– Venezuela

52 different languages were learned during the challenge.

The 5 most popular languages that our challengers were learning were:

1. Spanish
2. English
3. Chinese

4. French
5. Japanese

We also had a much greater representation from our less common languages like:

– Latvian
– Belorussian
– Persian
– Telugu
– Cebuano
– Tamil

Other interesting tidbits:

91% of challengers who submitted a Public Video Pledge completed the Challenge! Wow – that pretty much means if you make a Public Video Pledge, you’ll complete the Challenge.
– One hardcore challenger complete 77.5 hours of lessons! That’s more than and hour and a half of lessons each day.
– One of our challengers (Sylin from France who actually speaks more than 30 languages!) learned 15 languages during the challenge!
10% of the challengers were also teachers.
3% just missed the challenge by one hour or less! Ouch.

Also a big congrats to some of our italki staff who finished the challenge like this guy below… (again they all get to keep their jobs!)

 

 We finished the 2015 June Language Challenge! 12 hours of italki lessons in June! (well some of us did)

italkersEven though this was only 12 hours, completing the Challenge was definitely hard!  A few of us at italki took the Challenge and here are our results!

Tracy learning Esperanto (in Chinese) Completed!
Ivan learning Chinese Completed!
Javi learning Chinese Completed!
Andrey learning Chinese Did not Complete the Challenge!

Andrey wanted to clarify that “My Chinese Teacher went on vacation halfway through the Challenge and I really didn’t want to get another one.  If I did, I’m sure I would have completed the Challenge!”

Excuses aside, it’s hard and that’s why it’s called a Challenge!  We just did some calculations and found out that a whopping 91% of Challengers who submitted a Public Video Pledge for the June Challenge actually completed the Challenge!

In italki tradition, we’re awarding 50ITC as bonus for an after video.  Below is Tracy’s AFTER Video for Esperanto.  She started with zero Esperanto ability!

Tracy’s AFTER Video for Esperanto


Join us by making your very own AFTER video!

If you won the Challenge and previously sent into to us your Before video, here’s your chance to show off your Challenge achievements in a video. Not only that, but we’ll be rewarding you with an additional 50 ITC! 

Here are some ideas of what you can include in your video:

Show off your improvement in the language you were learning

  • Introduce yourself and tell us what language(s) you were learning for the Challenge
  • Tell us about your italki teacher(s). What did you like about them?
  • What did you learn about learning a new language after completing the Challenge?
  • Do you have any advice for people who are thinking of taking the Challenge in the future?

Label the video: “(italki username) completed the 2015 italki June Language Challenge!”

Write a Notebook Entry “I completed the 2015 italki June Language Challenge” and paste the YouTube/Youku URL.

Send the link to your notebook entry to support(at)italki.com and we will send you a 50 ITC voucher straight away!

And we leave you with some last words from Tracy:

“So, even though I took the language challenge to learn Esperanto, I actually ended up learning a lot about time management and good study habits.  
Specifically, I sometimes have trouble scheduling things in advance because I worry about what other things might happen that I’ll need to adjust to, but once I actually booked the classes and got them on my calendar, it was actually sort of a relief to know for sure what my schedule would be like.  Even if you’re really busy, just book the classes in advance. Yes, I gave some things up to finish my classes, but it’s all about priorities.

I also learned some things about watching which study habits were easy or difficult for me to maintain.  It’s important to practice every day, but I would recommend choosing a “passive” thing to practice every day – for example writing out sentences or reading something.  Not because passive practice is better than active practice, but because you’re probably more likely to actually do it!

And I never would have WANTED to finish it without my awesome italki teachers.  It’s a great feeling to WANT to review your material so you can have another great conversation soon!”

Congrats to everyone and see you at the next Challenge!