How NOT to suck at language challenges

February 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Jim in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off)

Olly Richards is an polyglot (he speaks 7 languages!) and runs a popular language learning blog called I Will Teach You a Language! This is a great post that he wrote which we hope will help you through the italki 2015 New Year’s Language Challenge. Reposted with permission. Original Post here.

failure“Language challenges”, you may have noticed, are cropping up all over the place!

Typically lasting either 30 or 90 days, you come together with other learners from around the world to set goals, learn from each other and make giant strides forward in your language learning.

That’s the theory at least.

In language challenges, as with anything else, there is the potential to waste your time and even set yourself back.

Get it right, though, and you can genuinely catapult your level in your target language into the stratosphere.

In this post, I’m going to draw on my experience in the first Add 1 Challenge(back in 2013) to show you exactly how to make a language challenge work for YOU.

I know this, because in my first language challenge I made a lot of mistakes…despite being a fairly experienced language learner.

Suddenly finding yourself in a new environment can really throw you, even if it does happen to be online!

I worked too hard, tried to outdo myself, took it all a bit too seriously…

…and ended up burning out!

Luckily I managed to turn it around, and wrote about how I did it in this post about learning Cantonese.

I don’t want this to happen to you, so read on…

9 keys to success in a language challenge

frustrated_with_studying_by_jennyxyoung-d3dywnz1) Don’t aim too high. Small steps forward in the right direction are infinitely better than shooting for an unachievable goal and burning out, or beating yourself up for not reaching it. “Be fluent” is not a good goal. “Have my first 15-minute conversation with a native speaker” is.

Modest goals, by being achievable, create space for you to actually enjoy the learning process, and help you avoid the kind of stress that leads to you becoming demotivated and even giving up.

2) Don’t do things that aren’t sustainable in the long term. Sure, you could study for 3 hours every night during the challenge, but you won’t be able to keep it up for long. Rather than aiming to do as much as possible during the challenge, instead aim to develop habits and routines that you can sustain beyond the end of the challenge.

This means focusing on approaches to studying that can fit around your lifestyle. Don’t try to make your lifestyle fit around your language learning – it won’t last long.

3) Don’t set goals, but do know where you’re headed. I’ve found that traditional goal setting in language learning doesn’t work for most people. Although this is counter-intuitive (goal setting is very powerful for most things) the reality is that you can’t really control what you learn. You can, however, control the kinds of activities that might result in learning.

By focussing on the process, and not worrying about the product, you will get much further along than if you’re constantly obsessing over “Have I learnt my 20 words for today?”

I call this methodology Sprints, and have written a detailed explanation of it here. It has helped a lot of people move forward in their language learning and I highly recommend reading this post if you often find yourself confused about what to do.

4) Aim to experiment as much as possible. It’s by trying new things that you will eventually find what really works for you. I’ve often found that one small discovery can change the way I learn languages altogether.

This is yet another application of the 80/20 principle – most things you do will make no difference whatsoever, so learn to set them aside and keep pursuing those that will.

5) Talk as much as possible with other people also involved in the challenge. We’re social beings and shouldn’t exist in bubbles. You are the average of the 5 people around you. Firstly, there’s the moral support and motivation to carry on that you can get from other people. You can learn so much from what other people are trying, and you should always remember that it only takes one person to give you one idea that can change your direction totally.

6) Take the opportunity to push yourself outside your comfort zone.Try things that you wouldn’t otherwise. Scared of booking that tutoring session on iTalki? It’s now or never, and it certainly won’t get any easier once the challenge is over.

7) Announce what you’re doing to friends and family. Accountability is a big deal. In fact, telling people publicly that I’m learning Arabic has been a huge motivating factor for me in those moments when I’m less than up for it. I know, for example, that when I head to next year’s Polyglot Gathering in Berlin I’ll be quizzed (in a nice way): “So Olly, how’s your Arabic?” If I say that I haven’t got very far with it, I’ll feel rather foolish!

8) Speak with native speakers more than you currently do. A lot more. Speaking is probably the one thing you don’t do enough of, if your aim is ultimately to be fluent in your target language. Let’s be honest, if you did enough speaking you wouldn’t need to join a language challenge. And this means that you need to go into the challenge understanding that the elephant in the room really is speaking – you’re going to have to find ways to speak more, and services such as iTalki really are the best.

If you haven’t started speaking your target language regularly with people yet, it really is much easier and less daunting than you think, and I’ve written a guide to getting started which will help you with this.

9) Don’t ever compare yourself with others. It’s not about how good you get in 90 days. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other people or their level. Everyone is at different stages and will end up in different places. That’s fine. What matters is what you learn for yourself, and, ultimately, what you carry forward to the weeks and months after the challenge is over.

As such, don’t worry one bit about “his Japanese is better than mine” or “her accent is more convincing than mine” – it may well be, but it doesn’t matter, because you should only worry about how far you’ve come and what you’ve learnt.


Follow these guidelines and you’ll be way ahead of the pack.

Image 1: alexkphoto

Image 2: jennyxyoung

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Brazilian Gringo – italki Challenge Update 1

February 1st, 2015 | Posted by Jim in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off)

Josh is taking the language challenge to learn Spanish.  He posted about his experiences on his website Brazilian Gringo a blog that was born out of a need to share a more realistic perspective about Brazil, and our mission here is to share language and cultural insights to make Brazil more accessible for people to live, work and do business. Reposted with permission. Original post here.

iTalki Challenge Update 1

A few weeks ago I announced that I was participating in the iTalki challenge to improve my Spanish since I am going to be living in Chile for a while. I wanted to give a quick update on what’s been happening since then both in regards to life and language learning.

Shortly after making that announcement I got news that my grandfather was ill, so I flew back to the US to see him before he passed away. Fortunately I was able to go back and see him in the hospital one last time before he died. My father passed away a few years ago while I was in Brazil and the worst part about that experience was not being able to be near my family while they were all grieving. This time I didn’t get to miss any of the fun of crying at the hospital.

I’ve been in the US for about two weeks now, which though unexpected is kind of nice. I’ve been on the record as saying that I don’t like living in the US, but it’s really not that bad since I’m spending 90% of my time with my family. Though I’ll be glad to be out of here again in a few weeks, I’ll also be genuinely sad to leave this time.

Coming back to the US disrupted my plans to learn Chilean Spanish a bit though. I was planning on taking 2-3 hours of classes a week for the 6 weeks of the challenge, and supplement that study time with interactions with Chileans in Santiago. Things were pretty hectic so I have only taken a few hours of classes so far, but now that I’ve got a routine here things will progress more smoothly.

As far as the lessons go, I’m really enjoying my teacher. He is a complete language nerd as well, and speaks something like 7 languages to varying degrees of fluency. He showed me this cool trick where he called his cousin and they spoke a hybrid language of English and Spanish where they would switch languages every few words. Being able to switch between languages like that is a pretty cool skill to have.

Speaking both Spanish and Portuguese presents some challenges because of how similar the two languages are. Being able to go back and forth between the two takes a bit of work, though it is still easier for me to speak Portuguese. I can speak Spanish reasonably well, but I still haven’t attached my identity to the Spanish language like I have with Portuguese.

I’m not sure on the science behind this, but in my head there are two distinct characters: Brazilian Josh and American Josh. They both have unique ways of thinking and speaking as well as their own mannerisms. I can switch between the American Josh and Brazilian Josh without much trouble because they are both strong characters in my mind, whereas Latino Josh still hasn’t been developed. This means that sometimes Latino Josh will borrow parts of his identity from Brazilian or American Josh to fill in the blanks.

I went to a Forró class this week and got to interact with Brazilians in person for the first time in a few weeks. Kind of in the same way how if you locked yourself in a room for a few days and didn’t interact with anybody you’d be kind of slow in reacting to things people say, Brazilian Josh wasn’t as spontaneous as he was when he was living in Brazil. My Portuguese came out ok, but my body language definitely has lost some of it’s Brazilianness since leaving Brazil.

Overall the experience of learning Spanish on iTalki has been very productive and I’ve learned a lot not just about Chilean Spanish but language learning in general. It’s not easy to find a good language teacher, but when you do the results can be magical.

I just wanted to get this quick update out there, but later on I’ll publish some insights as they relate to Spanish and Portuguese.

Hasta luego

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italki Team Language Challenge – Week 2 Update

January 29th, 2015 | Posted by Aimé in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off)

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.

Week 2 Updates


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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.

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrR7xZlKNzQ

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!

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