cashu

cashU from Maktoob

We’re excited to announce that we’ve now started accepting payments through cashU. cashU is a popular payment service that is used in many countries where credit card payments are not accepted. In the Middle East, for example, credit cards are not often used online due to fraud and security concerns. However, cashU has payment options such as prepaid scratch cards that are a secure method for handling online payments.

Roughly 15% of italki users come from the Middle East, and we hope that by expanding their payment options that more users will be able to participate in the language marketplace.

Prepaid Cards

Prepaid Cards

We believe that the potential market is all of these regions is immense, especially when compared with offline learning options. For example, we believe being able to learn English with online courses for $16 USD / year, and with professional online teachers, could radically change the language education market.

cashU is part of the Maktoob Group, which operates one of the Arabic region’s leading portals (Maktoob.com). cashU is offered in 28 countries around the world, including the Middle East, China and some European countries.

We’re planning to add more payment options in the near future, and we’ll let you know about those here on the blog.

Arabic Press Release (PDF)

The italki team

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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

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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

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etcon-logo250x75This morning (China time), we had the opportunity to attend the E-Teachers Academy Conference on Virtual Classrooms, hosted by Kirsten Winkler.  It was one of the most interesting conferences we’ve seen on the future of the virtual classroom, and the panel was made up of some of the most forward-thinking companies and teachers in this evolving space (view list of panel speakers).

We were definitely impressed with the potential in virtual classrooms, and we’re sure that as the technologies mature, we’ll begin to see more of these classrooms gain wider acceptance.  There are many important features which are not presently integrated or handled well by standard communication tools like Skype, such as whiteboards, direct document viewing, shared screenshot viewing, and group / class management.  One thing that is clear from the conference is that virtual classrooms are being designed with significant input from teachers.

If you’re interested in following this debate, you can follow Kirsten on twitter (@KirstenWinkler) as well as the ETCon twitter itself @ETConference.  We’re definitely looking forward to the next conference.

Kevin and the italki team

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SPEAKENG Course 1Y 10000004-2 We wanted to write more about our first partner company, Eleutian Technology, and its product SpeakENG.

Eleutian is based in Wyoming, USA, in a little town called Ten Sleep (google map).  Their mission is to teach the world English, using online courses and US-based teachers.  In a time when much of the US is in recession, Eleutian has been hiring certified teachers to satisfy the global demand for learning English.  Eleutian is an interesting globalization story in that English teaching is being “in-sourced” to the US. Another intriguing aspect about Eleutian is its surprising technology infrastructure (news report).

screenshot of SpeakENG

click for detailed explanation page of SpeakENG

The other part of Eleutian’s SpeakENG product is online courses that are powered by Pearson’s English Language Learning and Instruction System (ELLIS).  SpeakENG (Pearson ELLIS) has an impressive amount of English content for online self-study. There are video lessons, scripts, recordings, skill drills, in-depth explanations of grammar points, and much more.  We’ve been told the package normally retails at a very expensive rate, and that the pricing on italki reflects Eleutian’s desire to grow aggressively in this market (this pricing might not last).

If you want to find out more information (pictures and walkthrough), take a look at our in-depth explanation on Eleutian SpeakENG.

Eleutian SpeakENG is offering to italki users:

You can see the full list here.

If you’re learning English, we really can’t recommend trying SpeakENG enough. It’s an amazing product for self-study and combined with tutoring from US certified teachers, we’re sure this is something that you shouldn’t miss out on.

View the press release (PDF)

The italki Team

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