italki is a market leader for online language classes, and it’s easy to understand why: it has a huge range of teachers for everything from Arabic to Zulu; it’s cheap; and the app has some fantastic community features, including free feedback on your writing and audio clips.
However, italki isn’t for everyone. Perhaps you’re fed up with all the hidden fees and payment idiosyncrasies that make you feel like you’re buying tickets from a budget airline. Maybe you don’t like choosing between the buggy italki Classroom and Skype. Or it could be that you’re looking for a platform that offers more structured learning, whether it’s a syllabus, flashcards, or simply regular feedback on your level.
Fortunately, if you’re getting frustrated with italki, there are plenty of competitor platforms to choose from. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite italki alternatives and what sets them apart.
Table of Contents
Before we dive into the best platforms for online classes, it’s worth bearing in mind the different features that a platform might have. Here are some of the things that we check:
Do you get to review the list of teachers beforehand and pick who you want? Is it a random choice every time? Or do the support staff select someone who they think will be a good fit?
All these options have their pros and cons. If you have a different teacher every time, you’ll get used to a range of accents, dialects, speaking speeds, and verbal tics. If support staff select your teacher, they’ll be making a decision based on feedback from hundreds of other students. And if you choose for yourself, like on italki, then you get to pick someone who you think you’ll like. After all, nobody knows you better than you do.
Some people prefer learning one to one: you can cover material quicker, speak more, and get personalized feedback and lesson content. Yet group lessons can result in more role-play activities and be less intimidating for new learners. Most online platforms are designed for one-to-one classes, but some have group learning options.
While some platforms merely connect students and teachers, others have a set curriculum, learning materials, and more. Which one is best for you will depend on your learning goals, as well as how much patience you have for trying out different teachers.
Well-designed materials will give you plenty to say in your online classes.
Is the lesson online or via a Zoom link that you’re provided with? Or do you have to give your contact details out to the teachers and download Skype? If the platform has their own proprietary classroom technology, is it just a video call or do you get additional features: a library of shared materials, automatically produced flashcards, a “chalkboard” that you can review later? And perhaps even more importantly, does it work well or is it prone to crashing?
Community features can be some of the best things about an online language-learning platform, but they’re not all made equal.
Is there a forum for language learners? Space to share writing and audio clips, and receive feedback? Language exchange threads to supplement your classes? Articles by teachers? And if this exists, how busy is it? Are the comments useful and on topic, or does it feel like you’re using a dating app?
Nearly all platforms allow you to pay in US dollars. Some, however, force you to pay in US dollars. If you’re not from one of the 13 countries and states that use this currency, it can be frustrating: the cost is hard to evaluate and will fluctuate, you may be hit by foreign currency charges, and the conversion rate can be terrible.
On some platforms, the price you see is the price you pay. On others, you have to cough up for additional fees. Some also push bulk buying on you, sweetened with the offer of discounts or simply reduced payment fees, only to tell you that the lessons expire if you don’t use them quickly enough. italki’s Lesson Packages fall into the last category, but it’s not the only platform to do this.
italki takes a 15% commission from teachers. If you pay $20 for a class, the teacher earns $17 before taxes. Some italki competitors match this, but others impose hefty commission rates of 30% or more. Moreover, on some platforms, the teachers have to provide free or low-cost trial classes or aren’t able to set their prices.
The commission rate isn’t the only factor at play, however. If a platform charges teachers more, but the average lesson price is higher, then the teacher still might make more per hour there than on competitor sites. The question then is if you think the platform is worth the extra money that you’ll pay per hour.
Good online language classes should feel fun as well as productive.
There’s no such thing as “the best” language-learning platform, because every learner has different preferences. That said, each of our top picks has something special that sets it apart from its competitors, whether it’s a fantastic syllabus or the online classroom technology.
Best for numerous languages: Verbling
Best for additional learning resources: Chatterbug
Best for a structured syllabus: Lingoda
Best for paying in your local currency: Langu
Best for Latin American Spanish: BaseLang
Best for Mandarin: TutorMing
65 different languages
Just like italki, Verbling allows you to search for teachers and book classes with the ones that seem interesting to you. The search filters allow you to find teachers with specific accents or who specialize in particular types of classes: beginners, accent reduction, grammar, interview prep, exams, and more.
Verbling has a reputation for being slightly more expensive than italki, but you might find the classes to be better structured and more focused on long-term progress. Of course, like all reputations and stereotypes, that’s not always true: it’s still possible to find cheap teachers on Verbling, as well as disorganized ones.
We’re a fan of the online classroom software and extra revision features, such as flashcard decks made up of the vocabulary from your classes, the Materials folder, and Learning Plans. The Discussions forum badly needs moderating, but you can find extra homework exercises there and post your writing for critique.
Verbling’s online classroom technology means you don’t have to download Skype or give out your contact details.
Spanish, French, German
Remember how in school, your teacher would oversee your entire language syllabus, from speaking and listening practice through to writing essays, playing hangman, and testing you on vocabulary? Subscription-based Chatterbug might well be the closest thing you’ll find to this.
You can jump into live classes, but you also have flashcards, writing prompts, reading tasks, and videos to study with. Even during the live classes with teachers, you’ll work on activities designed by Chatterbug, such as word searches and conversation prompts. In short, it’s a textbook, language app, and classroom all rolled into one.
However, we felt that most of Chatterbug’s content was limited. We found errors in the material and wished there were corrections or comprehension questions to go alongside a lot of the tasks. What’s more, you won’t get to choose your teacher.
Spanish, French, German, English
If you’re fed up with language classes that don’t seem to build on each other, Lingoda might be a good option. You can sign up for group or private subscription packages and take Zoom classes at pretty much any hour of the day. Plus, with their sprint and marathon promotions, you could be able to get 50–100% of your subscription fee refunded.
The curriculum is well structured, although it can be hard to take group classes in the designated order. There’s also a lot to cover in each lesson. Particularly at higher levels, this often means that only a small portion of the class material will be taught. This isn’t a problem if you’re taking private classes, of course, since you can finish the lesson next time.
The group classes tend to be fun, although it’s worth noting that students can sign up for lessons at any level. This is especially common during a marathon or sprint promotion, where a student needs to take a class that day in order to get their money refunded. We’ve experienced lower-beginner/A1 students in upper-intermediate/B2 classes.
All that said, we think Lingoda is a fairly affordable and well-structured option. Bear in mind that they only offer A1–B2 courses, i.e. there are no advanced ones.
Spanish, Mandarin, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, English
Small things can add up. Take the processing fees charged by italki and Verbling, for example, or currency exchange rates and foreign currency transaction fees. Most online language schools require you to pay in US dollars, even if they show the price in your local currency. At Langu, you can pay in six different currencies, and there aren’t any hidden processing fees.
This is a fairly new platform that markets itself on the quality of its teachers. You can choose who you take lessons with, and the teachers set their own prices as well as creating their own curriculums and course materials. We were impressed with the quality of the lessons, but only got the chance to take them with one teacher.
It also has online classroom software and a materials library made up of shared files. While the platform isn’t quite as developed as Verbling’s or Chatterbug’s, it’s much more learner-friendly than Skype.
You can pay for your lessons in US, Canadian, or Australian dollars; Euros; British pounds; or Polish Złoty on Langu.
Spanish (Latin American)
For highly motivated Spanish learners with plenty of free time, BaseLang’s subscription service is an excellent option. You can take unlimited one-to-one Zoom classes, and often only have to give a few minutes notice. Alternatively, you can sign up for the intensive Grammarless course with a set teacher and schedule.
They have an extensive, well-designed curriculum, so you can be confident that lessons will build on each other and be a good use of your time. You’ll also get sent a link to their accompanying Memrise courses. And unless you’re on the intensive Grammarless course, you can choose your teacher.
That said, BaseLang probably isn’t a good choice for you if you’re on a tight budget or have a busy schedule. It provides the most value when you can take classes multiple times a week.
TutorMing offers high-quality classes at any time of the day or night. You can book group or one-to-one classes, but in our experience, even the group classes typically end up being private classes. There are also kids’ lessons available.
The curriculum is engaging and unique, and we enjoyed the heavy focus on cultural information – although the quick and overly easy homework left us disappointed. Alternatively, if you book private classes, you can study your own material.
The only frustrating thing about TutorMing is that you have to sign up for a minimum of 30 lessons. It’s a strong – and expensive – commitment. We believe it offers value for money, but only if you know you’ll have enough time to take advantage of it.
Online classes mean you can make yourself at home while learning a new language.
Depending on your learning style or language, you might find our top picks aren’t right for you. Don’t worry, because there are scores of italki alternatives on the market.
These ones all stand out for something, whether it’s their size, customer service, number of teachers for underserved languages, or popularity among learners.
Spanish (Latin American)
SpanishVIP is a subscription-based service for Skype Spanish lessons. You can take group or one-to-one classes; for one-to-one classes, your subscription will let you take six classes a week. However, you might struggle to book classes if you live in Asia, Africa, or Europe: most teachers are based in South America, and there aren’t that many available.
As for the lesson content, SpanishVIP has created a library of materials for teachers to use, but you’re not stuck with a set curriculum.
English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin
Live Lingua sets out to offer a more boutique, personalized service – although you still can’t pick your own teacher and, once they’ve been allocated, you can only message them via email.
The support staff matches you with the teacher who they think is best for you, based on your goals. The lesson price will depend on the language and lesson type (exam prep, business, medical, etc), and the school also has some free language-learning materials.
Free Spanish textbooks and audio files on Live Lingua’s website.
36 different languages
With Verbalplanet, you can book 45-minute one-to-one Skype lessons with over 2,000 teachers. There’s no set curriculum, meaning the content and lesson format will be down to you and your teacher. The teacher profiles are extensive, and there are often discounts for first lessons, as well as for repeat lessons.
Plus, you’ll get detailed feedback on your CEFR level and reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills after each lesson.
23 different languages
PolyTripper is a small, online language marketplace that seems to have been closely modelled on italki: you buy credits, search for teachers online, choose between casual and professional teachers, and then take a lesson on Skype, Hangout, Zoom, or a similar platform.
There are some nice extra touches, however: instant lessons that allow you to immediately jump into a call with a teacher, Facebook groups for set languages, and a small range of online self-study resources. They also only charge teachers a 5% commission.
Practice French grammar with games on PolyTripper.
Spanish, French, English
With academic advisors, personal lesson plans, a set curriculum, and online classroom software, studying with Iboux feels like you’re back in school. In fact, it has a separate curriculum for children aged 5–11, as well as the regular one. The language courses are tied to the CEFR framework and further divided into 15–20 units, as well as different language skills.
Spanish, Italian, English
This small online language school offers group and private Skype classes. All teachers are native speakers with teaching qualifications and experience. You don’t get to choose your teacher, although you can request to change them. There’s a free 30-minute trial lesson, after which you can pay in British pounds or US dollars.
75 different languages
Looking for subscription-based, one-to-one Swahili or Amharic lessons? JustLearn probably isn’t a good choice for most learners, but if you’re struggling to find teachers on the more well-known platforms, it might be worth trying.
Bear in mind that the lessons are only 25 minutes long, while your teachers are only paid $6 for them. Depending on their location, that may add up to an extremely low hourly rate.
Over 3,500 subjects, but many of them aren’t languages
TeacherOn started life as TutorIndia, and for most Indian languages, you’ll find far more teachers here than on italki or other competitors. Many teachers are unreviewed, however, and the site can attract scammers, so use it cautiously and pay via the platform. You can contact three teachers for free, but after that, you’ll either have to wait for them to contact you or pay an extra fee.
Take notes during the class to help you remember the material.
27 different languages
Preply’s a popular choice, thanks to its cheap prices and thousands of tutors. However, the lesson purchasing system is frustrating, since you have to commit to at least five classes with the same teacher.
What’s more, we don’t believe it fairly compensates teachers. Preply takes up to 33% of your payment in commission, and although you have to pay for your hour-long trial lessons, the teachers don’t see a penny of it.
Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian
On paper, Rype sounds like a decent choice for certain types of learners. It boasts of huge flexibility and handpicked teachers, while its subscription-based packages could push reluctant learners into booking classes. However, when we tried it out in 2020, we struggled to find available teachers and were dissatisfied with the lesson quality.
This up-and-coming Taiwanese company allows you to book teachers from all over the world, but we can’t recommend it. Up to 38% of the per-lesson price goes straight to the company, not the teacher, plus there are reports of teachers being harassed online.
Classes can help you learn a language more quickly and provide greater feedback and support. However, they’re not the only way to pick up a new language. Perhaps you’re looking for something cheaper, with a one-off price tag, low monthly subscription fee, or no payment required at all.
Maybe you’re burned out from previous language lessons, and need a fun, no-pressure way to get back into studying. It could be that you’d like to take lessons, but only after you’ve built up some confidence via self-study. Or perhaps you’re already taking language lessons, but want a way to supplement your studies and expand your vocabulary.
Language lessons are rarely enough alone. So, let’s explore some of our favorite options for studying a language without a teacher’s support.
If you’re an aural learner, Innovative Language might be a good choice for you. It has audio and video lessons for a wide range of languages, mostly under its Pod101 and Class101 brands: SpanishPod101, ChineseClass101, JapanesePod101… You can also use the promo code ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES for 25% off a subscription.
This gamified app will get you learning vocabulary and grammar, five minutes at a time. It isn’t our first choice for serious language learners, but it can be a fun supplementary resource.
Want something like Duolingo, but with more grammar, less nonsensical sentences, and a wide variety of games? LingoDeer started off catering out for East Asian languages, but now has courses for European ones and Arabic. It’s pretty good at teaching scripts, too.
Studying Korean with LingoDeer.
If you’re struggling to remember new vocabulary, Anki will help you out. It’s an SRS flashcard app that adapts to how difficult you find certain words. You can create your own decks, use someone else’s, or even integrate ones from Verbling.
Busuu’s app might seem like just another Duolingo-esque phone app, but don’t underestimate it. There are some great features to help you track your progress, and even more excitingly, you can give and receive feedback as part of the social features. It’s not as good for East Asian languages, however.
If you’re looking for hands-free resources that you can use while cooking or driving, try Pimsleur’s audio courses. The 30-minute lessons can sometimes feel slow, but they are thorough and well-structured.
This gamified app can seem a little serious, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It has a range of activities, including writing, speaking, and grammar drills. Plus, there’s B2/C1-level content for some languages.
Learning Spanish slang with Babbel.
If you’re a fan of podcasts, you might like Coffee Break Languages’ courses for European languages and Mandarin. The lessons are relatively short and relaxed, and you can access a lot of the content for free.
It’s hard to beat italki’s community features, which allow you to upload writing and audio clips to the app for feedback. With LangCorrect, however, you can also upload your writing to receive corrections and critiques from other users. What’s more, you don’t have to use an app to do so.
Wishing you could ask a native speaker some questions, without signing up for an entire class? Try HiNative, a Q&A-style app that lets language-learners help each other out. Whether you’ve got a question about grammar or local traditions, chances are someone will have the answer.
Think of Tandem as Tinder, except instead of dates, you’re getting language practice. This app facilitates language exchanges with learners around the globe. It doesn’t matter if you live in rural Ohio, the Russian Far East, or Antarctica: you can still find someone to practice with.
You’ll also find platforms, apps, and courses that cater specifically for the language you’re learning, such as smarterGerman (review) or Yoyo Chinese (review). Language-specific resources are sometimes the best options available, so take a look at the languages listed below to find even more options.
italki has helped millions of students learn a language, from expats to college students and passionate hobbyists. It’s helped make Asian, African, and indigenous languages accessible to people all around the world, and made becoming bilingual (or even multilingual) slightly less exclusive and expensive.
Yet italki is not the only option available for online learning. There are numerous well-designed platforms offering quality lessons. Some have their own curriculums, some have supporting games and review features, and some specialize in certain languages.
So if you’re looking for online classes, try out some of the websites in this article. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find a teacher that’s right for you.