There are two resources that I pretty much always recommend to anyone interested in learning Chinese. The first is Chinesepod (read my review) and the second one is italki. In order to learn Chinese, you will need help from an actual Chinese person. You need practice speaking and having conversations. There are countless places to find a Chinese tutor online but italki is by far by my favorite.
italki is far more flexible than other companies. A somewhat flawed analogy would be that italki is like airbnb and other companies are the traditional hotels. Using a tutor from italki is usually cheaper and more flexible than their competitors. It’s easy to find high-quality teachers that fit into your schedule.
Italki provides a platform for people to teach and learn languages. You can browse teacher profiles and find one that seems like the best fit for your needs. I find taking classes on italki to be very high quality, convenient and affordable.
In fact, even though I live in Beijing with my Chinese girlfriend – I still use italki.
Professional Teachers and Community Tutors
italki connects language learners and teachers. There are teachers for pretty much any language you can imagine. Many languages I didn’t even know existed have teachers you can hire on italki. For Mandarin Chinese, there are around 300 teachers available.
These teachers are split up into two groups: Professional Teachers and Community Tutors.
Professional Teachers have at least one of the following, verified by Italki staff:
* Professional teaching experience in school, university or language institute
* University degree in education
* Teaching certificate
Community Tutors are either Native speakers or have an Advanced level of the language they’re teaching.
Whether you choose a Professional Teacher or Community Tutor depends on your preferences. Professional Teachers’ classes are usually more expensive. However, they’re generally more structured and are more likely to include a prepared lesson plan and materials to use. Community Tutors generally offer cheaper classes. While some may include these materials and structure, most will not. These classes are ideal for those looking for inexpensive conversation practice.
Choosing a Teacher
Many other places will assign a tutor to you without much regard to your preferences. People are too varied in their learning and teaching styles. Not to mention other factors like the desired accent, male or female, age, lesson focus, teacher’s background and countless other factors. With italki, you’ll be able to choose your teacher for yourself.
You can filter teachers by a few different options including location, price, availability and other languages they speak. When you click on a teacher’s profile you’ll be shown a few different things.
You’ll see their location, rating and how many students they’ve had. You’ll also see if they have a webcam. Most teachers have video lessons but not all of them do. You’ll also see which languages they speak and at which level. Below that, you’ll see their specialties and read a summary written by the teacher.
You can then read individual reviews. These are incredibly helpful for helping find a teacher that’s right for you. For example, I hate when teacher’s try to just teach me vocab because I can learn that on my own easier. So, if I find that another student says that the teacher focused on vocab, I know it’s not the right fit for me.
From the teacher’s profile page, you can schedule a lesson. Different teachers have different options here. Most Community Tutors just have the one informal class option. However, Professional Teachers will often have a variety of classes they offer. These can include group classes, HSK prep, Business Chinese, Pronunciation lessons and countless other options. You’ll usually be given a few lesson lengths as well to choose from. Often, you can choose between 30, 45, 60 or 90-minute classes. Many teachers offer a discount for a 30-minute trial class. There may also be a small discount if you purchase a package of lessons. You can contact your teacher before your lesson as well if you have any questions.
You’ll be able to view a teacher’s schedule and book your class right on italki. You’ll just find a time that’s good for you and their schedule is open. You’ll reserve this time and pay.
Paying is the only slightly annoying thing I find about italki. It requires you to buy italki credits which you’ll then use to pay the teacher. It’s just basically adding money to your italki account first. Still, I think I’d prefer to just pay each lesson as I schedule it instead of adding money to my account. It’s the tiniest of annoyances though and the fact it’s one of the only things I dislike is a testament to how good italki is.
Lessons are taught on Skype. The teacher will usually add you a little bit before your lesson begins and you’ll start talking with them. Some will send you a few messages before and others won’t. I’ve had a teacher chat with me for free for over an hour on Skype the day before our lesson was scheduled. Lessons are as unique as the teacher’s themselves.
It might take you a little while to find the right teacher for yourself. I’ve had some teachers that were fine teachers that got good reviews but they didn’t fit my learning style at all. An hour with the wrong teacher can drag on incredibly slowly. However, I’ve also found teachers who felt more like friends. Chatting with them made time fly by and really made learning Chinese much more fun. It also allowed me to become more comfortable talking about a wider range of topics and forced me away from easy conversations about where I’m from or what I do.
Try a few different teachers and figure out which one best suits your needs.
The Good and the Bad
Options – You have so many options for teachers on italki that it becomes easy to get overwhelmed and not choose anyone. In some ways, it might be easier to have a teacher assigned to you and just get started. However, I prefer being able to choose for myself.
Flexibility – There’s so much more flexibility with italki than other tutoring websites. With some sites like eChineseLearning (read my review), you’ll pay and receive a certain number of classes each week. That rigidness can be helpful for a lot of people in sticking with their plans of learning Chinese. It’s easier not to have classes if you haven’t paid for it yet than if you’ve already committed to and purchased a plan. I prefer the flexibility though. You can always pay for and schedule a bunch of classes ahead of time if you prefer.
The Free Stuff
italki has more than just teachers. There are a few more useful features for those that aren’t looking to spend any money.
Language Exchange – italki is a great place to find a language exchange partner. It’s easy to find a Native Chinese speaker that’s interested in learning English (or other languages). You can view profiles, send messages and then help each other.
Notebook – This is quite similar to lang-8. You can post something you’ve written into the notebook part of italki. Then, others will make corrections and leave you comments on what you’ve written. It’s a great way to get free feedback on your writing.
Answers – If you find yourself with a random question and need some help, you can find it here. It’s quick and can help clear up some questions you may have.
Discussions – This is where you can discuss a variety of aspects related to Chinese. It’s similar to a typical forum but with lots of people requesting language exchanges.
Articles – There are tons of well-written articles related to learning Chinese.
I haven’t seen anywhere as good as italki for finding a Chinese tutor. Even though I live in Beijing I’ve found using a tutor from italki to be cheaper and more convenient than taking classes in person. As far as other websites are concerned, most provide less flexibility at a higher cost. Everyone needs help from a Native Chinese speaker and italki is the best option.