It’s very rare for me to recommend a particular resource for everyone, regardless of the language that they’re studying. Usually each language will have their own unique resources that are great specifically for students of that language.
Italki is the exception to this.
Anyone studying any language would benefit from using italki.
And I do mean any language. You can find an online tutor for pretty much any language you would possibly want to learn. There are languages I’ve never heard of that have tutors on italki.
In nearly every case, italki will both be the cheapest and most convenient place to find a teacher.
This in-depth review will look at every aspect of what it’s like to use italki for your language lessons. It’ll be split into the following parts…
What is italki?
Languages and prices
Different types of teachers
Choosing a teacher and scheduling classes
Booking and paying for lessons
The lessons themselves
Weaknesses & alternatives
Teaching on italki
What is italki?
italki is essentially a platform where you can book language classes directly from a tutor. You’ll find thousands of independent teachers offering classes on italki. They set their own schedule, price, have unique qualifications and experiences, and come from all over the world.
A somewhat flawed analogy is that italki is similar to Airbnb, whereas typical language schools are more like traditional hotels.
italki itself doesn’t offer any classes, it’s simply teachers using their platform to facilitate the classes. Payment is made through italki and classes typically take place over Skype, but options such as WeChat, FaceTime, and others are often available.
Languages and prices
There’s no other place where you will find as many teachers or as many languages being taught. To give you a rough idea of just how many teachers there are on italki, here are the numbers of available teachers (at the time of writing) for several different languages.
English – 2372
Spanish – 869
French – 369
Mandarin – 357
German – 243
Portuguese – 165
Korean – 81
Greek – 36
Romanian – 23
Afrikaans – 11
American Sign Language – 7
Haitian Creole – 5
Belarusian – 3
Sinhala – 1
This list is far from complete. You can find a teacher for any of more than a hundred different languages – more than a few of which I’d never heard of before.
This abundance of language teachers available opens up a lot of options and lets you be pickier than you otherwise might be able to.
If you’d prefer your teacher be from a certain country, be within a certain age range, be of a certain gender, or have experience teaching certain age ranges – this becomes possible on italki.
On italki, every teacher sets their own prices. Not surprisingly, this can lead to huge differences in costs per lesson.
As an example, for Spanish, you can find a few teachers charging over $50 per hour. Luckily, on the other side of the spectrum, there are currently 267 teachers charging between $4-$9 per hour.
The prices will also vary depending on the supply and demand of teachers for each language. In addition, teachers from economically developed countries will almost certainly charge more than teachers from a country without a lot of economic opportunities.
This huge number of teachers with varying schedules makes it possible to find your ideal teacher and to take classes online without spending a fortune.
Not only that, if your native language is a language other than English, you can likely find someone that teachers your target language and also knows your native language.
I didn’t really appreciate italki until I moved to Beijing. I was looking for classes to improve my Mandarin. I ended up realizing that taking online classes was actually cheaper than finding an in-person tutor.
This appreciation was amplified by the fact that I wouldn’t need to travel around the city to meet up with them. I could take the classes from home and schedule them when most convenient. In fact, I still live in Beijing and still take Mandarin classes on italki.
Different types of teachers
There are two different types of teachers available – 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.
Typically, though not always, you’ll find that the professional teachers are more expensive and have more experience teaching. They’re more likely to have extra materials or prepare lessons specifically for the student.
Community tutors would generally be a better idea if you’re more interested in casual conversation practice.
I’ve taken classes with Community Tutors who I’ve considered to be much more skilled than some Professional Teachers. Remember, these are just labels and each teacher or tutor is unique.
Choosing a teacher and scheduling classes
Before even looking at the teachers, I’d suggest taking a few moments to think about what your ideal class would look like.
- Do you want the teacher to explain things to you in your native language when you get stuck?
- Do you want to focus on learning specific grammar points?
- Would you prefer casual conversation practice?
- Are there any specific materials you’d like to go through?
- What else would you like or dislike in your lessons?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Everyone will have different preferences and each person’s ideal class is a little different.
After you know what you’re looking for in a class, you can begin to look for the right teacher for yourself.
However, due to the sheer number of teachers available, it can be a bit overwhelming to choose one. Luckily italki has a few features to make it easier for you to figure this out.
You can see where each teacher is from. This helps if you’d prefer to practice a particular variation of the language. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Peru, it may make more sense to practice a Peruvian variation of Spanish.
You’ll also be able to see how many lessons they’ve taught, their ratings, schedule of availability, other languages they speak, and both a video and written introduction.
If you click on a teacher, you’ll be taken to their teacher profile which gives a bit more information.
One thing I’ve found to be really helpful when choosing my teachers has been to read through the reviews of other students.
It’s quite rare for people to give bad reviews (I know I hate doing so!). However, you can still get an idea of whether or not a teacher would work for you based on what others say.
For example, I hate when teachers try to teach me lots of vocabulary or come into the lesson and with a rigid plan that they are unwilling to stray away from. You can usually spot comments from other students related to these types of things in the review section.
You could easily spend hours reading through tons of teacher profiles, trying to find the perfect one for you.
Don’t do this!!!
While you can get an idea of whether or not a teacher will be a good fit, it’s impossible to know for sure until you actually have a class with them. The good news is that italki makes it easy for you to try out new teachers.
You’ll find that most teachers offer a 30-minute trial class, often times for half the price or less than that of a regular lesson.
My recommendation would be to schedule trial lessons with several different teachers and then continue taking regular classes with one or two that best fit your learning style.
As we move forward, we’ll look at booking a lesson that fits into your schedule.
Booking and paying for lessons
When you find a teacher that you’d like to schedule a lesson with simply click on the “Schedule Lesson” button. Alternatively, you can contact the teacher and ask them any questions you may have before beginning.
Often you’ll find that teachers have a few different types of classes that they offer. These may have different prices or all be the same.
Additionally, you’ll likely find a few different options available for the lessons. This may include different lesson lengths and sometimes the possibility to book a package of lessons at a discount.
Moving forward, you’ll need to select the time that you’d like the lesson to take place. This is easy to do because italki’s schedules show when the teacher is available according to your own time zone.
After selecting the time for your class, you’ll choose which platform you’ll use for your lessons (oftentimes, Skype) and add your username.
You can also leave a message for the teacher. This could give them a better idea of your language level, what you’d like to focus on, or just some things you may be interested in talking about.
Then, of course, you’ll have to pay.
This is one of the few areas where I think italki could be significantly improved.
In order to take lessons on italki, you’ll first need to pay for credits. The credits carry the same value as USD. Why they use credits instead of dollars, I have no idea.
When you go to pay for the credits, you’ll also see a processing fee attached (ugh). For $10 it’s 69 cents. This percentage goes down a little if you purchase more credits. Buying $100 worth of credits will cost $4.44 extra.
These credits will basically sit in your account wallet until you use them. Unfortunately, you can’t get a refund on your purchase, so be sure to only purchase as many credits as you’ll need. Given the relatively minor savings in the processing fee for higher amounts, I’d suggest not adding too much money unless you’re certain you’ll use it.
Another issue, from my understanding, is that if you go over 12 months without logging onto your italki account, you’ll lose the credits you’ve purchased. However, if you log on once in a year, even if you don’t take any classes, those credits will remain in your account indefinitely.
I’m a huge fan of italki but this payment process feels outdated and generally not very good. I wish it were possible to simply pay the exact amount of a lesson at the time you book it. To make matters worse, not being able to get a refund on money you’ve added is pretty lame.
The lessons themselves
The lessons on italki are as unique as the teachers and what you’d like to focus on.
I’ve had lessons that are painfully slow where I’ve wanted nothing more than to end the lesson early and cut my losses.
I’ve also had lessons where time flew by and it felt more like I was chatting with a friend.
Everyone has different personalities and different learning styles. It’s very possible that one person’s dream teacher would be another’s least favorite. What I love in a teacher, you might hate.
For this reason, I strongly encourage you to take trial lessons with several different teachers. Everyone will offer a unique experience and it’s up to you to figure out which one is right for you.
The general format for most of the lessons I’ve taken has basically been the same. If it’s the first time I’ve taken classes with someone, usually they’ll add me on Skype a few minutes before the class begins.
Then, we basically just chat online with me getting feedback throughout for the majority of the lesson. Some teachers try to correct every mistake, others let the mistakes slide, others take notes and go over them at the end. It all just depends.
While I’ve never done it, if you’d like, you could bring a textbook, reading materials, writing homework, or anything else to go over during your lesson. Most teachers are very flexible and accommodating to your wishes.
italki may be most well-known as a place to find affordable online language tutors but it actually has a lot more to offer than that. There are several free features that you’ll find under the “Community” tab at the top of the page. We’ll take a look at each of these now.
You can find articles written about various aspects of lots of different languages. In fact, I even wrote one about traditional Chinese banners (锦旗).
These articles can range from language learning advice, explaining grammar patterns or vocabulary, sharing resources, to really just about anything you can think of. Often times, teachers write articles as a means of helping promote their tutoring services.
The notebook section is my favorite and most used of italki’s free features. I think it’s the best place to improve your writing skills in your target language.
It works rather simply. You write about any topic you’d like to write about in the language you’re learning. Then, someone who’s proficient (usually a native speaker) will come in and read your writing, making corrections.
Just be sure that whatever you write, you’re comfortable having strangers on the internet read it. It’s public!
If you find this feature useful, be sure to return the favor and help correct other people’s writing. It’ll be appreciated!
Answers is another useful free part of italki’s community section. Here, you can ask any of those language questions you’ve been wondering about.
This could be, which word to use in a certain context, questions about grammar points, and whatever other random questions you come across while studying.
You’ll almost certainly find people are willing to help you with your question. Again, do the same and answer questions about your native language.
This may be the most useless of italki’s free features, though the idea is good. More than anything, it has become filled with people looking for language exchange partners – despite there being a separate section for that!
In theory, it’s meant to be a place to discuss various aspects of learning the language.
Although lessons on italki are generally rather inexpensive, if you’d prefer not to spend any money at all, the language partners section may be just what you’re looking for.
With such a large community of users, it’s easy to find someone to practice languages with. This is especially true if you’re a native English speaker.
By finding a language exchange partner, you’ll be expected to help them learn the language and they’ll help you. Both parties will help each other out.
You can search through community members interested in doing a language exchange fairly similar to how you would look for a tutor.
You can filter by a few options, such as, where they’re from, the language they’re learning, gender, whether or not they’re a native speaker, and where they live now.
When you find someone you think you’d like to chat more with, you can send them a message or add them as a friend. You’ll likely notice many of the teachers also take part in language exchanges.
Weaknesses & alternatives
I’m a huge fan of italki. I personally use it frequently and often recommend it to friends. However, nothing is perfect and there is plenty of room for improvement.
The first and most obvious issue is that their payment system is outdated and inconvenient. I don’t like having to keep money in an online wallet that I can’t refund. I’d like to pay the exact amount for each class right before enrolling without having to deal with credits and all of that.
Likewise, it’s never fun to find charges you weren’t expecting when you go to pay. Maybe they could be more upfront with the processing fee or include it in the cost of the credits. I’m not really sure the best way, to be honest.
Another thing that might be beneficial is a private rating system or a way to mark your favorite teachers. Most people, myself included, are hesitant to give someone a bad review. You don’t want to hurt their ability to earn money. This is especially true if they seemed like a good teacher but their style was a bad fit for yourself. If you use italki a lot, you may find yourself forgetting which teachers you preferred.
The other issues I have with italki are less about italki and more about my own personal study habits.
I’ve always had a hard time scheduling as many classes as I should take. In my mind, I may plan on taking three classes per week, but since I need to schedule each of them individually, I often put it off and don’t take as many lessons as I’d like.
This may just be because I hate scheduling anything in advance. I hate committing to things I guess.
I’ve found I’m much more likely to take classes when I can just decide in the moment that I want to study and schedule something last minute. For the most part, with italki, you’ll need to schedule lessons a day in advance.
They do actually have something called Instant Tutoring available which lets you schedule classes without planning ahead much. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be particularly popular.
Although there are over 350 Mandarin teachers on italki. Right now, at noon Chinese time, there are only three teachers to choose from for instant tutoring.
Another possible weakness, or perhaps it’s just something to be aware of, is that the quality of teachers and your chemistry with them will vary significantly. This is largely related to personality and learning style.
I don’t think there’s anything italki could or should do about this, but it’s something you need to be aware of before taking classes. A teacher who is a bad fit can kill your desire to study. Just be patient and try out lots of teachers. There will be someone that is a good match for you.
Verbling is the biggest competitor to italki and they provide a platform that is similar in most ways, but with a few differences.
Verbling’s payment system and the overall platform is quite a bit better than italki’s, in my opinion. You’re able to pay for the class without the need of adding money into your account wallet first. Classes also take place within their platform so you don’t need to switch to Skype for the lesson itself.
The reason I prefer italki is that there are far fewer teachers available on Verbling and they’re generally more expensive. You’ll even find some of the same teachers on both platforms, but they charge a bit more on Verbling.
The other alternatives would depend more specifically on which language you’re learning.
Baselang, for example, is awesome if you’re studying Spanish. For $149 per month, you can take unlimited Spanish lessons. Besides being great value for serious students, the ability to schedule lessons at the last minute makes it much more likely for me to take as many classes as I feel I should.
Similarly, if you have a child that you’d like to study Mandarin, Lingo Bus would be an alternative worth considering. Although lessons would be more expensive than italki, the curriculum and materials designed specifically for children would make it my preferred choice.
It’s possible that there may be other similar platforms in other languages that could be worth using instead of italki but I haven’t discovered them yet.
If you search for online tutors in your target language, you’ll almost certainly find dozens or more of online “language schools.” You’ll find they mostly look very similar to each other and will give you a free trial class.
I’m sure there are some good ones, but I generally advise people to stay away from these. More often than not, they’re less of a school and more of a middleman.
You’ll pay a large markup to take classes from these online schools and give up a lot of flexibility. Instead of having hundreds of teachers to choose from, there will likely only be a few options. Additionally, you’ll find less flexibility in scheduling your lessons.
If you want lessons with a structured curriculum, you can find teachers on italki that offer the same thing. Alternatively, you could use your own materials to study from independently and ask your tutor for additional practice or help with confusing points.
Teaching on italki
If you’re looking to make a little extra money, teaching on italki may be worth considering.
The flexibility and convenience of working from home is a huge benefit. You can set your own hours, prices, and aren’t required to accept everyone who requests a class from you.
Additionally, teaching can be really enjoyable. You’ll get to speak with students from all over the world and learn about them and their lives and culture.
italki will take their 15% cut of your earnings, so plan ahead for that.
If you are interested in becoming a teacher, you’ll need to apply online. The application process should take about two weeks.
You’ll need to include a picture of yourself, information about your language levels, along with a video and written introduction. If you’re applying as a professional teacher, you’ll also have to upload documentation proving your experience or education background.
If all goes well and you’re accepted, you can then update your schedule and prices.
One thing that surprised me is that they’re not accepting new applicants for every language. My guess is that some languages may already have too many teachers compared to students. You can see which languages are accepting new teachers here.
Just because you get accepted as a teacher on italki, doesn’t mean you’ll instantly have lots of students looking to take classes from you. New teachers will almost always need to initially lower their prices until they get more reviews and students.
As a new teacher, I’d suggest being flexible to each student’s needs and really trying to do that little bit extra. This may be making notes on things they can work on, looking for materials they may enjoy studying, letting your lessons go a little bit longer, or anything else you can think of to help your students.
The easiest way to make good money on italki is by keeping your schedule full, and the best way to do that is by having lots of returning students.
italki may be the most useful tool you’ll find for learning a language and is something that I highly recommend using.
Even though I live in Beijing, I still take lessons on italki as a means to improve my spoken Mandarin. I was initially surprised to find that it was not only more convenient than finding a local tutor but also cheaper.
Regardless of where you live or the language you’d like to learn, taking classes on italki will be extremely beneficial.
And if you don’t have money to spend on classes, that’s not a problem either. Their language exchanges and other free extra community features are great. I’d suggest trying italki out for yourself.