How to find a conversation partner from the comfort of your home

Speaking. You won’t find a better way to improve your foreign language skills. Alas, starting to learn a language by yourself can make it seem hard to find someone to speak to. That’s why people usually start to focus more on passive activities, such as reading or listening.

However, a lack of conversation in a foreign language is the reason why you might be having trouble expressing yourself. And that in turn makes you put off starting to actively use the foreign language.

Remember how you learned to write and read your foreign language? It was all just hours of listening and dozens or even hundreds of pages you read. The same is true for speaking – you only learn by doing it.

“When you are learning a foreign language, the important thing is to talk as much as possible.“

So, how do you make sure you have enough contact with a foreign language, when attending language classes or going to a language café (when there’s no lockdown, of course) doesn’t work for you? Maybe you don’t have time to meet up with a teacher. Or you just don’t know anyone in the neighbourhood who can help you learn and speak? The answer is closer than you think.

We present to you the great Italki platform, the biggest site for finding a teacher or language buddy for almost every language. A few clicks are all that lie between you and conversations in a foreign language.

In this article, you will find out:

Taking your first steps with Italki

The Italki site is very intuitive and user-friendly, so you won’t have to waste your time browsing around. You can also select the language of your interface (there are more than 15 to choose from), which will make finding what you need very easy, even if you are a beginner.

To make your entry into the world of online conversations even smoother, you can click on the picture below to register as a new user and get a bonus 10 dollars worth of credit. All you need to do is to purchase at least 20 dollars’ worth of credit for your account after registering. After that, Italki will give you an additional 10 dollars’ worth for free. 30 dollars will easily get you 3 or 4 lessons with a teacher.

Register as a new user with our referral link and get a bonus 10 dollars’ worth of credit.

When you are done filling out your basic information, your current time zone, what language you want to learn, and what languages you already know, you’ll have your very own profile, which you can update as time goes on.

You can use the site itself for free. It will provide you with access to the list of teachers, the forum as well as articles without needing any credit. Should you want to start actively learning, however, we strongly suggest not skipping this step and adding credit as soon as you can. It will help motivate you to use it and book your first language lesson.

Getting to know Italki

Italki offers a database of thousands of teachers for dozens of languages. You’d probably have a hard time finding a language that’s not on offer there. Before we move on to choosing the right teacher for you, here are some basic things you should know before starting.

The Italki website is intuitive and you’ll master working with it in no time.
The Italki website is intuitive and you’ll master working with it in no time.

The site offers two basic types of language partners:

  • Paid professional teachers – trained teachers supplied through the Italki site, which had to prove their skills and education with a relevant diploma or certificate. They are really useful for beginners especially, or people looking for more professional guidance.
  • Paid community tutors – native speakers in most cases or high-level teachers, but without certification. They are fit for honing your conversation skills, and offer informal lessons with a wide range of topics. They are usually less pricey, too. For conversation purposes, if your main aim is to improve your speaking skills, these tutors can go toe to toe with professional teachers.

There is a wide variety of price options, meaning you can find a lesson for 8 dollars or even 30.

You can switch it around, i.e. have a few lessons with a community teacher and leave the more complicated problems to a professional teacher with whom you can book a lesson every once in a while.

Browsing teachers’ profiles is easy thanks to a set of filter options. Here, you can choose exactly what you’re looking for.

You can choose the language you want to learn, the country of origin of your teacher, as well as additional languages they offer. This is important if you need to have a common language with your teacher to communicate in, one that you are already good at. That way, you can actually improve two languages at once!

Next, you can choose your price range and time availability, your preferred teacher type (professional teacher or community tutor), as well as the topics to study. If you only want to set up a lesson with a native speaker, all you need to do is click the rightmost button of your interface.

This nifty filter will help you find the right teacher
This nifty filter will help you find the right teacher

When choosing a teacher, it is good to check their profile for their specializations. Some have formal education in different fields (like medicine, business, language exam preparation), which can lead to higher lesson prices.

You’ll find all the important information in the individual teachers’ profiles – their introductory video, lessons offered, time availability, etc. The calendar calculates the timetables to your time zone. That means you can find a timeslot e that’s right for you, even if the teacher is currently on the other side of the world.

Teacher's profile

If you’re interested in specializations and education levels, you can find the relevant data in the lower part of the teacher’s profile, including their stats of lessons taught. If you have zero experience with online teachers, we suggest looking for one with hundreds of lessons under their belt, like Kamile in the picture below (3395 lessons).

Information about the teacher

To get an even better picture, read the reviews of students who’ve attended the teacher’s lessons. You want to look for a teacher praised for being kind, patient, and offering fun and interesting lessons.

Reviews are important for deciding which tutor you're going to pick

Choosing teachers

Italki gives you the option of booking up to three trial lessons with three different teachers. These are half-hour lessons at a reduced price, letting you try out a given teacher’s lesson and decide if you wish to continue learning with them.

The wide range of choices will definitely satisfy everyone.
The wide range of choices will definitely satisfy everyone.

While choosing the right teacher, it is also wise to keep these criteria in mind:

  • Place of origin – a lot of languages have region-specific accents. If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, for example, it’s best to find a Spanish teacher from that area.
  • Time – Italki shows the timetable calculated to the time zone you entered during registration. Some teachers can be in different time zones, so take that into account when choosing a time to learn. If a teacher that seems promising can’t align their time with you, just move on. Don’t forget, all timetables seen on the Italki website are calculated to your time zone, so you don’t have to do the math yourself.
  • Price – it all depends on your budget and goals. Cheaper lessons offer more relaxed learning, without worrying about not getting the most out of your paid lesson. As we mentioned before, you can learn with multiple teachers – take a few lessons with a community tutor to hone your conversation skills and leave the more advanced questions for the occasional lesson with a professional teacher.
  • Common language – if you are more advanced and don’t need to have the basics explained to you, sharing a common language with the teacher should not be your priority. You can always use descriptions or paraphrasing if you’re ever unable to express what you want. But if you are a fresh beginner or need to get a firmer grip on the things you already know, it’s recommended choosing someone with whom you share a different common language.

Booking your first language lesson

After choosing a teacher, there’s no time to waste. Make sure you have enough credit in your “wallet” and then it’s full steam ahead to booking your first lesson. You don’t have to worry about your credits, because Italki has a protection program for both you and the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t show up, you won’t be charged. At the end of every lesson, both parties have to confirm that everything went smoothly. Should you have any problems with a lesson, the Italki support team is happy to help.

Based on what a teacher is offering, you can choose a 30, 45, 60 or even a 90-minute lesson. If you plan on having multiple lessons with one teacher, it’s good to get a package deal that’s better value for money.

If you plan on having multiple lessons with one teacher, it’s good to get a package deal

Lessons need to be booked at least 12 hours in advance. There is a time frame for requesting a cancelation or rebooking of the lessons, though it doesn’t apply in all cases.

The green bars in a teacher’s timetable represent available lessons you can choose from. It only takes a click on the corresponding bar and you can proceed with your booking.

Timetable of an Italki teacher

After successfully booking a lesson, a confirmation email will be sent to you with all the necessary details. Now, it’s up to the teacher to accept your lesson request.

You booked an Italki lesson!

You can find the relevant information about planned lessons in your profile. There, you will also find how the lesson will be held – through Skype or the like. If you aren’t comfortable with a video call, you can always ask the teacher for audio only.

Information about your upcoming lesson

Your profile shows a useful countdown timer as well, showing you the time remaining before your next confirmed lesson. There’s a history of all your completed lessons to date, too.

Overview of your Italki lessons

Ordering your first language lesson tends to be the hardest step. But rest assured, it only gets easier from then on. With every lesson, you will grow more and more accustomed to communicating with online teachers. Remember, feeling nervous at the beginning is completely natural. After all, you are communicating with a stranger in a foreign language, and sometimes technical problems may occur. The initial anxiety usually fades when you start speaking more and gain more self-confidence. That’s why you don’t need to fear the “leap of faith”. If you don’t get on with your teacher, it is perfectly acceptable to stop having lessons with them.

Preparing for your first language lesson

Use the time you have left until your booked lesson starts efficiently and make some preparations. Since it’s crucial to speak as much as possible in the language you are learning, here are a few tips to make the most out of every minute:

  • Learn greetings and communication phrases in your chosen language, along the lines of:
    • Hi!/Good morning!/Goodbye!
    • Thanks./Please.
    • How do you say…?
    • What does X mean?
    • Sorry, I didn’t understand that.
  • Learn a few phrases that might be useful in case something goes wrong:
    • Can you hear/see me?
    • I can’t see/hear you.
    • Something isn’t working.
    • Could you write it in the chat?
  • Learn confirmation phrases:
    • Is it correct?
    • Can you repeat it?
    • Can I say it like that?
    • How do you spell/say that?

Go over what information about yourself you want to give to your teacher. That will help them tailor the lessons to your needs. Although you might not need to use these tips during your first lesson, remember them all the same. Also, should you decide to book additional lessons with the same teacher, consider these pointers:

  • Tell the teacher what materials you are using and the extent of your vocabulary. For instance, let them know that you frequently read and watch TV in your free time, that you are using a particular textbook, or maybe preparing for a language exam.
  • Connect your virtual classroom with the real world and share your interests with your teacher. Tell them how you tend to study and work and why you decided to learn the given language. This will enable them to better create suitable content for the lesson. You don’t have to always stick to regular lesson topics – if you are going on holiday, keeping up with some sport matches or attending a specialized course, try to use at least part of the lesson to discuss relevant topics.
  • Set up a regular way to test your vocabulary. The best way to learn new words is to see them in context, which these lessons are practically made for. During active conversation, “guessing” the correct meaning is in fact way easier than looking up each individual word in the dictionary. Combine online lessons with vocabulary-processing apps and methods like Anki, Memrise or Goldlist. Use them to go over all the new vocabulary after each lesson.

Keep these points in mind before the start of your lesson:

  1. Find a comfy spot, where no one will disturb you during the lesson. In addition, check what part of your room will be caught by your webcam. If you need to, position your PC to face a different direction.
  2. Be at your computer in time, with a few minutes to spare if you can. If this is your first lesson with the given teacher through Skype, for example, you’ll need to accept their contact request.
  3. Check if your Internet connection is stable and make sure you don’t have background downloads or something else slowing down your connection.
  4. Get your headphones ready and check that your webcam is working (in case of a video call).
  5. Have a notebook and a pen ready for taking notes. You may also use a shared online document or other learning materials, depending on what you agree on with your teacher.
  6. After establishing contact with your teacher, the lesson can begin.

Following the end of the lesson, use the Italki website again to confirm that everything went off without a hitch. If you encountered a technical issue or any other problem, you can mention it, too. Rate the teacher and give them a short review. Your reviews help others choose the right teacher.

What level of language skills is the best for Italki?

Before we close off the topic of Italki, we would like to debunk one myth – the one that says you can’t communicate in a language before reaching some arbitrary level of proficiency. On the contrary, you can start speaking on day one; you just need to choose the right approach.

Practice conversation with a native speaker: How to use Italki

So, how should you make use out of Italki lessons depending on your level?

  • Beginners:

If you are working with a beginner level textbook, you’ll have a basic idea of what vocabulary you know and what topics you’ve already learned about. If you keep a list of acquired vocabulary or something else where you write down what you’ve learned, send a copy of it to your teacher.

Prepare a self-introduction including who you are and where you’re from, what you do for a living and how you spend your free time. Remember to have some questions ready to find out this information about your teacher.

As the extent of your vocabulary grows, you’ll be able to talk about stuff you’ve done or seen, and even about things you plan to do. You are free to prepare your vocabulary beforehand and practice your active use of it during the lesson.

As a rule, giving and answering questions is a great way to go, ideally about topics you chose beforehand, or following a textbook you are using.

  • Intermediate students:

Your conversations grow more complex, meaning you can now talk more in depth and at length about the topics you used at the beginning.

At this level, most of the lesson should be done in the language you are learning, with your teacher writing down new vocabulary in your shared document.

You can hypothesise and ask your own questions about topics that interest you.

Should you find a point of interest you would like to talk about during this phase, but not have the required vocabulary for it, go ahead and learn the relevant words and phrases. Mention it to your teacher and expand on this area.

  • Advanced students:

Try to set goals in the given language. At this point, it’s best to find a teacher you don’t share another common language with, so that you have to get creative when having problems expressing something.

Don’t limit yourself to a textbook and move on to topics that are close to you personally (current events, the field you work in, personal interests …).

As a rule of thumb, you should be the one doing most of the talking during an advanced lesson. The teacher may give you some follow-up questions, correct the occasional pronunciation error, explain unknown words or other details.

Additional tips and tricks for learning a foreign language

If you’d like to get even more practical and specific tips for getting the most out of online lessons and self-learning, we recommend you to look at our detailed Language Master video course. It was created for self-learners just like you, starting at the intermediate-advanced level. It will present you with guidelines for improving all of your language skills, speaking included. The Language Master also includes a tutorial video for using Italki, taking you step-by-step through all the nooks and crannies of this website within minutes.

You are free to choose to take part in a complex course designed for honing all your skills, or to immediately embark upon taking a step into the online world and finding your own individual teacher on Italki. Either way, we strongly recommend starting to learn now with no delay.

Your Action Plan for the next three days

Day 1:

  • After you finish this article, click on this link and register on Italki right away.
  • Create your profile, fill out your info, and set your time zone. You can add a nice profile picture as well, and don’t forget to mention which method you’ll be using to communicate with your teacher (e.g. Skype).
  • Add credit if you can, so that your account balance motivates you to book a lesson. If you register using our link and add at least 20 dollars’ worth of credit to your “wallet”, Italki will reward you with an additional 10 dollars’ worth. You’ll get the bonus within seven days, meaning you can soon use it to book another lesson. However, this only applies to new accounts made using this link. If you already have an account, but you haven’t used it yet, we suggest creating a new one.

Day 2:

  • Set aside time for finding a teacher. Use filters to find those that suit your needs and watch their introductory videos. If they seem alright, check their lessons on offer (types and prices), as well as free slots in their timetable.
  • Italki lets you book up to three so-called “trial“ lessons, which don’t oblige you to book additional lessons with the given teacher. Simply have a trial lesson with the teacher and decide if you want to continue working with them.
  • Following a trial lesson, book a lesson with up to three different teachers (depending on your time constraints) and let them know what you expect from them.

Day 3:

  • Complete your first lesson on Italki.
  • Given the fact that you need to order a lesson at least 12 hours in advance, you won’t always have time to have it on the same day. Try selecting the soonest possible time slot, so that you don’t have to needlessly postpone things.
  • If you ordered your second lesson during day 2 of your Action Plan, you can have it today and start actively working on your foreign language skills.
Talk wherever and whenever - thanks to Italki
Talk wherever and whenever – thanks to Italki.

If you have enough time right now, you can complete all Day 1 and Day 2 tasks at once and book a lesson for tomorrow. This way, you don’t have to waste any time whatsoever and you will be one step closer to fluency in a foreign language. Remember:

“Speaking can only be learned by speaking! “

Alternatives to Italki

If you want to take a look at different platforms offering similar services to Italki, we’ve included some of them for you right here:

Tutoroo

Tutoroo.co connects students and language tutors around the world. According to the site’s info, nowadays, it boasts more than 100,000 private language tutors. It also helps you find a native speaker near you. Even though its current focus are offers in the regions of Australia, Asia or South Africa, its coverage grows by the day.

Tandem

In comparison with similar services, Tandem.net not only connects you to paid teachers, but also helps you find language exchange partners. Currently, more than 5 million users offer around 150 languages, making it easy to find the right one for you. This useful phone app supports video calls, instant messaging, sharing images or even voicemail.

Preply

Preply.com also resembles Italki in its use. You register, find a teacher that suits your needs and begin improving your language skills. You can do all of that from the comfort of your own home.

Learning with a teacher on Italki or similar platforms is one of the best ways to make sure your language learning suits your needs, and to help you improve all your skills. Apart from the practical benefits of learning, it also makes it possible to meet people all over the world, make truly interesting and beneficial friendships, or experience new countries and cultures first-hand. So, let’s go have some conversations!

Image source: italki.com / unsplash.com

Would you like to get lots of tried and tested tips on how to effectively learn a language and where to begin? Then sign up for my free webinar, in which you’ll find out:

  • How to learn a foreign language in two years, even with a full-time job.
  • Three effective and free methods for learning any language, which you can immediately apply in real life.
  • Four simple steps for sticking to your learning and never losing motivation.
sign up for webinar by language mentor Lydia Machova

The author of this blog post is Daša Oravcová, a professional translator and member of the Language Mentoring team since 2018. 

Language Mentoring provides a complete guide for learning any language using simple and often free resources on the internet and in bookshops. It was founded by polyglot, language mentor and author of this website, Lýdia Machová, in 2016. She's learned 9 languages by herself and she adds another one every other year. Her philosophy is that everybody can learn a language regardless talent, age or other qualities – if they know how to do it.

 

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