If you have read a few of my blogs, you should know that I love to travel. I especially love immersing myself into new cultures as much as possible. I’m lucky in that I have local friends in many parts of the world which allow me to enjoy experiences “beyond the tourist” books. I’m also interested in different languages, making traveling even more fun. I grew up bilingual as a Korean immigrant in the US. I picked up intermediate French (B2) over the years and studied Spanish in high school and a semester in college. I can sort of speak “taxi” and “restaurant” Vietnamese.
Recently, I wanted to brush up on my Spanish after visiting a friend’s family in the south of Spain. In searching for a workable approach, I found italki, a marketplace that connects teachers and tutors with language students around the world. There is also a similar website called Cambly. Here is a review of the two sites by an English teacher blogger. I’m currently satisfied with italki and have not tried Cambly myself.
italki has a simple, intuitive user interface, making finding an appropriate instructor easy. Each teacher has an introduction video that outlines his or her background, teaching methods and interests. The site also has extensive stats on each teacher’s student reviews and the number of classes taught. A student can sign up for one class or multi-classes to test out the arrangement. The prices vary but is around $10 – $15 per hour on the average for most languages. What a useful and reasonable platform that connects people from all over the world.
I’ve learned that the best way to learn how to speak another language is to have conversations with speakers of the target language, especially with native speakers. However, it is not always easy to find them, depending on where you live. In order to improve my French, I had gone off and on to a local French Meetup in Seattle to practice. Those were very useful conservations that helped me get beyond my speaking plateau at the time. Unfortunately, time constraints and then later the pandemic made attending very difficult. Also, most of those attending the meetup were not native speakers, even though a few were nearly fluent.
With italki, I now have a professional Spanish teacher from Costa Rica whom I can meet online whenever convenient from my home. I may have just lucked out but she is a very good, serious teacher who obviously has a lot of experience teaching online. She provides exercises and practices that make the hour fly by. She is also fluent in French so she uses both English and French to explain grammar or words as appropriate. My goal is to get to Spanish B1 level within 4 months. Wish me luck!
I’ve enjoyed the experience so much on italki that I’ve started meeting with a French tutor who had moved to Laos with her family five years ago. Our sessions are mostly free-form conversations, after which she sends some corrections and a list of new vocabulary. I’ve already benefited quite a bit from the sessions. Sometimes, I prepare a presentation on different topics like a presentation about my family or my city. This makes these sessions more focused and interesting for both of us. We never seem to run out of things to discuss.
Initially, I had contacted a French male teacher since I wanted to learn to speak more like a man (makes a big difference in some languages like Korean). But he never replied, which ended up being for the better as I’ve found an interesting teacher who shares my adventurous spirit for traveling and different cultures.
I haven’t given up on Vietnamese yet. While I used to travel to Saigon frequently for business, I have not been able to find a good class that works for me. I’m hopeful that I will find a good instructor on italki when I’m ready again to study Vietnamese.
Being able to even say a few words in a local language can have a big impact on your experience traveling. Usually, the locals are very appreciative of your efforts and is more receptive to your inquiries and more willing to engage. Any trip to a foreign land requires a lot of time, money and effort, why not try to learn some basics of their language beforehand? It will greatly enhance your experience!
If you want more detailed information about how I use italki, please leave a comment or direct message me. I’d be excited to hear from someone who shares my enthusiasm for travel and learning new languages.