In this post, I would like to share some experiences about the use of italki and other tools I have had the chance to test lately.
Technically speaking, italki is a platform where you can find professional teachers, paid tutors, and language partners to learn and/or improve languages. It is extremely flexible because you have a great freedom when scheduling the lessons or the language exchanges. Also, you can agree with the teachers/tutors how to organize the lessons, in order to best fit your needs. Last but not least, it may be significantly cheaper that traditional one-to-one lessons.
That said, italki offers you the potential for much more. It can be used as a world-scale language-learning social network. In fact, it allows you to get in touch with people from virtually any country, who may have other things in common with you besides the desire for learning new languages.
From a practical point of view, to get the most out of it, I would suggest the following:
- Take as many trial lessons as you can. Introduction videos are a good starting point when it comes to choosing a teacher or a tutor. However, I think that the trial lessons are the most effective way to find the right teachers/tutors for you. Every learner is different, but every teacher/tutor is different as well because he/she uses distinct teaching styles and methods. Taking a lesson is the only way to verify if a teacher/tutor is effective for you.
- Don’t pick only one teacher/tutor. Every teacher/tutor has different characteristics. Maybe you’ll find a teacher who is very good at teaching grammar, and a tutor who is fantastic at reviewing your written texts. If you want to improve different aspects (grammar, writing, pronunciation, etc.), you can consider to have a “team” of teachers/tutors, and to choose the best one for every lesson, depending on what you want to work on.
- Mix teachers/tutors and language partners. Generally speaking, teachers and tutors are very supportive and know how to deal with students of any level. Also, they are aware of how difficult is learning a new language, because most of them are learning new languages themselves. For such reasons, I think it is a good idea to talk to language partners too. Since they are not teachers, chatting with them can be more “realistic”. Talking to different people has another great pro: it allows you to get used to different accents and intonations. I don’t know if this is true for all the languages, but in many cases (in Italian and in English for sure) accents and intonations vary largely, even within the same country.
- If you want to make the lessons more challenging, don’t use video call. I think that Skype is the most common program used to communicate during the lessons or the language exchanges. Even if it does support video calls, I think that using voice-only calls is more challenging, because you can’t count on the non-verbal communication.
- Use the Skype audio recorder. If you use Skype for the lessons and the language exchanges, you can record the audio for a later listening. It is extremely useful to listen to yourself and to compare your pronunciation to your partner’s. If you use Linux, you can use this program for example.
Besides italki, other tools can greatly help when learning or improving a language. For instance, video streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer a lot of shows and films that are available in the original language with subtitles in several different languages. In general, I suggest finding content that is not too complex for your level. If you can understand, say, 40% of the words, it is unlikely that you are able to get the context of the dialogue, and thus it is nearly impossible to guess the meaning of new words. Also, I feel that the captions should be used in moderation. When you reach the point of understanding most of the words yourself, I think that the subtitles are no longer useful. They become somewhat of a negative in this case because you tend to focus more on the written words instead of the spoken ones.
Music can be a very powerful tool as well. If you love it, you can kill two birds with one stone with the help of the musixmatch app: it shows the lyrics of the song while you are listening to it. Another great tool that makes use of the music to teach a language is https://lyricstraining.com. It is a game that consists of filling in the missing words of the song lyrics while you are listening. It can be very challenging, but no doubt intriguing and fun.
One last piece of advice about written language. I have recently started to use Grammarly. I think it is very useful because:
- It not only highlights misspelled words, but it also provides useful suggestions about punctuation and writing style. Unlike traditional grammar checkers, it seems to be able to partially understand the meaning of the sentences you write.
- When it proposes a change, it explains the reason why you should consider it.
I believe it can be helpful for native speakers as well.