iTalki Review: The Pros and Cons & Tips for Language Learning

I’ve been using iTalki now for almost 6 months, so I thought this would be a good time to give you a full iTalki review based on my experience with the website.

I’ve used the website in several different capacities. I have paid for one-off lessons, I’ve booked packages with single instructors, and I’ve used the community page where you can connect with fellow language learners.

 Get $10 iTalki Credit by Signing up With This Link*

*You receive your credit only after you’ve taken your first lesson

My Background with Language Learning

I learned Spanish in high school, but I never used it outside the classroom and had no real interest in it while I was there (education is wasted on the young as they say). I studied German in college for a semester when I was living in Switzerland. I actually used the language. I met people from all over the world who, after asking where you were from, asked what languages do you speak. For the first time had an interest in becoming bilingual.

In my mid-20’s I moved to South Korea to teach English where I was dead set on learning the language. I studied every single day for almost the entire year that I lived there. I could read the language and was comfortably conversational by the time I left. I remember almost none of it now.

Then in 2016, my boyfriend got a job in Mexico City. We both agreed this was our chance to finally learn a language to fluency (whatever that means). We immersed ourselves those first few months. Then slowly got comfortable in our regular situations (restaurants, taxis, bars), and stopped actively trying to learn the language.

Fast forward to January 2019 and I was at a stalemate. I was embarrassed to tell people that I lived in Mexico, but I didn’t really speak Spanish. I was annoyed with myself for my lack of motivation. I was frustrated in day-to-day situations like getting my internet fixed or trying to explain why my gas bill was wrong. I wasn’t properly living in Mexico and I knew I needed to change it now or I never would.

So I finally decided to put my money where my mouth is. I got online and booked my first lesson with an iTalki tutor (after spending nearly an entire working day sifting through different teachers).

Since I live in Mexico, I wanted to have a Mexican teacher. The website allows you to filter not only the language you want to learn but also where your teacher is from.

What to do in Mexico City

iTalki Review – The Pros

There are a lot of pros to iTalki. I’ll list them briefly and then go into further detail below.

  • Affordable
  • Flexible
  • You are in control of what and how you want to learn
  • Choice of tutors from all different countries
  • Access to a community of language learners for free

Affordability

One of the biggest draws to iTalki for me was how affordable it is to study Spanish. If I wanted to have an in-person tutor here in Mexico City, prices start around 250 Pesos per hour (about $13). While this isn’t a ton, these lessons mean I have to travel to another part of the city, so it would also cost me money in Ubers/public transportation. To have a tutor come to my house was close to 400 Pesos per hour or $20 USD.

Mexico City has tons of great language schools, but they can quickly add up in cost and none of them are near where I live so I’d have the same problem.

I looked up a few online courses before I signed up with iTalki. Many seemed to start at $199 and I struggled to believe it was really what I needed. I didn’t want to just learn more grammar, I wanted to actually SPEAK Spanish. (need concrete evidence of courses)

I knew that I was going to have to spend money if I wanted to break out of the Duolingo bubble. While there are plenty of free resources out there, I wanted (and sort of needed) to be forced to study with another person. I needed guidance and direction because I didn’t really know how to progress on from my current muddled Spanish.

So when I found iTalki, it seemed like the perfect combination. I could take “classes,” but they would include a ton of talking. I could sift through the teachers and find someone who ran more immersive-style classes and it would only cost me about $8-$10 USD per hour.

There are Spanish teachers from all over the world, but if you’re on a budget, you’ll likely want to stick to places like Mexico, Venezuela, or Colombia. I found that teachers in Argentina, Chile, and Spain charged significantly more per hour.

For the best prices, shop around for a tutor and then book a package with that tutor. You can usually book five lessons at once (and choose the times and dates whenever you want) and save a few dollars on each lesson.

italki review
As you can see prices can vary from $9 an hour to $20 and hour and there are some even lower and higher than this!

Flexibility

Something that makes iTalki stand out from other tutoring systems is that you have complete flexibility. You can have a lesson on a Tuesday afternoon one week and then the following week have it on a Thursday morning.

You can book a class up to 24 hours in advance and you can swap teachers constantly. I love that you aren’t tied to any particular teacher and that you can book them within the same week that you want to have the lesson. There’s no locking yourself into a set schedule and you don’t have to stress if you get a teacher you don’t click with.

You’re in Control of Your Learning

If you sign up for an online language course or you go to a language school, they have a set curriculum and that is what you’ve paid for. You’ll no doubt have set activities, books to work your way through, and you’re told when you study grammar, when you study speaking and listening, and when you study writing.’’

With iTalki, you can find different teachers for each of these things. These tutors are there to help you learn and if you find one you click with, they’re more than happy to change lessons based around what you want to work on.

I have found a fantastic tutor who has helped me gain confidence in my speaking. It’s what we work on most days, simply chatting. He corrects me, I ask him questions about vocabulary or grammar. Other days, we’ll spend half an hour talking and then half an hour working on grammar or other lessons that he has prepared. It’s the mix that I was looking for and I was able to tell my tutor exactly what I wanted (mixed in with what he thought I needed because he’s the professional after all).

italki review
Here you can see that you can filter which countries that your tutors to come from – in my opinion, a very handy and helpful tool

Choice of Tutors From All Different Countries

Just because I’m in Mexico doesn’t mean I have to have a Mexican tutor. If I wanted, I could learn Spanish from a Spaniard. If I wanted I could learn Spanish from an Argentinian. The thing I love about this is that if you are traveling to a specific country or you are preparing to move to somewhere, in particular, you can learn the local slang and accent from someone who lives there.

The reason I wanted to learn Spanish from a Mexican tutor was because that’s where I live. I wanted to learn how Mexicans speak so I can better understand the culture so that I sound a little bit more like a local, and so that I can understand other people when they use Mexican-style Spanish.

This isn’t just the case with Spanish. You can learn Italian from someone who lives in Italy or someone who is from Canada. You can learn Korean from a Chinese person or Japanese from an Australian. Of course, they are all fluent in the languages they are teaching and most are experienced teachers in these languages.

iTalki Free Language Community

Perhaps one of the best parts about iTalki is the free language community. Once you create an account and log in, you will be able to click over to the tab “community” and from there select “Language partners. 

Once you’re there, you can filter through to find people exactly as you would find a tutor. The thing I really love about this is that you can actually select and try to find someone who is living in your city. This is a great feature if, like me, you have recently moved to a country where you want to learn the language.

There are a few other things I personally love about this search feature. You can select which country they come from so you practice the type of Spanish (or other language dialects) that you really want to be learning. If you are learning French and plan to visit Provence, you may want to make sure you have a tutor who is from that region of France rather than someone from Brittany or Paris where the language may have slight differences.

You can select also select the gender of the person. I really love this because I have had experiences in the past where I try to find language partners and all they’re really interested in is a date. This way I can make sure I only chat with other women and if I do choose to meet up with someone in Mexico City, I know I’ll feel better about it.

italki review
Here you can see what the Language Partner page looks like and how you are able to filter to find exactly the right fit for you (of course you still have to contact them and see if you’re the right fit for them!).

iTalki Review – The Cons

While I have had a great experience with iTalki, there have also been a handful of cons that have frustrated me over the last few months.

  • Not all teachers are teachers
  • Finding the right teacher takes time (which feels wasted)
  • You have to book at least 24 hours in advance
  • The reviews are public and therefore not 100% honest
  • The iTalki credits system

Not All Teachers are Teachers

About half of the teachers on the website, at least when it comes to learning Spanish, are not actually teachers. While this doesn’t really mean that they won’t suit you (actually if you simply want to practice speaking with a native speaker, it’s a great option), it does mean that you have to be careful to read thoroughly if you do want a certified language teacher.

You can also filter the searches to make sure that your results only include certified language teachers. It may be a pro for some if you don’t mind not having a certified teacher because people who are not teachers usually charge significantly less per hour.

italki review
As you can see, you are able to filter your search to only show you certified teachers.

Finding the Right Teacher Takes Time

Every time you have a trial lesson with a new tutor, the 30 minutes are almost always spent with a sort of test. The tutor is trying to gauge what your language level is. They then explain at the end what they think you need to help improve your language skills.

This means that if you didn’t love the first or second or third tutor you tried, that you are not only spending money on these lessons but that you are spending a lot of time not learning more Spanish. I ended up settling for a tutor at the beginning because I was in such a hurry to just learning. It ended up working out and while I did eventually move onto another tutor, I did learn and was glad in the end that I didn’t just keep doing introductory lessons.

You Have to Book 24 Hours in Advance

This became increasingly more frustrating as the days went by. I had a package with a particular tutor and I got used to having lessons on a Tuesday afternoon, but if I forgot to book the lesson on Sunday then I couldn’t book it at all.

I understand that you have to give your tutor enough time to prepare and perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh, but I feel like it should be up to the student and tutor to be able to decide what works best for them.

Reviews are Public (and therefore not entirely accurate)

Every time you finish a lesson with an iTalki tutor you can rate them. This then becomes public and everyone, including your tutor, can see the review. In my experience, this means that people aren’t 100% honest.

I have a package with my tutor. If one of the lessons wasn’t great, I still have to take 3 more lessons with him. Why would I write him a bad review?

I also think that most people are kind and if they didn’t have a great experience, they don’t necessarily want to punish the tutor by giving him or her a bad review just because they didn’t click.

italki review
Here you can see that you must pay a minimum of iTalki credits. If you don’t use all of the credits, they simply sit in your account until you top up again and use more.

The iTalki Credits System

The iTalki credits system is perhaps the most annoying con of all the cons in this review. Whenever you want to book a lesson, you need to pay for your lessons with iTalki credits. These credits are equivalent to dollars (or whatever currency you have your account in).

If you only have $4 of credit left on your account and you want to book an $8 lesson you have to top it up. The minimum amount of credits that you can top up is $10. That means that you now have $6 left on your iTalki account. It’s not enough to pay for another lesson so it sits there until you top it up again.

You constantly have money sitting there and in the end, you’ll never really use it up. I think it’s a sneaky way to keep people using your system and I don’t really like it.

 

My Experience Using iTalki to Learn Spanish

Like I mentioned above, I started using iTalki in January. Since then I have taken at least one 1-hour lesson every week. For most of February and March, I was also taking an additional 30-minute conversation class.

When I was taking two lessons a week, I really noticed a difference in my listening. It improved vastly. I also really felt more comfortable using the past tense in a way that I never had before.

I think I could have utilized the free community more and found more people to chat to, but I just kept making excuses about being “too busy” or not having the time to study with someone every day. I plan to use it a lot more this summer when I have less going on and fewer excuses to make.

iTalki is what you make of it and if you are serious about learning, you really can grow your language skills using their website and tutors (and free new language friends).

italki review
Another great feature is that you can select exactly how much you want to pay per lesson if you are are on budget.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of iTalki

  • Try out a few different teachers to get an idea of what you really want from your lessons, but don’t spend too much time. You should already have a short-list of tutors (no more than 5). Choose your favorite and stick with them for a few weeks before you decide whether you want to try a different one.
  • Utilize the free community. There are so many people out there willing to swap language. For me it was a great way to grow my confidence and vocabulary. Often I just sort of had penpals that I chatting to on WhatsApp – we would take turns messaging each other in Spanish and English. It’s also a great informal way to get to know another culture that uses the language you’re trying to learn.
  • Know that simply having these lessons once or twice a week will not suddenly lead to fluency. You still have to put in the work. Consider getting a grammar book or finding several people that you can practice with. I even started making YouTube videos in Spanish as a way to share my journey and practice my speaking (it was and continues to be quite scary, but it’s also fun and challenging!).
  •  Get $10 iTalki Credit by Signing up With This Link* – once you have your first lesson, you will be credited with $10 to use for your first package or next lesson! Full disclosure, if you use this link, I will also receive $10 of iTalki credit after you have your first lesson. 

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