How to take your iTalki tutoring to the next level

In this post I'll share a few ways you can take your iTalki tutoring to the next level, to improve your language skills faster than you imagined!

I wrote this post as I was deep in my italki New Year's Challenge to complete 20 hours of language tutoring in just 45 days.

The italki New Year's challenge went really well for me, and I really enjoyed getting daily lessons.

In today's post I thought I'd give you an idea how my tutoring experience has evolved and also share some of the things I have found to be working really great. I'll also share an actual recording from a recent session. You can hear me struggle, stumble and pause as I desperately try to speak Russian.

In the second section of the post I will answer some questions that was written to me using the contact page. If you have any question about language learning, you are more than welcome to do the same!

What's changed in my tutoring

Length of sessions

A lot has changed in my tutoring since I began in autumn last year. First I discovered that 60 minute lessons were simply too long.

After just 40 minutes my brain would begin to feel ready to explode, after having frantically searched every available cell for Russian words.

By 50 minutes I could hardly say a thing, and by 60 minutes I was fried.

I'm sure this is different from person to person, but after I switched to half-sessions twice as often I feel way better.

30 minutes seems like a perfect length for me but also for the kind of discussion I usually have with my teacher.

Speed of the language

After my extended break from Russian studies over the Christmas period I told my tutor that my goals for the iTalki Challenge would be to speak better and also be able to understand radio and television.

I also asked if we could speed up the language a bit. Up until now she had been speaking very slowly, which was fantastic when I just started, but as I grew stronger in the language it was time to let go of the crutches!

Now she speaks a lot faster. Nowhere near native-like speed, but a lot faster than last year.

I can only recommend that you re-evaluate your goals with your tutor on a frequent basis. Also make sure to let him/her know if you have specific goals, so he/she can plan the sessions.

A clearer goal

My tutoring sessions last year were great, don't get me wrong. But they lacked the direction I was looking for, simply because I hadn't told my tutor exactly what I wanted. I was being lazy and simply left it to her to plan each lesson.

Since I stepped up and asked my tutor to focus on the spoken language we've started working with Russian tv-shows.

….and man, is it challenging!

They speak SO fast! The first show she had me watch, I literally struggled to understand 1 in 10 words. It's getting better now with more and more exposure, but most importantly is that we work based on the episodes.

She gives me questions for a section of an episode and because this is my chosen goal, I work much harder to prepare for each session. Looking up words and preparing sentences. I didn't do this last year.

Often we don't quite cover the questions because we often go off on tangents related to culture and other normal conversation topics. This makes me extremely confident that I'm on the right path towards conversational fluency.

Listen to me in action!

Here's a brand-new tutoring session I had with my tutor this week.

We were discussing this episode:

Reader questions about tutoring

These came in recently from a user, submitted via the contact page. You are always welcome to send me a message as well! I read every one of them.

What do you look for, when choosing a tutor on italki?

The best indicator for me would be the user reviews tied to the teacher profile.

Go in there and see the scores and also if students left actual text reviews.

Although italki gives the students the option to leave a written review at the end of a session, most are too lazy to do it. So if you see good reviews across the board, it usually means the teacher is doing well.

Experience with other languages, amount of lessons he/she has taught as well as diplomas are other indicators to look for when making your decision.

Ultimately though it comes down to trial and error.

Just because Anastasia worked great for me, doesn't mean that she is the best fit for you.

italki offers you trial lessons, as well as a free $10 credit when you pay for your first lesson, so it's easy and affordable to get started.

How often (and for how long) do you think one should take lessons there?

As often as possible!

Depending on your budget, schedule and goals in the language I would just go for as many as that combination allows.

My feeling is that you should aim to get at the VERY least a lesson per fortnight, but the more the better.

You can't take too many lessons.

….But! – I believe there is definitely a correlation between the quality of tutoring related to how far apart the lessons are, meaning that the longer you wait in between lessons, the more likely it is that you have forgotten things that you could have potentially refreshed, had you had a tutoring session earlier.

Also by having more frequent lessons your general language learning is more focused, and you are more motivated because you are working towards a tangible, upcoming goal.

Ready to get started with tutoring? Get your free $10 credit for tutoring after completing your first lesson by clicking here.

  • Emma Sibley says:

    Great post. I enjoyed listening to your italki session. You sounded really good. I could understand a lot of it 🙂 I haven’t really come up with goals or plans for my italki sessions yet. I’m just going with it as I’m still nervous, and getting used to it. But that’s something to keep in mind. I keep thinking about joining the italki challenge, but I’m not sure I’d complete it. How many sessions are you doing a week? Anyway, well done and I look forward to reading the next update. 😀

    • Chris Broholm says:

      Thanks Emma!

      I strongly suggest you set some kind of goal. The challenge is a great motivator, but obviously a big commitment too. For the challenge (if you started tomorrow) you’d have to do just over 30 minutes per day on average. I’ve booked 30 minutes per day (when possible) and will possibly book extra when the end of the challenge is closer and I can see if I’m too far off.

      Either way, just the fact that you started with the sessions is a huge leap and you’ll feel your confidence boost quickly 🙂

  • Anca says:

    Very interesting post Chris, thanks! As a fairly recent convert to the philosophy of talking to native speakers sooner rather than later, I really enjoy finding out how other learners make the most out of iTalki.
    The best of luck in the Challenge, I’m looking forward to a post-factum blog post with your conclusions.

    • Chris Broholm says:

      Thanks! I’ll definitely keep you updated on the progress.

      And I’m happy you also found the value of of talking to native speakers fast, I only discovered it late last year!

  • […] Chris Broholm runs a great blog called Actual Fluency. It’s his way to research language learning but most importantly it is a way to tell the world that ANYONE CAN LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE. He’s currently taking the italki 2015 New Year’s Language Challenge to learn Russian and shared this great post that will help anyone taking the challenge or learning a new language. Original post here. […]

  • Kate says:

    Hi Chris, I really enjoyed reading your article- this is my first time on your site, but I’m sure it won’t be the last!

    I’m both a student and a tutor on Italki, and I’ve really enjoyed my time on the site. By speaking even from the very beginning, I’ve felt more confident in speaking the language (I’m extremely shy, so this is a huge accomplishment for me). Even after a long session (I know what you mean by your brain being fried) I feel even more motivated to continue studying, to see how much I progress for the next lesson. My teachers are fantastic

    One thing I changed for the current language challenge is that I wrote down all of my weekly goals on a notecard, which is taped above my desk. I scheduled all of my lessons in advance, and I have plans to read at least one story weekly, as well as study vocabulary related to at least two topics. Since I’m still a beginner in Arabic, the topics include numbers, colors, different greetings and responses, telling dates and times, etc.

    As you mentioned, it’s certainly a commitment, but I’m enjoying the journey so far. Best of luck with your Russian!

    • Chris Broholm says:

      You sound like the perfect student, Kate! I’m definitely not the greatest at organising myself, which is why my tutor is extra awesome. She prepares something for every class, and even if I on a rare occasioan fail to do the homework, she always has a backup plan.

      Speaking from the beginning is super scary, but I also think it’s one of the highest contributing factors to foreign language success.

      The motivational aspect is something I also frequently bring up, when I get asked about tutoring because it’s not obvious! I totally get motivated just by scheduling the lessons and looking forward to them. As I then do the lessons I’m more motivated, because I want to do better next time.

      For my challenge I’m going with 1 lesson a day when possible, my tutor doesn’t work every day and I also have restrictions sometimes, but it’s awesome how fast I feel I’m developing in Russian. I literally feel like I’ve learnt more in the last 3 months than the rest of 2014!

      Thanks for coming by and I’m looking forward to reading more comments from you in the future 🙂

  • Clayton Davis says:

    Good job on taking up the challenge. I wanted to do it but I’m studying two languages at once so I don’t think I’d be able to meet it for one of them. I prefer to have at least three teachers per language that I meet with at least once every two weeks. I converse about the same topics with at least three teachers. Each teacher has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. I find if I avoid meeting with a teacher too frequently they are fresher and have more original ideas.

    • Chris Broholm says:

      Hi Clayton, thanks for sharing your input with us! The iTalki challenge is not per language, so if you are having that many lessons already, then iTalki could be a free win for you 🙂 I’ve seen a few learners do 2-3 languages in the challenge.

      I’d love to hear more about the benefits of having more teachers, as my feeling was that if I have the same teacher, he/she knows exactly what I know, whereas with multiple teacher I would have to bring them up to scratch sometimes – or is that not a problem?

      • Clayton Davis says:

        Certainly there are benefits to having just one teacher that knows you well, but I also find that repetition of a conversation, repetition of roleplaying, repetition of lessons in textbooks, etc. to be highly beneficial and if you do it with different teachers I think it’s much less boring for the teacher and the student. I don’t repeat grammar explanations with teachers, just use of language skills. The grammar I study on my own. Highly skilled teachers will find ways to constantly reinforce the same material using different approaches and method but these teachers are a rarity online and much more expensive. Most teachers just have one or two methods and stick to them so if you more teachers it’s less tedious. Since they only have a few methods you end up learning a large number of vocabulary and phrases at the beginning level just to fill the time because the teachers can’t think of what to do to provide reinforcement. So I think multiple teachers who each have slightly different accents and favorite expressions to use as well as different strengths to build on. That’s another key point building upon a teacher’s strengths. Just like skilled teachers do when figuring out how to best teach their students (particularly at more advanced levels) you can look for teachers who have knowledge about a specific subject you’d like to learn about. If they studied history in school you can talk about history, if in their full time job they travel a lot you can talk about travel and the places they’ve been. Dedicated teachers will do research to talk about whatever you want, but why not find someone cheaper and just talk about whatever they re interested in. There are a lot of topics that everyone knows about like holidays and it’s even more effective to talk with multiple teachers about the subject. You might almost find yourself developing a sophisticated repertoire and sounding witty after talking about a useful subject with several teachers. There’s a trade off in that you should make sure to take notes of what was discussed and review the new expressions you learned for all the teachers. Another benefit of multiple teachers is a language learner needs to be exposed to a variety of speakers because everyone has certain favored expressions and others they don’t use. For example I’m really good at understanding my wife’s Cantonese but understanding others is much more difficult. When I talked to her cousin this morning she could understand me perfectly but I couldn’t understand her. The key is that I take control of the lesson and make it about what I want to learn so the teacher doesn’t need to know what I already know. The lessons are about practicing the language that I choose because it’s one on one and it’s hard to spend too much time conversing about a topic if it’s with a new person each time. The only thing I may discuss too much is basic information about myself because you do that with every person you meet. If you feel like you’ve already done this a zillion times and don’t want to waste a first lesson on this I’d say just send them a bio in your target language prior to the lesson when you first contact them (Because I can understand if they might be curious about who you are and why you’re studying). And I wouldn’t recommend too many teachers in a short time either because there are some learners who do this who get excellent at the first lesson, but don’t know much beyond that. So there needs to be a balance between multiple teachers and familiarity,with occasional new teachers.

  • Great post, Chris! Your teacher sounds very patient. I like that she is very clear on her pronunciation.

    I love italki too. Tutoring sessions have given me so much confidence in speaking Hungarian. I am still at a very basic level but the sessions have been very encouraging because I am progressing much faster.

    What do you use to record your skype sessions? I think this is a great idea because you can always review your lessons after. Maybe I should do this too.

    Best of luck on your language journey, Chris!

  • Javier Rojas F says:

    Very interesting post Chris !

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