iTalki Student Review | Get a Language Tutor on the Cheap-side

Credit: Italki

Getting a tutor for anything – whether it be a piano teacher or a language tutor – in a Western county in say Australia or America is pretty expensive!

Being on the financially conservative side that I am, it would be hard for me to part for AUD $40-60 an hour for a Chinese or Korean tutor in Australia.

Living in somewhere like China though is different! Over the years I’ve spent at least AUD $1,000 (5000-6000 RMB) on one-on-one Chinese language tutoring. However, when you’re only paying $10 an hour for a one-on-one class that adds up to about 100 hours! And from a language acquisition point of view it was certainly worth it. Learning one-on-one is definitely the most effective way to learn a language and to perfect pronunciation.

But Chinese language tutors in China are cheap and in high supply. What about if you want to learn Japanese in China, or if you don’t live in a country with cheap access to language tutors?

Thanks to technology you no longer have to worry about paying the local rate for language tutoring, and this is where Italki comes in. Italki is a nifty online market place for Skype classes. Italki has a wide range of different languages, including Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, and Indonesian.

Picking a Teacher

The beauty of learning Korean on Italki is that you can shop around for language teachers with different levels of experience, class times and class prices. You can find a teacher for as little as US $5 for a 30-minute class.

Once you have picked the teacher that best suits your needs, you can organise a class on Skype (or their inbuilt video and resource sharing platform) and pay with PayPal. Due to different time zones around the world and the vast international community on Italki, you can arrange classes at almost anytime of the day. You could even schedule a class in the morning before work or class – just turn off the webcam if you don’t have time to wash your face!

Studying via Video

The advantages of studying online via video is that you have full control on where, when and what you learn. You can study at home in the comfort of your house, in a private study room at university, in the park or any quiet space. All you need is an Internet connection and a mobile device or laptop in a quiet environment. It’s then up to you whether you turn your webcam or mobile camera on so your teacher can see you. Some teachers on Italki prefer not to use their camera but as a student and a customer you should be entitled to ask them to switch on the camera if that enhances your study. Most teachers will be able to adapt to various video platforms, but generally may have a suggestion for their usual process, for example, video calls via Skypa and using Google Drive to share resources.

The other bonus of studying via video is that you eliminate travel time that you would have going to meet a language exchange partner or tutor. Or if you’re living in a location where there’s a lack of supply of teachers in your target language, you now have a global network of teachers available at your fingertips. You can even learn more niche languages such as Mongolian, Hindi or even Esperanto.

Class Preparation

As a true marketplace, you are likely to find that teachers that charge a higher hourly rate have more experience and are more adept at holding a class online than teachers who charge less. If you are looking for quality then by all means go for the most experienced teachers with high ratings, experience (measured by lessons on the site) and higher hourly rates.

However, if you are going to opt for teachers who charge less then there’s a high probability that they are less adept at holding a class. I’ve found that many of the cheaper Korean instructors on the site are Korean students studying in America earning money in their spare time. Given their inexperience in teaching, the onus has therefore been on me to prepare material for the class, and send through my questions before the class. I use study materials from

Class Time

As classes on Italki are one-on-one there’s no hiding! You need to be proactive during class time and this is one of the advantages of studying online. Most classes will start with small talk but ultimately it’s your choice what you want to learn with your teachers. I’ve found for instance that it’s better to practise spoken Korean with my instructors on Italki than learning advanced grammar. This is partly because I pick the teachers who have lower hourly rates and who have little experience in teaching Korean! As I can find awesome grammar lessons on for free, I rather focus on sentence construction, pronunciation and listening during my classes on Italki.

Most teachers don’t have a whiteboard on cam with them, but that’s not really a problem as you both have keyboards and text boxes to send messages during class time. So even if you can’t put a sentence together, you can just ask your teacher to type down basic greetings and you can mimic their pronunciation.

Italki is suited to all levels but advanced learners get the best value for their money. One-on-one instruction is vital for advanced speakers to focus on their weak points in say pronunciation or sentence structure, and to practise vocabulary relevant to their job, life or studies.


We’ve exclusively talked about the pro’s of learning on Italki, but what about the con’s? One disadvantage of studying on Skype or other video services can be technical difficulties. If you are living in China, like me, Internet connections over Skype can at times be unreliable. It’s virtually impossible to have a class if the connection is cutting out every few words. If this is the case you might want to see if your teacher has another communication tool such as WeChat or Whatsapp. As mentioned however, the class doesn’t strictly have to be on Skype and Italki cannot directly monitor this.

The other tip is to look for teachers closer geographically to you in order to cut down latency and minimize problems with Internet speed. If your teacher is based in America and you are based in Australia, the connection is less likely to be as fast and crisp as Skyping a teacher in Singapore from your location in Australia.

The other con is that studying online and communicating over a webcam and microphone can be a little bit awkward for some people and not as natural as a real-life interaction. You can though minimize this problem by turning off your camera if you are shy about having your face broadcast over the Internet.

How to Get Started

Italki is an extremely powerful tool to learn a foreign language and works best when complimented with independent study. This includes memorizing words in your own time, studying grammar and sentence structure, and then putting everything into practise in a live conversation over Skype. To get started you need to put together your own study plan on what you want to study and a list of resources you can go to.

Once you have language materials in hand you can test out Italki and see how it works for you. As an Asia Options reader you can also get $10 USD free credit to your account after your first class through registering via this link.

More Foreign Language Study Tips:

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Olly Theobald

Director at Asia Options.
Olly works in Hangzhou China and is enthusiastic about entrepreneurship, e-commerce, Asia education, data science, and foreign languages. Olly is a graduate from RMIT University and the Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies. Olly speaks Mandarin and Korean.

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