italki Review: Excellent for Finding Affordable, High-Quality Online Language Tutors
Speaking is one of the most challenging areas for language learners.
As a beginner, I once summoned up the courage to ask for something in a store where my target language was spoken. The owner looked me up and down and said: “You talkin’ to me?”
This unexpected reaction somehow threw me off.
This is why practicing your speaking skills is so important!
Fortunately, there are a lot of platforms and language learning apps out there that offer assistance in this field, including the one I’ll focus on today: italki.
This post is my in-depth italki review after using the platform for over five years. We’ll go over how it works, pros and cons, features, italki alternatives and more.
Description: A language tutoring website with a strong community of native speakers and language learners.
Languages offered: Any language!
Offer price: Rate varies by tutor, starting as low as $4 per lesson.
The italki website is a great platform for connecting with native speakers, improving your speaking skills and learning new words and phrases that textbooks won’t teach you. The value you get from the site varies by tutor, but you can shop around until you find a good fit for you.
- User friendliness - 8/108/10
- Delivers on promises - 10/1010/10
- Authenticity - 9/109/10
- Value for price - 9/109/10
- Has tutors in over 130 languages, including various dialects
- Lets you work within your own budget and pace
- Has free community and language exchange features
- Structured lessons can lead to less authentic and spontaneous learning
- What Is italki?
- How Much Does italki Cost?
- How Many Languages Does italki Offer?
- italki Features and How It Works
- How to Use italki to Become Fluent in a Language
- italki Community
- The Pros of Using italki to Learn a Language
- The Cons of Using italki to Learn a Language
- italki vs. Other Language Learning Programs
What Is italki?
italki is a Shanghai-based language learning platform that was created in 2007.
Once you create a profile, you can search for the perfect tutor in your target language and filter the results by price, availability, country and more.
There are over 130 languages offered on italki, from Spanish to Tibetan. So even if you’re trying to learn a rare language, italki probably has a tutor.
Signing up for italki and getting access to all their features is completely free, without an option to upgrade. You only pay when you book a lesson with a tutor, which is determined by their chosen hourly rate.
How Much Does italki Cost?
It’s completely free to join italki—the only thing you pay for is the lessons you schedule with your tutors. Since each tutor has their own price per hour, you can make it as affordable or expensive as you want.
Some tutors charge as low as $4 an hour on italki, with others charging $80+.
There are also options to purchase lessons in packages.
For example, you can buy five, 10, 20, etc. lessons with a tutor at once, usually for a discount.
How Many Languages Does italki Offer?
There are currently over 130 languages offered on italki.
They include the most common languages—like French, German, Spanish, Russian, etc.—and rare, endangered languages. Examples include Tibetan, Hawaiian, Azerbaijani and more.
italki Features and How It Works
Professional Teachers and Community Tutors
italki has two types of tutors—Professional Teachers and Community Tutors.
Professional teachers usually have college degrees, years of experience teaching their language(s) and developed lesson plans.
On the other hand, community tutors are just native speakers who enjoy helping people learn their language through fun conversations.
I personally use community tutors way more often than professional teachers.
For one, because they’re usually cheaper. And secondly, even if you’re a beginner, most community tutors are good teachers.
If you want to focus on improving your conversational skills, I definitely recommend booking a community tutor. But if you’re preparing for a proficiency test or exam or want structured lessons and a curriculum, a professional teacher might better suit your goals.
The italki Language Challenge
A few times a year, italki offers its italki Language Challenge.
It’s free to register, and you can choose to commit 12, 16, 19 or 20 hours practicing your target language.
When you reach your goal, you get prizes!
To complete your goal, all you have to do is book lessons with a tutor and complete the lessons before the time duration is up. I’m currently registered for the 12-hour goal, and I have 13 days left to complete 9.5 hours of lessons.
These challenges are fun and super motivating. Plus, the only price you pay is your tutor’s hourly rate (or multiple tutors, if you choose to try more than one!).
italki Group Classes
Group classes can be a more structured, social and cost-effective way to use italki than private lessons.
You can find tons of group classes happening this week by selecting your target language, your level and your preferred time. After that, you can filter the classes by topic.
For example, you can choose group classes that focus on:
- Daily conversation
- Language essentials
- Travel and global culture
- Debating and discussion
- Hobbies and interests
- Exam preparation
- And more
The topics can differ slightly per language, and there are limited spots available to join. The classes are usually an hour long, with some being an hour and 30 minutes.
Note that as of June 2023, there are only group classes for three languages: English, Spanish and Japanese.
italki Language Tests
You can take two types of tests on italki—the Oxford Online Placement Test for English grammar and their italki Language Test.
The italki Language Test is currently available for seven languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Italian.
You get four attempts at the test and it only takes 15 minutes. There’s also an emphasis on speaking abilities, unlike other placement tests that focus solely on writing, reading and grammar.
The test results use the global standards and match other widely recognized tests like the CEFR, TOEFL, TOEIC and more.
At the end, you receive a certificate with your level. The test is $30 to take.
The Oxford Online Placement Test is an English grammar exam and costs $10.
Your score can also be approximated to other common English exams like TOEFL.
If you suddenly have time and want to take advantage of it, italki lets you select an “instant lesson” option when searching for a tutor.
This shows you all the currently available teachers and lets you book lessons with them for the same hour.
Since the lessons are instant, note that they can’t be canceled or rescheduled.
How to Use italki to Become Fluent in a Language
How to Set Up Your Profile
This is a straightforward process since most of it will be taken care of when you make your account.
Your profile displays your name, picture, bio and basic information about you, like where you’re from and your gender.
Next, it’ll also display your language skills—your native language and target languages, along with the level you have in each.
If you speak more than one language but aren’t actively learning them, you don’t have to mark them as “learning languages.”
How to Find the Right Tutor
After your profile is finished, you can start hunting for tutors!
Start by clicking the “Find a Teacher” tab.
Once you do, it’ll take you to a page that displays all the available teachers for the language you are learning.
If that’s not the language you want to learn right now, you can click on it to find a dropdown menu and select a different one, plus which skills you want to practice.
After choosing your language, you can start refining your search, as discussed earlier.
Let’s briefly go over the different options italki gives you:
- Teacher is from. By clicking this tab, you can choose where you want your future tutor to be from. This is especially helpful if you’re learning a particular dialect or accent.
- Speaks. If you want your tutor to speak a language other than their native one, you can click this tab. Or, click it to specify that you want a native speaker.
- Lesson price. Choose the price range you want your tutor’s hourly rate to be. The lowest you can go is $4 per hour, and the highest is $80.
- Lesson time. If you can only do lessons on certain days, you can identify them by clicking “Lesson time.” Then, italki will only show you the tutors available when you are.
- Teacher types. Remember how we talked about Professional Teachers and Community Tutors? If you have a preference, specify it by clicking this tab.
- Lesson category. If you want to focus on a specific skill, tell italki which one you want to work on. By clicking “Lesson category,” you can choose from General, Business, Test Preparation, Kids and Conversation Practice.
How to Book Your Lessons
Each tutor has an introductory video you can watch, info on where they’re from, a bio about themselves, their availability calendar, resume or work experience, student reviews, hourly rate, lesson options and more.
Often, tutors will offer different kinds of lessons.
For example, this Japanese tutor offers Conversation Practice, Japanese for Beginners and Learning with Textbook, where he teaches from the “Minna no Nihongo” textbook.
After finding a tutor, book the lesson you want or a 30-minute trial lesson.
After choosing a time, your lesson request will be sent to the tutor for acceptance.
How to Pay for the Lesson
italki has something called “italki credits,” which are what you use to pay for lessons. You can buy any amount of italki credits and then use them as you wish.
Or, you can pay the price of a single lesson when you decide to book it.
Either way, you’re charged when you buy credits or book the lesson.
And as I mentioned earlier, many tutors also have options for purchasing lessons in bulk at a discounted rate. In this case, you’re charged as soon as you buy the lesson package.
If a problem occurs and you can’t complete the lesson for the reason that’s not your fault—such as the tutor not showing up—you can get a refund for the class as long as it’s covered by italki’s guidelines.
How to Attend the Lesson
When you book the lesson, italki asks which platform you’d like to have it on.
You can choose from popular video chat platforms like Skype, WeChat, Zoom and more. Or, you can keep it simple and use italki Classroom.
Wherever you choose to have the lesson, show up on time and enjoy getting to know and learning with your new tutor for however long you booked them!
How to Verify the Lesson and Leave Feedback
Once your lesson is over, italki will ask you to confirm that it was complete.
If for some reason you couldn’t make it, the teacher couldn’t make it, someone canceled last minute or one of you no-showed, you can also confirm that it wasn’t completed and either request your credits back or transfer them to the tutor anyway.
Please note though, you’re required to pay the tutor if you cancel within 24 hours before the lesson starts to respect their time.
After you mark the lesson complete, italki will ask you to leave a rating for the tutor. And if you want, you can leave an optional review. And the tutor will also be able to leave private feedback for you!
Please note that if you don’t confirm the lesson’s completion after a certain time, italki will confirm it for you so the tutor can get paid.
Once you sign up for an account, you get access to the italki Community for free.
italki’s Community feature sets it apart from all other language tutor platforms.
It can be broken down into four main sections: For You, Podcasts, Exercise and Questions.
The “For You” tab on italki’s Community feature shows you posts that the algorithm thinks would interest you most. This includes educational posts and quizzes from tutors who teach your target languages, hashtags you follow or are related to your languages and more.
You can also browse topics like #italkiRefresh, #italkiLanguageChallenge, #TongueTwister, #TrendingWords and more.
italki’s tutors can create podcasts for learners, and you can find them in the Podcasts tab of the Community section.
They cover a wide range of topics, from study motivation to vocabulary and grammar lessons.
For example, this professional Spanish teacher has created two podcasts where she explains commonly used Spanish expressions and daily vocabulary.
Here, you can find practice sentences in your native language from other people trying to learn it, posts from people looking for language partners and daily practice questions.
The daily practice questions are like prompts to inspire you to write your own journal entry or practice sentences in the community.
When a native speaker reads your exercise, they can give you feedback and corrections.
I use the post feature all the time.
Whenever I learn a new grammar structure or verb conjugation, I practice it by writing 10 sentences.
After I write my sentences, I type them into italki and ask native speakers to correct me.
And as a native speaker, you can help learners of your language, too! I’ve left several comments on English learners’ posts, offering them corrections.
The Questions tab shows recent posts from learners who have questions about a particular topic, word, grammar point or anything in between.
As a native speaker, you can answer their questions and ask your own.
For example, many students ask native speakers to give them example sentences when they don’t know how to use a word, particle, prefix, etc.
The Pros of Using italki to Learn a Language
Learn a Variety of Languages and Dialects
Many language learning platforms are selective regarding the languages they offer, and in this way, italki is probably one of the least restrictive.
First, you’ll find popular languages in the search bar. italki then provides a directory of languages in alphabetical order, making yours easier to find.
With less common languages such as Assiniboine and Basque available, it’s not only a wonderful way to get introduced to languages you may not have considered learning, but it also gives minority and endangered tongues a chance to shine.
italki goes one step more and narrows itself down even further into specific dialects.
This kind of detail is so refreshing as a language learner!
If you’re trying to learn a specific dialect (like Taiwanese Mandarin), you can most likely find it on italki. And if you can’t search specifically for the dialect, you can find a teacher from that country or region.
I’ve been learning Spanish for several years now. I specialize in the Venezuelan dialect because that’s where my dad is from.
So when I look for Spanish tutors on italki, I specify my search by selecting Venezuela in the “From” section.
Learn a Language at Your Own Price
I already mentioned that your chosen tutor’s hourly rate is the only price you pay. But did you know just how low some tutors go?
When browsing tutors, you can refine your search to show tutors who fit your budget. And some tutors charge as little as $4 per hour.
I was learning Tagalog in the summer of 2019, and I consistently booked lessons with a community tutor from the Philippines two or three times a week. Her rate was $4 an hour, and I’ve had several Spanish tutors who charge $5-6 an hour.
Tutors are thoroughly vetted by italki so no matter how much the tutor charges, you know you’ll be getting quality.
Get a Language Partner
One of my favorite features of italki is language partners.
After several years of using the site, the most beneficial aspect I’ve discovered is the opportunity to make friends in your target language that (with all precautions taken) can turn into lifelong friendships and travel opportunities.
Native speakers can follow and message you, and vice versa.
I love this feature because by increasing the number of connections to your target language, you’ll feel an even stronger motivation to stick with it and practice more.
Learn at Your Own Pace (and Schedule)
When you book a tutor, you don’t feel like you’re signing a contract. In fact, you can first book a 30-minute trial lesson with a tutor at a lower price than their standard rate.
After you’ve found a potential tutor, you can view their availability calendar to see if they have any times available that work with your schedule.
If not, you can just look for another tutor!
If you do want that “contract” feel (or just an extra push to make sure you show up and meet your goals), many tutors do offer package deals.
By choosing this route, you can purchase up to 10 lessons at once and schedule them whenever you’re ready, and usually at a discount price.
I did this with the Tagalog tutor I mentioned earlier, and it really helped me stay on track.
Additionally, many tutors offer multiple lesson duration options. This is great because if you really like a certain tutor, but can’t afford their hourly rate, you can choose their 30-minute lesson option at a lower price.
Many tutors offer 30-minute, 45-minute, 60-minute and 90-minute lessons.
The Cons of Using italki to Learn a Language
Lack of Real-world Situations
Is italki a good substitute for real-world situations?
The simple answer is no.
italki is probably the closest thing you can get to a real-world environment online, especially if you use it for finding language partners or having challenging conversations with native speaker tutors.
But you won’t ever experience spontaneous conversations like at the grocery store, bank, hospital, restaurant, etc.
Sure, the tutors can teach you idiomatic expressions and native ways of expressing something during a one-to-one lesson, but it’s still an artificial environment to some extent.
italki vs. Other Language Learning Programs
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
Like italki, Preply lets you browse hundreds of tutor profiles to find the right fit, with features like tutor videos, scheduling availability, student reviews, accreditations, etc.
The pricing is also relatively the same. Preply’s tutors can be as low as $5 but no higher than $40 per hour.
Preply has nothing like italki’s Community feature, so you only get tutoring sessions.
The payment system is also different. Instead of buying lessons as you go, Preply asks you to choose from different lesson packages. They’re usually 6, 12 and 20 hours, and the price is determined by the tutor’s rate.
If you don’t enjoy learning with your tutor anymore, you can transfer your purchased hours to a new tutor.
Unlike italki, all of Verbling’s tutors are professional, verified teachers with qualifications and prior experience.
There are over 2,000 tutors and over 70 languages available.
Once you’ve found a teacher who interests you, you can book a 30-minute trial lesson for free. During the lesson, you discuss your goals and get to know your new tutor.
Verbling also has various learning materials for you to use on the platform.
On the tutor’s profile, you can see at a glance which levels they teach, accents they specialize in, lesson subjects (i.e., business, conversation, exam prep) and what the lessons include, like homework and the curriculum.
Lingoda has become a popular choice in the language learning platform because of it’s unique challenge, the “Lingoda Sprint.”
No matter your current level, the Lingoda Sprint is a two-month challenge that promises to take you from nothing (or wherever you are currently) to speaking confidently.
Complete the challenge by taking live classes—either one-on-one or group classes—with a Lingoda tutor 15 times a month or 30 times (everyday) per month. The 30-day challenge is called the Super Sprint, and if you complete it successfully, you get a 100% refund of your money.
If you complete the 15 classes per month Sprint, you get 50% back.
Of course, you don’t have to participate in the challenge and can always take one-on-one or group lessons normally as on other platforms.
The main difference is Lingoda’s language offerings. Lingoda only offers German, English, Business English, French and Spanish.
Duolingo is famous for trying to “gamify” language learning.
One of the oldest platforms, Duolingo teaches your target language by taking you through a series of game-like lessons that include translation exercises, matching, listening and more.
You have a personal, one-on-one teacher who customizes your lessons on italki. However, Duolingo follows a pre-made course structure that prevents you from skipping ahead.
So if you want to learn a language fast, be able to speak from day one or have a specific goal you’re preparing for (such as taking an exam or going on a business trip), I’d recommend italki over Duolingo.
Babbel follows a specific course structure to teach your target language with lessons highly relevant to real-life situations.
The lessons include a variety of multimedia functions to help you learn and practice new words, such as “listen and repeat,” matching, translating, conversation fill-in-the-blanks and more.
While the lessons are a bit more relevant than those on Duolingo for all languages, it’s quite pricey for an app.
For example, a 6-month subscription is $66.90 and a lifetime membership is $349.
Considering you can get an italki tutor for $4-$5 an hour (depending on the language), having a teacher who customizes your learning plan can be cheaper than paying for a Babbel course.
Plus, you’ll only have access to one language with Babbel unless you pay for the lifetime membership.
Overall, italki is a great platform for connecting with native speakers, improving your speaking skills and learning new words and phrases that textbooks won’t teach you.