For the last year, I’ve been trying to learn French.
Last year, much of it spent housebound in lockdown and unable to go outside into the world, I had more time to focus on picking up a new language skill and devoting lots of hours towards it. This year with the Christmas break in-between, the pace is less hectic.
Now I’m just incorporating a bit of French into my day – whether it is writing a paragraph or two; corresponding with my network on LinkedIn (which has grown with French nationals); registering for conversation classes at the Alliance Francaise and of course, watching Netflix, TV Monde 5 or SBS World Movies – oh, and I can’t forget my favourite of all time, YouTube channels!
Another addition to my language learning has been iTalki. I wrote about this recently in my bog post iTalki A Great App If You Need to Practice Speaking a Language.
By adding credit to your account on iTalki, you can chat with any community or professional teacher to practice speaking your preferred language. iTalki gives you 3 trials of 30 minutes before your credit is used and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the experience so far especially as it relates to its value.
iTalki Community on the App
Personally, I love iTalki and the app also has a Community (I can’t wait for the community to also be on desktop). The community seems to be mainly younger people seeking language partners to set up informal catch ups outside of the iTalki platform so that you don’t have to use your credit up. I’m always a bit suspect of such communities especially when some random males send you personal messages like…
If they think I’m going to engage with that, well, they’re wrong. I just roll my eyes. I would have responded if they wrote something in French. Seriously, I’m trying to learn French (!), write whatever you want to write in French so I can at least make an effort to translate it and learn something! Even a…
“Ooh la la vous etes une belle femme!”
Okay now we’re going somewhere….don’t write to me in English! Shheesh!!!
Well anyway, I digress. Regardless, I’m big, bad and ugly enough (as the saying goes) to look after myself and usually I ignore such comments (unless they’re in French ha ha!!).
Regardless, I’m also a believer that you can find some gold nuggets in communities and just as I am on the lookout for others to chat with (I will help them in English; they help me with French) I think it’s a win win. That way, I don’t get to use up my credit so quickly and instead spend the credit on seeking out quality professional teachers who can provide the ‘formal’ education and feedback while also making my own friends online (the informal, social) where we are both helping each other out in our respective languages.
But like in real life, the quality of teachers vary.
Some are fantastic while others are ‘meh’.
The Importance of Feedback
For me, I kept banging on for the whole year I was learning French on the importance of feedback.
French people are usually quite open and tell you that you’re saying something wrong. They correct you without you needing to ask to be corrected.
Some people may take offence to this. I don’t. Growing up in a Greek background where we were constantly lectured at by every relative – speaking one’s mind and correcting others speech is considered a national sport in Greece – as it is in France I’m sure.
So with that, I find it utterly weird if French people DON’T correct me. In fact, I feel as if I’m OWED to be corrected after all, I’m taking time to learn THEIR language!
Can’t people tell me I’m wrong please?
Anyone? Dis-moi s’il vous plait!
So with that, one of the first things I asked teachers who I met on iTalki is about the IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK for me.
Me: “Tell me when I’m wrong. Please write it down in the chat box so that I can SEE it written down and so I can REPEAT that sentence again correctly”.
“S’il vous plait. Je besoin de votre aide. Ecrirez le phrase que je viens de dire avec les erreurs dans le chat. Je les veux a voir! Expliquez-moi pourquoi j’ai tort!” I ramble.
To my surprise, some are really good at providing this, many (especially younger ones) don’t.
(I shouldn’t discount that possibly age, and political correctness or etiquette may be a factor here. Are they not correcting me because I’m a 52 year old woman? I hope not!)
This got me thinking about what I can share by way of some tips when trying to find a good coach/teacher on iTalki to use as some kind of checklist for assessing who you’re going to go with and in the end, be delighted to PAY them.
I know that the trial sessions may not reflect an accurate ‘paid’ experience but in my mind, the teachers who invest the SAME and QUALITY level of teaching in the trial as they do with their ‘paid’ sessions are ones to look out for. I know that it’s possible to give a less than ideal experience in the trial because well, we’re not paying you for it but in the long run, this will hurt the prospects of the teachers. For example, they may get a less than ideal review.
My Tips on Finding Good Teachers for You on iTalki
Here’s some pointers I’ve learned that may help find you the better quality teachers for you.
- Seek out people who you feel comfortable with. For me, I seek out women similar to my age or older because many of them are of a similar mindset to me and they’re more likely to correct me because we are ‘peers’ (eg. they now have time because their families are grown, and they also have a more ‘traditional’ view of education and can explain grammar and the whys and wherefores of sentence structure.
- Look for people who have similar interests to you because you’re more likely to converse with them on areas, topics, sports, hobbies and leisure interests that you can delve into in-depth PLUS learn the vocabulary.
- Try out someone completely different just to see what this experience is like. For me, I connected with a couple of young men in their 20s who spoke clearly and articulately in their introductory video, were rated highly and had many sessions helping others. However, they declined my invitation for a coaching session. If they decline sessions, I usually don’t question it and choose someone else. Alternatively, I don’t choose men my age or older (unless there was some previous connection – as in we have similar business backgrounds – or they are recommended by others I know or who are in my network) simply because I always get the feeling of a ‘power imbalance’. I know that may sound weird but I just don’t want to be mansplained. I’d much rather be corrected by a female my age or a younger person. (This is purely subjective – so just my own feelings on the matter and may not make sense to others).
- Don’t necessarily look for community or professional teachers who are rated highly and relatively difficult to book – or those that change the dates on you all the time. Give people a go if they haven’t got the ratings because it’s likely they’re trying to build a profile on iTalki. You’ll find some gems!
- Write a review for each one that you speak to – every single time. Unfortunately only ONE teacher returned the favour for me and rated me. The teachers who REVIEW you and realise the power of building this ‘give and take’ relationships are the ones to take note and keep a hold of. Many people simply don’t have this social etiquette nous when it comes to how to communicate and build online relationships. I’ve noticed the ones who do are far better teachers/coaches and who provide more support than ones who ignore the reviews, don’t respond to messages or don’t even provide an end-of-chat ‘thank you! It was lovely to meet you!” Don’t select the teachers who don’t provide you this etiquette.
- Ask the teachers to WRITE down the correct way of saying sentences and to use the functions such as the chat box in the virtual meeting. Teachers who simply ask basic questions then wait for you to respond without correcting your grammar, explaining the grammar, syntax or sentence structure is well, a useless way of learning a language. You NEED to be given feedback – EXPECT IT from them. I found the teachers who do, not only do you come away from the 30 min chat more knowledgeable but you’ve picked up a few sentences that you can reuse immediately and only makes the next session easier. Teachers who don’t do this should not be chosen. They’re not teaching you anything – they may be listening – and maybe not even that.
- Have fun finding people and setting up a routine. I have allocated half hour every week in the evenings to find people and have a bit of chit chat. I have a standard list of questions I can ask them but remember, if you’re paying for a service, the idea is that they ask YOU questions (mainly) and then it gives you an opportunity to respond to them and then together delve in deeply about it. By all means, ask them questions but if your teacher is doing ALL the talking in their own language and you’re picking up only bits and pieces of it then again, they’re not the right teacher for you.
- Quality of their video and audio connection. This is something you cannot control. Some of the introductory videos of some teachers are great and you can hear them succinctly and then decide that they enunciate the words well so you choose them for a trial session. Then you find that their video and audio quality is so poor that it ends up being more of a distraction. If it doesn’t improve, then don’t waste your time on these teachers because again, they may not be aware of how to set up their systems for success. Or they may not be serious about their teaching or the equipment.
- Watch out for teachers who provide you with links to resources, articles, movies and podcasts. They’re worth their weight in gold. They’e keepers.
Right that’s it for all my tips so far on my own experiences and how I chose people. The best thing you can do is to be upfront with your teachers and tell them what you want from them so they can give you what you need. After all, if you’re paying for the service, you want the best experience and in return, help these wonderful teachers out by reviewing and sharing recommendations about them to others.