iTalki Challenge Update (and Tips!)

stanford blatch

Stanford: How can you not have a shrink? This is Manhattan. Even the shrinks have shrinks. I have three.
Carrie: No, you don’t.
Stanford: Yes, one for when I want to be cuddled, one for when I want tough love and one for when I want to look at a beautiful man.
Carrie: That’s sick!
Stanford: Which is why I see the other two.

Having upped my number of tutors from one to six — I keep thinking of this moment from Sex and the City. Different tutors offer different advantages. My favorite has always been female tutors around my age with whom I can just talk, talk, talk about pop culture and boy problems with. They offer corrections and answer questions — but mostly allow me to get comfortable speaking French without fear.

One of my new tutors though, offered a little more structure and discipline. In our lesson he provided this article about the spelling reform changes that have been enacted by the Académie française, and I read out loud while he corrected my pronunciation. He explained that the corrections may seem nit-picky — but only because I had a good accent to begin with and that these were the type of changes needed to get me speaking at higher level. It was intimidating but incredibly productive.

That said, I wanted to share a few other observations I’ve had during the iTalki challenge in hopes that I’ll be able to reference this should I re-attempt next year, or to help anyone else interested in participating.

How to Succeed in the iTalki Challenge:

  1. Budget: I’ve found most informal tutors run an average of $10 per hour. I never thought twice about this when I was taking a lesson once or twice per month, but the iTalki challenge is 10 – 30 hours meaning you’ll be blowing $100 – $300. YIKES! Sure, you can try and find cheaper tutors who charge less than that average (my tough love tutor was only $7 per hour) but they have limited availability. I hope in future challenges iTalki lowers the hours required for each level to encourage wider participation — but for now, I made it a priority and set money aside in advance.
  2. Schedule Ahead of Time: This. Is. Key. Booking on iTalki is far from instantaneous. You do a search for tutors, watch their introductory videos, decide who you jam with, go to book with them, discover they have no availability, go back to your search, watch more videos, select a new tutor, discover they have availability at 6 am your time, decide you can suck it up, submit your lesson request — and after all that!? You have to wait for the tutor to confirm (and that’s if they confirm).With a tight budget scheduling becomes even more important as your iTalki credits are put on hold anytime your reserve a lesson and not returned until your tutor declines or 48 hours has passed without a response. When you’re trying to cram in multiple lessons a week — it is imperative that you book early! And that you…
  3. Be Prepared for Cancellations: Because sometimes no matter how meticulously you plan — things won’t go your way. I mentioned I have 6 tutors earlier. Really though, it’s that I’ve attempted to schedule with 6 tutors. To date, I’ve only completed lessons with 3 different tutors. One of them I had to cancel and reschedule, only to have her cancel on our new date, to reschedule again, have her never confirm and finally just have my pending credits returned to me. Lesson? Don’t take your requested lessons for granted! I have two more pending requests with new teachers and if they don’t accept, I’m prepared to do lessons every day to complete this challenge so help me god.
  4. Review: This may be a no brainer for some people, but frankly, I’ve been pretty bad at reviewing after my lessons are over. I end lessons feeling accomplished for speaking French for an hour, but without sitting down later in the day to review my notes and vocabulary, I’m not getting as much out of the challenge as I could be. And having just shared what an investment in my time and money it’s been — it really doesn’t make sense to not get every bit of worth out of each session.

  5. Be Open: To trying different kinds of tutors. To trying tutors from different places. To waking up early (very early). To talking about different subjects. To trying new methods. The real thing you take away from the Challenge, is not this grammar tip or that pronunciation — it’s knowing that for one month your prioritized all of your efforts and resources to expanding your world by learning a new language.

Progress: 3.75/10 hours Completed
Time Left: 15 Days (!!!)

If you’re attempting the iTalki Challenge — I would love to hear your experience and tips!

Bonne chance à tous!


The Struggle Is Real: Conversation Practice on iTalki for the First Time

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“Struggle is the father of all things.” – Heraclitus

Oh là là… A few things! First, I wanted to give you all a look at what the first week of the language learning challenge looked like for me:

Lundi: 30 Minutes of exercises from the Complete French Grammar Workbook followed by 30 minutes of Living Language Audio and Text.
Mardi: 1 Hour reading Le Petit Monde de Charlotte.
Mercredi: 30 Minutes of Duolingo followed by 30 minutes of flashcard input and review on Anki.
Jeudi: Day Off! Briefly reviewed flashcards on Anki.
Vendredi: 30 Minute Composition on iTalki followed by 30 Minutes of Complete French Grammar Workbook.
Samedi: Day Off! Again, quick Anki flashcard review.
Dimanche: 30 Minute Review/Preparation for 30 Minute Informal Tutoring Session on iTalki.

A ton of materials to check out, and many that I will come back to in another post to review and evaluate. For now, I just want to talk about my first tutoring session on iTalki! First, it was super easy to set up. I really like that you can watch introduction videos for every tutor on the website. I chose by price, but also because my tutor’s profile expressed a focus in conversation as a teaching method. Something I am in dire need of! It was WONDERFUL that the website shows you a tutor’s availability in your own time zone. When it came time for my scheduled lesson, I kind of sat around waiting on Skype for a minute before realizing I should add, and call her. And sure enough! My tutor was there smiling, ready to go, and had me start by introducing myself.

Now, mind you, I had prepped for this. Last night I made a list of topics I could expect to talk about in our first lesson (where I live, what I do for work, what my family is like, places I have traveled to, why I want to study French) and this morning I spent a good 30 minutes reviewing how I’d talk about these topics. Still, when it came time to actually open my mouth and spew out all the lovely and coherent phrases I’d prepared, I totally blanked. “Euhhh… Bonjour, je m’appelle Zena. J’ai…. euhhhh… vingt-cinq ans. J’habite à Portland?”

It was like being in my 8th grade French class all over again.

Vraiment pathétique.

It got a little better as we talked more in our half hour session, but honestly, not by much. I realized that while I may have covered other tenses long ago, that understanding how to form them in my review books now, does not mean I have any grasp of them in conversation. I was lucky to use even the passé composé and imparfait correctly. So, so humbling. 

Still, the most surprising part of today’s session is how I felt afterwards. I had been so nervous to speak and knew that I was going to make a mess of it and have to face exactly how far I have to go, but even after butchering the language for 30 minutes, I felt very happy and proud to have taken the first step in becoming a better French language speaker and was not ashamed or embarrassed, but rather, incredibly motivated and excited to improve.

I went for a 4 mile run later in the day and thought about how difficult it used to be to run even one mile. A good reminder that being bad at something doesn’t mean you’ll always be bad at it. Dedication and consistency go a long, long way.

When I got home I got in the bath and put on The French Minister (on Netflix) and thought this quote from the movie was the perfect expression of this week’s experience. And if I were Heraclitus, I’d probably add that struggle is the father of all things worth doing.

Struggle on, people!

À bientôt,