(note – I’m not affiliated in any way with italki, and don’t stand to gain anything from this post. I just think it’s a great tool, and want to share it with you.) The challenge. italki just announced today that they are doing their annual challenge. The official title is “The 2014 italki World Cup Language Challenge”. Here are the rules. In a nutshell, you have to pay $20 to enter. If you take 25 hours of lessons or more from June 1 thru July 31, they will return your $20 entry fee, and give you an additional $40 worth of credit. I’m fortunate because I’m taking my own challenge of sorts. After realizing my Russian conversation was lagging way behind my listening and reading, I made a commitment to myself to do 200 hours of Russian conversation within a year. I’m about 40 hours into that “challenge” already, and noticing some nice improvement. I try to do an hour a day. I’ve averaged 6 hours a week for the last 7 weeks, so I’m on schedule. This challenge is a forgone conclusion to me, and just amounts to a way to save $40. But if you like a challenge, think your conversation can use a boost, and don’t mind paying for a tutor, I encourage you to give it a try. About italki. I’ve written a little about italki before, and recommended it, but I feel it’s time to give a more thorough summary. italki has over 1.5 million students and 2000+ teachers of 100 languages. It's a website that puts language learners in touch with teachers and tutors, and manages the scheduling and payment for the meetings. There are other amenities, like contact with language exchange partners and discussions, but the main point of the site is language tutors. Let me walk you through the process of using a teacher with italki. · become a member – sign up with email, Facebook, etc · purchase credits - buy with paypal, credit card, etc. They use units called ITC’s. 10 ITC = $1. · search for a teacher – First you must choose “professional lessons”, meaning the teacher is accredited, “informal tutoring”, meaning the teacher is unaccredited, or “instant tutoring”, meaning the teacher is online at that moment. Regardless of what you search, there is a toggle that will let you see all if you want. Next you choose teaches (the language taught), also speaks (maybe good to put your L1 here if your level is low), from (country), price (I always choose the low range: 0-$10), native speaker (check box if you want a native), trial available (up to 3 discount trials are available per user, and many teachers agree to this), video introduction (some teachers have video introductions) · schedule a session - First select from various types of lessons offered by the teacher you have chosen. Next select the time. The time shown is your local time, assuming you have told italki your current time when you joined. It’s possible to reschedule or cancel, within limits, as long as both parties agree. · complete the session – I do all my sessions on skype, although you can have your teacher meet you any way you both agree to. italki will warn you when you have a session coming up. They send you an email 24 hrs before, and there is a countdown on the site. Skype info is kept conveniently within the session info. · confirm the session was completed – after the lesson, you will receive an email to confirm, in case you forget. You need to select whether “the session was completed”, or “there was a problem”. If there was a problem, money will be refunded if both parties agree. I’m sure there is a dispute process, but I’ve never had to use it; the teachers have been very trustworthy. If the session was completed, you are asked to rate the lesson and leave comments (optional). After you confirm, the money is transferred from your account to the teacher’s account. There are many online teaching sites out there, and it’s possible just to put an ad in craigslist or request help from a specific teacher’s blog, for example. So I will tell you what I consider the pro’s and con’s of italki, comparing to every method I’ve used for finding tutors. Pro’s · Price – it’s much cheaper than any other way I’ve used. As far as I can tell, prices start at just $4/hr. I’ve seen 30min trials for as little as $1, although you are limited to a lifetime total of 3. And there are lots of teachers in the lowest price range (0-$10) in the languages I study. · Large variety of teachers – one of the biggest databases of teachers I’ve seen, and most are active · Quality – the teachers I’ve had have been, on the average, as good or better than from any other source · Scheduling – seeing the teacher’s available time in my local time is a real plus for me. In other methods I have had frequent problems scheduling. · Payment – I know most sites operate in a similar way, but it’s nice only having to make the occasional paypal payment to a single site. Having a bunch of separate people to pay can confuse me sometimes. Con’s · Pay before the lesson – I know most of these tutor sites are the same, but the first time I use one I’m hesitant about depositing a chunk of money into their vaults. Now that I’m comfortable with them, I find it convenient, but I didn’t feel this way in the beginning. · Contacting a teacher for the first time – if you just want to send a message to a teacher you have 3 choices 1) fill out the contact form, which makes you claim that you want to take lessons at least once every 2 weeks amongst other things, 2) follow the teacher, and request they follow you. After you are following each other, you can send each other normal messages 3) just schedule a session, and then you can message each other. Happy online learning!