Teach Languages: Italki in Your Classroom

Teach Languages

Teach Languages: Italki in Your Classroom

I love to teach languages. It is fun, rewarding and allows for so much growth in short amounts of time at the novice level. Students can get comfortable speaking to you and each other, but ultimately need to engage with native speakers.

Do you know about italki? If you do, you know it is a great way to connect with speakers of the language that you are learning. 

One of my favorite activities for improving my skills to teach languages is to continue to study languages. I love it, it helps me see languages through the lens of the learner, and I get my best, most effective and engaging activities from these independent studies. 

This particular resource is an absolute gem. Italki allows you to connect with native speakers all over the world for individual language lessons. It differs from language exchange in that the lesson is completely focused on your learning. 

Italki has teachers from all over the world, as well as something they call community tutors. Essentially, these people don’t have any teaching qualifications, but can offer conversation practice. I see this as a tool to practice communicating (we can study grammar on our own), so their credentials to teach languages is not terribly important to me personally.

Being able to speak with native speakers from anywhere is great professional development. Imagine being able to improve your skills and confidence without needing to travel. Your students can start building their confidence in communicating in their target language on italki, too.

We learn languages by understanding (Krashen) and build our skills through practice. Communicating in the target language provides the perfect opportunity to get the input we need to understand and build vocabulary and learn grammar in context-the meat of what we need to do to teach languages.

Speaking with native speakers also offers the opportunity to practice and continually test yourself, leading you to fill in the gaps of any language you don’t know. These skilled native speakers are used to working with learners, so know how to provide comprehensible input to learners, so the perfect supplement in your classroom to teach languages.

My Harvard-educated attorney uncle who speaks/practices law in Spanish, once told me years ago that the best way to learn any language is to go to a bar, have a beer or two, and talk to people. That may not be an option for many independent language learners living all over the globe, and it certainly is not an option for minors, but the basic concept holds true here. We can connect with people and speak their language in a comfortable, non-threatening environment. iTalki exists for that very purpose.

In addition to the opportunity to connect with native speakers all over the world that italki can provide, there are many perks. The teachers on italki can provide exactly what learners at any level need. 

Beginners, especially, need input from someone who is sympathetic. They need someone who is willing to speak very clearly to them so that they understand this new target language. It is from this understanding that we learn languages. As a learner, it isn’t always easy to have the confidence to speak to native speakers. You will make errors. It can take a lot of time to express yourself. It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Helping learners through this is one of our primary responsibilities to teach languages.

I have always loved having guest speakers in my language classes. While I can provide them a great deal of authentic input from a variety of resources, talking to people other than myself or their classmates is something that needs to happen as often as possible to keep developing fluency. I love having live guests come speak to my students. However, this isn’t always possible. italki makes this possible when someone can’t physically come to a class.

The ACTFL 5 C’s and Guest Speakers from iTalki

This project incorporates all of the ACTFL standards. I have provided a quick summary of how here:

Cultures. Students learn and interact with other cultures in this project.

Communication. This standard is at the center of the ACTFL standards for a good reason. Everything we do goes back to being able to communicate with others. 

Connections. This project is super easy to connect to other topics because students are going to be exploring any theme that you’re studying. For example, you can gear your questions towards food, geography, technology, science or any other topic that might be relevant.

Comparisons. Students will have many opportunities to explore language and culture. They’ll learn about their target culture firsthand from interacting with the people. Some specific language examples might be understanding the different forms of “you” in French or Spanish, or honorifics in Asian languages. Having a native speaker who can give them different insight into it will really bring what’s in your textbook to life. 

Communities. Students are using language outside of school, and finding a great resource to continue improving their skills.

Register to italki. The first step is setting up an account at italki. 

There are teachers from all over the world teaching many languages. They will ask you a few questions about your goals, native language, etc. After answering the questions and confirming my email, I was able to start searching for a teacher. The teacher profiles have ratings, information on rates and testimonials. Here is a teacher from Argentina that I worked with:

There will be a section on the teacher’s page where they will talk about how they deliver lessons. This teacher can give lessons via FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts.

They have many filters to help you find exactly what you need with regard to schedule, communication tool, price, country, etc..

Prepare your questions. Before the interview, the students should prepare by researching and writing questions. As this teacher is from Argentina, we will focus on some cultural questions specific to her country after we get a bit of biographical information from her. I love to use Google Docs to do this part of the project. There is a lot of accountability in doing this collaboratively and making the preparation part of the grade. 

Students edit the document. Students can be responsible for creating their own questions, doing research and correcting/editing one another’s content before the lesson. You will get to see all of their work before they actually conduct the interview. You can focus on accuracy and not duplicating questions this way as well. 

Print a copy of the document for every student after it has been edited.

Practice. I had to practice a few times with the tech side of things. This will look different, of course, depending on what you use. I like to use Youtube Live at school. This way I can record the interview and use it as a listening exercise or with students who were absent.

With Skype, I like ecamm for recording interviews.

Do the interview. Students hate this at first, but it is a great way to introduce them to native speakers in a supervised way they wouldn’t normally interact with. The questions really do help here, and they will be grateful that they prepared ahead of time.

Students should note the answers in the document during the interview. They will likely need to speak to other students to confirm some answers. I allow this, as it requires more communicative practice in the target language.

Summary. Students should write a summary of the interview in the target language. I generally let them select a certain number of details to report back to me. It is a good way to get them to review their notes and synthesize the language and content they used.

Ready to do this in YOUR class? The first time might be difficult, but I think you’ll love it. It is a way to get your students interacting with natives from your target language, build their confidence while they build their communicative skills and become more proficient with some great tools out there to learn any language they wish.

Here is a link to italki if you want to give it a try. If you sign up with them, we’ll both get $10 in credit.

I share a lot of ideas on Instagram and Pinterest.

Looking for more ideas for your class. Check these out here.

Language Teaching Resources for Language Learning and Teaching

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