A summer like no other

jiahong_tracyMy name is Jiahong Sun. This summer I worked at italki as a services and marketing intern from mid-June to late August. My first days at italki were full of exploration of the different departments and aspects of the company. Although I got on board as a services and marketing intern, I interacted with people from all departments of the company—from development and technology, to analytics and product—on a daily basis. Because of italki’s startup nature and vibe, I was able to really dig deep into what I chose to focus my time and energy on, and in the process I learned a lot more than I ever expected.

After initially getting my hands on a few different projects, and getting to know the problems that had to be solved, I decided to focus on developing a better translation and localization system for the italki website. Translation and localization refers to the adaptation of a website from its original language (in the case of italki, English) to different foreign languages, while keeping in mind the cultural background of the users behind the languages. For example, many major e-commerce websites around the world are presented in multiple languages, Amazon, Airbnb, Ctrip, to name a few. A direct translation from English to say, Spanish, isn’t usually enough because Hispanic cultures vary widely across the globe and they don’t speak one kind of “Standard Spanish”. Because italki.com was previously translated by amateur users of the site through crowdsourcing, the quality could be of great concern from time to time, and it goes without saying that this would hurt user experience.


I started the project by studying email correspondences between an italki staff member and a professional Korean-English translator who specialized in translating game and web content. From there and studying other websites, I came up with a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for the translation and localization of the website. This procedure, constantly updated by me throughout my time at italki, eventually became the operating manual for the translation and localization of italki.com into whichever foreign language. From there, I went on to build the translation master files and excel templates for English and a handful of foreign languages. When we started to receive the translations from our professional translators weeks later, I also built a streamlined error-checking system that involved our translators and users to ensure the quality and accuracy of the translations. By the time I handed over the project to a full-time staff member as the summer was coming to an end, the italki website was completely and professionally translated into 10 different languages.

jiahong_russianWhile I channeled a lot of energy and concentration into improving the website, I also dabbed in social media marketing. Since this was my first time ever in a marketing position, I was constantly learning from my colleagues. I observed the work they did and brainstormed how and if I can do them better. My responsibilities began with coming up with post content for our official Facebook account’s daily posts and then scheduling them with a third-party website. This was a lot of fun as I began by cruising through other popular websites that have a lot of viral posts. I also updated our social media tracking excel sheet on a weekly basis with data pulled from our database. This allowed the marketing team to see in great detail which and what kind of posts drove real traffic to our website and contributed to our growth. Two of the posts I helped created eventually become the most viral posts italki’s Facebook page had ever seen, each getting 3,000+ likes and 4,000+ shares.

jiahong_lessonAside from Facebook, I started participating in marketing towards the Chinese market when our chief Chinese marketing manager left and a new full-time Facebook/Pinterest social marketing employee joined us. Together with one Chinese marketing department colleague, I helped research content and drafted daily posts for our WeChat and Weibo accounts. I also attended a workshop curated by an influential Chinese social media marketer to better my skills and learned how to create more attention-grabbing posts specifically in the context of the Chinese market.

This sums up my fruitful summer at italki. I felt like I belonged there and that I made contributions that really mattered to the company. I dug up grounds that were previously untouched and pushed for growth. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the office building, and I’ve met people who I will stay friends with for the rest of my life. I have a lot of faith in italki’s future. I want more people to know about italki and discover its awesomeness. I sincerely hope italki continues to scale up and become the next unicorn of startups.