Step out your comfort zone.

My name is Christopher, and I’m 52 years old from Boston, MA in the U.S. I work as a manager for a research group at a medical school. I’ve been working with an italki teacher for almost two months, meeting for two hour-long sessions each week.
My goal is to develop a working knowledge of Spanish. I do some English teaching for people who are refugees and immigrants work in my local community. Many of these people come from Latin America. Also, I am planning to teach English for two months this summer in El Salvador. Learning Spanish would aid my teaching skills both locally and in El Salvador. It would also help me feel less isolated while living abroad.
I tried numerous websites, mobile apps, Pimsleur tapes and even a university class to learn to converse in Spanish. At the end of last semester, I had a basic vocabulary and could conjugate verbs in the present tense but could not really have a conversation in Spanish. I promised myself over the semester break that I would find a way to learn to speak Spanish.
italki was suggested in an e-book about learning languages that I received from Tim Ferris. Tim is an amazing author and entrepreneur who speaks several languages. In the e-book which he co-authored, he specifically mentioned italki as a way to develop proficiency by working with a native speaker.
After checking out the italki website, I came up with some very specific criteria for a teacher. I wanted a native speaker from a Latin American country with a compatible schedule and price range. After finding all of the italki teachers who met my criteria, I viewed their videos and ranked the teachers based on my needs. I did a 30 minute trial session with the person at the top of my list. From my work helping people to learn English, I can recognize a good teacher when I meet one and I could tell she was definitely a good teacher. I’d told her about my experience trying to learn Spanish. At the end of the class, I sent her a message thanking her. She messaged back saying that she could help me put the theory I learned in class to practice. I liked that.
I like italki because it is an individual session directed towards my needs. The teacher and I spent a lot of time working on my pronunciation and targeting other areas that need work. You don’t get that in class or through mobile apps. Also, when I told her about my plans to teach abroad this summer, she created several lessons on parts of the bodies and how to talk about health concerns. She did this so that if I develop health problems while traveling, I will be able to explain the problem to a local doctor. This demonstrated a very respectable level of concern for her students and caring on her part.
The SKYPE platform works well. We use videoconferencing at the medical school where I work. I think SKYPE is as good as the system we use at work. The teacher who works with me is very facile at using SKYPE and is able to quickly manipulate it to show me documents or send me notes to study. I’ve seen her quickly amend an existing worksheet as she talks to me in order to customize it to whatever we have decided to work on that day.
I have to admit, that before I started using italki, it seemed a bit intimidating. Working with a language teacher online was new to me and outside my comfort zone. But, you can’t grow as a person unless you are willing to step outside your comfort zone. I decided it was worth trying and I am so glad that I did. At first, it felt a bit odd but not anymore. If you are considering trying italki but are a bit skeptical, I suggest that you find a teacher and buy a five session package. I would bet that you will feel way more comfortable at the end of the fifth session and want to continue. If not, you tried and can say you gave it your best effort. I have found it helpful to combine italki with taking a class. The class teaches me grammar and conjugation and italki gives me a way to practice. I do find myself skipping ahead of the class lessons so that I can develop ways to express what I want to say in Spanish, but learning faster is a good thing.

Christopher has been a member of italki since December 2015Linked In