Have you heard of Italki yet? If not, you definitely should! Italki was one of the sponsors of this year’s Polyglot Gathering in Berlin. Ivan, who represented the company during the event, told us about some of the ideas behind Italki and the company’s plans for the future. Check it out!
VocApp: Hi Ivan, thank you for giving us your time to do this little interview. Ivan works for Italki, a language company that provides its user with the ability to connect with language speakers all over the world. Ivan my first question is, your platform is an excellent tool for communicating with language enthusiasts all over the world, but do you think it is also efficient at the very beginning of the learning process when most of us are still very stressed about speaking?
Ivan: In terms of my own personal experience, some of the best experience that I had learning new language, which was Esperanto which is already a pleasant experience, was by just speaking. The big difference from traditional learning with Italki is that we tend to think of ourselves in these scripts of like, oh, I’m a bad student or I’m a good student, I did my homework or I didn’t. What we want to do is provide this you ‘wow’ moment, this ability to just realize that you can make mistakes and you get to experiment and try and fail and still acquire the language. Of course it depends on the individual learner, some people are more comfortable by memorizing lots of vocabulary, but for me, and I think for a lot of people in the polyglot community, just being able to start speaking and make the mistakes and dive right into the language is a big part of the fun, so I think it can be quite effective if that fits your learning style.
Do you think face-to-face communication is the most efficient learning tool we know at the time?
I think communicating with native speakers gives a lot of really fast, immediate feedback especially if the native speakers are providing you with feedback. I think it’s important, I think there’s an emotional component when speaking to a human rather than to a robot, or to an app, or studying from a book. I think in that sense it makes it very memorable. I’m sure that there are ways to organize information, the specific content, that can be more efficient than just speaking to people, but in normal language acquisition pattern, for me, it’s incredibly helpful to actually have someone to talk to, to actually have someone to speak with and to see whether they understand what I’m saying or not.
How big is the Italki community at the moment?
The Italki community, overall we have over 2 million profiles, 2 million people have created a profile on Italki. Obviously that measure is slightly flawed, but I know that there are literally thousands of lessons being conducted every day, so it’s somewhere I guess… million, million and a half is probably a useful guess. The good thing is we’re growing and we’re working very hard to grow the community, so we’ll be a lot bigger very soon.
Yeah, that’s really a lot of people already. Do you think Italki sessions still require some supplementation in the form of, let’s say, flashcards or other spaced repetition systems or note taking systems? What is your view on that?
I think that there’s many ways to approach solving the language learning problem. We provide the human component, we provide the human interaction component of language learning, and we love all the tools that are out there, Anki, Duolingo, Memrise. They do a great job in terms of practicing grammar, in terms of practicing vocabulary. Most of the micro-workers at Italki, we have our Duolingo profiles and we sort of compete to see how many points we get. There’s a lot of tools, and good use of tools is really important, so the more the better. Speaking to people is obviously an important component in our opinion, but flashcards are great … Really whatever gets you to engage with the content, with the language, if it’s listening to music, if it’s playing videogames, if it’s using an app. Good, do it. The more the better.
Sure. Probably, one last quick question. Could you tell us something about your future projects? The ones that are not secret.
The ones that are not super secret. Well obviously, we’ve just redone the design for the website, and we’re working on the app. I think the most interesting thing is the mobile space development, so we have hired an iOS developer, we have an Android app that’s in open beta, and we’re going to be trying to replicate as many features as possible and make it as easy to study on the go. The big thing about mobile is, eventually you’ll be able to book a lesson and then with your phone, if you have connectivity, just have a lesson yourself. I know that in China, I myself have had multiple lessons using cellphone as the primary communication tool rather than a laptop, and that worked out pretty well. We’re hoping to bring that functionality to all of our users as quickly as possible.
That’s exciting. I will be really looking forward to seeing those features implemented. Ivan, thanks again for the interview. It was a pleasure.
Sure, absolutely. Thank you.