Ever since I did the TOPIK test back in April, I’ve been feeling like I’m in a bit of a Korean studying slump. The goal of getting an advanced level on the TOPIK test was such a great motivator. I was studying flash cards every morning and reading news articles to find new vocab, and testing myself occasionally by doing old TOPIK tests. Having that goal was really helpful for me.
Now I feel like I’m floating around from one thing to another while I’m studying Korean, without a concrete goal. Some days I read newspapers, some days I listen to radio shows, some days I just watch variety shows. Not having that goal makes me feel like I never finish anything when I’m studying so it’s not nearly as satisfying. I’m really frustrated with myself!
So to get some of my studying mojo back, I’ve decided that my goal for right now is to focus on my speaking skills. Of course I still do language exchanges with friends regularly. The problem is that my language exchange partners rarely correct my Korean, which is what I really need. I worry that I will keep making the same mistakes and they will become habitual.
So I’ve signed up on a site called Italki to get some structured language practice and find someone to correct my speaking. It’s a site that links people who are learning languages with people who are professional teachers or want to do informal tutoring. It’s got a great system for scheduling sessions with teachers, and you buy credits to pay your teachers with so that you don’t have to worry about the hassle of transferring money internationally (such as added fees and exchange rates). The sessions themselves are conducted via skype.
There are about five “professional teachers” of Korean on Italki (to be a professional teacher you have to have prior experience in teaching, and some sort of education-related certification). These teachers would probably be best for those who are beginners, or anyone who’s looking to learn Korean with a lesson-based session. These lessons range from $10 – 25 CAD per hour, depending on the teacher and your level. It seems that most teachers can speak at least some English, but depending on your level, you should check out each teacher’s reviews by other students to see if others were able to communicate easily with them.
In addition to the professional teachers who conduct lessons, there are many more people on Italki who are “informal tutors”, which means they don’t have formal education certification but would like to help people learning the language with speaking practice. There is a wide range of prices for tutoring, anywhere from $6 CAD per hour to $20.
The great thing about Italki is you can do “trial lessons” at a discounted rate for half an hour to meet the teachers and talk about what will happen during your sessions. Half an hour is a short time for a session, but it gives you an idea of whether you two will hit it off or if you’ll even be able to communicate with each other!
One issue with using Italki is that it can be difficult to find teachers or tutors who are available to teach at times that work for you (especially for those of us who live on the opposite side of the world to Korea). But if someone you’d like to do a trial lesson with isn’t free at a good time for you, I’d suggest messaging them to see if they can make accommodations.
So far I have done one trial session and an hour-long session with a tutor named Jee. I told her from the outset that my goal is to improve my conversation skills and pronunciation, and she’s been great about encouraging that. In yesterday’s session we talked about the radio shows I’ve been listening to lately, we did some pronunciation practice, and then talked about a news article that she found. For next time, I’m going to listen to more radio shows and practice by doing some dictation and also repeating after the DJs, and she’s encouraged me to write down any questions I have about what I listen to for our session.
Italki also has a “notebook” section of their site where you can write diary entries and receive corrections from native speakers. I haven’t used it myself yet, but from what I can tell from looking at other users’ entries and corrections, lang-8 is a better website if you’re looking for native corrections of your writing.
I’d be interested to hear about anyone else’s experiences with Italki, or similar websites! To be honest, I was really hesitant about doing it at first because I’ve never talked with someone I don’t know over skype before… But I eventually just sucked it up and booked a session and now I’m really enjoying it. I don’t know if it will make me feel more like I have a concrete goal in my studying, because you can’t measure speaking ability with a multiple choice proficiency test… But at least now I have things to prepare each week, and a bit more direction!