I’m a bit sad to see what’s happening on iTalki. They’re on the cusp of launching a new version of their site and they’ve released a post explaining it to end users. It’s pretty daft: they’re rationalising a lot of their service and binning some of the peripheral stuff like instant tutoring (which I’ve used in emergencies a couple of times but apparently is some people’s bread and butter), and they wanted to bin 45 minute lessons but did a U-turn on that one at least.
The maddest thing, though, is not really mentioned in the post itself, just the comments: There’s no community tab on the beta site. In other words, all the free sandpit area where users coudl ask questions and practice writing is going. This probably makes sense in a short-term way: why should they want to supply free services when they can concentrate on the paid content? But it seems like a terrible idea to me. The free section is the glue that holds the site together: a lot of people start there for a while, take their first baby steps, have some language exchanges, meet teachers who are good at making text correctrions, and generally build trust and loyalty to the site so that when they get comfortable enough to take the plunge with a paid lesson they see iTalki as the obvious choice. That’s all going to go now and it just seems crazy.
I first heard about this through a former teacher of mine who was of the opinion that “vai acabar tudo”. She mainly cultivates students by talking to them in their notebook comments after correcting their work; in fact, that’s how I met her. We had a good, long chat about how mad it was.
Well, a while ago, I heard from another user about another site called Lingq which I’ve been meaning to get into for a while and this seems like an opportune moment. It seems pretty good and has a lot of the things a decent language community needs: A writing exchange like the one iTalki is binning, online tutors, lessons (like Memrise, which is another site I use a lot) and various other bells and whistles. It is also prettier than iTalki and has a better app. On the negative side, it’s not the easiest thing to use: I can’t get it to just show me the Portuguese lessons. In fact, it’s mainly showing me english lessons even though I’ve told it I’m a native speaker. I tried to watch the power user webinar to find out how to filter out the irrelevant bits but it was so boring and faffy that I decided I’d rather use trial and error, but basically, I think it’s looking like a strong contender to be my new language home.
The main thing it lacks, of course, is the very thing iTalki has that I actually pay for: native Portuguese teachers from this side of the pond. But that’ll change soon enough if iTalki insist on pruning their site back to nothing. Give it a couple of months and the tutors will start showing up.