• Marco

My italki Experience: Lessons Update

Updated: Aug 26

August 2020: 500 Lessons Update.

This article was originally published after my first 100 lessons on italki. I'm now updating every 100 or so lessons, and will continue to do so. I've edited the article so it refers to number of lessons rather than dates, as I think dates are less helpful.

Hopefully other italki teachers will find it useful.

Becoming An italki Teacher

My whole italki experience is something of an accident. When I did my CELTA I had every intention of teaching face-to-face. I did my course in June; Mrs Wench wasn't doing hers until September, and we weren't planning to leave the country until the end of October. So I had three clear months to put my training into practice before we left. Online teaching was something I saw as an optional extra, something to do when I'd gained some practice.

Unfortunately, that didn't work out. I wanted to do ESOL work - working with refugee charities to help people who'd moved to the UK, but couldn't speak the language. For a variety of reasons I couldn't find work. Some places wanted a minimum 6-month commitment; some wanted prior experience; some were closed for the summer. I had one interview where they offered me a place from October (!) - but it was clear I wasn't going to get anything soon.

So I began looking for companies to let me teach online. There are loads of them. Many focus on China; some are for kids, some adults. Some force you to work a minimum number of hours a week, sometimes at awkward times. I've written more about different English language platforms, but for now I'll just state that I started working with italki in August.

I like italki. You make yourself available at whatever hours you want, you decide what classes you want to offer, and you decide what rate to charge. italki takes care of marketing and driving students to you, handles payments and dispute resolution. They take a flat 15% commission for this. The platform is stable and on the rare occasions I've needed Support, they've been great. (Just don't use their Classroom for calls. It's rubbish. Use Skype.)

This week I racked up my 100th lesson. That's not a lot for 4 months. I started slowly, built up hours, then stopped while I moved and settled in. Then I started slowly again.

I thought it would be useful to people if I broke down some stats on my performance. (You can take the man out of the engineering...) If you want a more general summary of the site (including my thoughts on italki vs Cambly, check out my other article.)

Lessons With italki

With italki, you decide what you're going to offer. Many teachers offer an italki trial lesson; it's a 30 minute call, and you get to decide whether or not you and the student are a good fit.

As well as Trial Lessons, I offer Conversation Practice, Interview Coaching, and a couple of Business English lessons. The first three get students; the last doesn't. I probably need to rethink the pricing or content.

200 Lessons:

I now offer Conversation Practice and Interview Coaching. The latter includes a free CV/resume review, which has improved my take up. I rewrote the descriptions and titles of the Business Classes too - they are now pulling in a modest stream of students.

I've also created a lesson class called "Structured Learning" - more formal than pure CP, but still less preparation and planning than a full course of lessons.

300 - 400 Lessons:

I've rewritten all the Business English descriptions and am working from a mixture of Linguahouse materials, online articles, TED talks. For Structured Learning I'm doing the same and also using chapters of books students give me, or which I recommend to them. It seems to be increasing student retention - and it's a more useful and engaging range of material to work with.

500 Lessons:

Still offering the same classes and putting more effort into each student. Retention is definitely up, and they seem happier!

italki Lessons And Take-up - The Statistics

100 Lessons:

I spoke to 36 different students. Exactly half of those - 18 - took at least 2 lessons. Immediately you see the first thing I like about italki. It's not based around random calls with strangers - it's easy to get regular students.

The lessons broke down as follows:

  • 15 Trial lessons

  • 13 Interview Coaching

  • 72 Conversation Practice

About half of the italki trial lessons converted to full price lessons. Clearly Conversation Practice is my most common lesson, but I do quite well with interview work too (and obviously charge more).

Of the repeat students, 12 took at least 3 lessons, and 6 have taken at least 5. My current leading student has 15, followed by another with 9.

200 Lessons:

The figures have obviously changed somewhat. I've done 212 italki lessons (note some figures may be fractionally out and not add up to 100% - I am human ๐Ÿ˜‰)

I've now (cumulatively) spoken to 77 students. Of those, 37 took more than one lesson. The conversion rate after trial/first lesson is still almost exactly 50%.

My current lesson breakdown is as follows:

  • 35 Trial lessons

  • 19 Interview Coaching

  • 19 Structured Learning Practice (SLP)

  • 17 Business English

  • 122 Conversation Practice (CP)

Top student statistics: My most regular students have 27 and 19 lessons. 24 have taken at least 3 lessons and 12 at least 5.

300 Lessons:

As of 1 May I've completed 310 lessons and spoken to 93 students. 45 have taken at least 2 lessons, a conversion rate steady at 48%.

My lesson breakdown is as follows:

  • 42 Trial lessons

  • 21 Interview Coaching

  • 49 Structured Learning Practice (SLP) - a big leap

  • 23 Business English

  • 174 Conversation Practice (CP)

Top student statistics: My most regular students have 33, 24 and 24 lessons. 30 have taken at least 3 lessons and 16 at least 5.

400 Lessons:

As of 20 June I've completed 421 lessons and spoken to 99 students. 51 have taken at least 2 lessons, a conversion rate steady at 51%.

My lesson breakdown is as follows:

  • 47 Trial lessons

  • 26 Interview Coaching

  • 90 Structured Learning Practice (SLP) - continuing to grow

  • 49 Business English - also a big growth area

  • 209 Conversation Practice (CP)

Top student statistics: My most regular students have 37, 34 and 24 lessons. 39 have taken at least 3 lessons and 26 at least 5.

500 Lessons:

As of 25 August I've completed 518 lessons and spoken to 118 students. 59 have taken at least 2 lessons, a conversion rate steady at 50%.

My lesson breakdown is as follows:

  • 54 Trial lessons

  • 29 Interview Coaching

  • 133 Structured Learning Practice (SLP) - continuing to grow

  • 61 Business English - also a big growth area

  • 241 Conversation Practice (CP)

Top student statistics: My most regular students have 42, 37 and 25 lessons. 44 have taken at least 3 lessons and 28 at least 5.

Cumulative total students. Recent new students and regulars on holiday (I assume) means it's bending up again. I'd like to see it coming back down!

Share of my italki lessons over time. I'm working hard to get Conversation down, and Structured and Business up.

italki Students And Countries/Territories

I only work with adults. Luckily, italki mainly caters to adults, and so far I haven't had any kids. They range from teens to late 60s. Some are students, many are IT professionals. I've had a few academics too. It's a really nice blend.

Many teachers complain about adults who book lessons, then leave their kids in front of the screen to be "babysat". I don't know why this is. I make clear on my profile that I only work with adults; this may put people off. Also my prices, while far from the highest, aren't at the lower end of rates either.

All I can suggest is politely, but firmly, rejecting any such lessons. If it happens despite this, politely close the lesson and forward your communication screen grabs to italki support who should cancel the lesson for you.

In terms of countries, after 100 lessons I'd ticked off 17:

  • Brazil ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท

  • China ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ

  • Ecuador ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡จ

  • France ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท

  • Hungary ๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡บ

  • Ireland ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช

  • Italy ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น

  • Japan ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

  • Poland ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฑ

  • Romania ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡ด

  • Russia ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ

  • Spain ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ

  • Saudi Arabia ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

  • Switzerland ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ

  • UK ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง and

  • Ukraine ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

200 Lessons: 23:

  • Belarus ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡พ

  • Canada ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

  • Egypt ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ฌ

  • Portugal ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น

  • Taiwan ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ

  • Turkey ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท

300 Lessons: 25

  • Costa Rica ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ท

  • New Zealand ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

400 Lessons: 26

500 Lessons: 28

  • Thailand ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ญ

  • Hong Kong ๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ

  • The Netherlands ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ

(I know HK is a SAR rather than a country. For the purposes of stamp-collecting I'm going to include it - it is my blog, after all ๐Ÿ˜‰)

Number of countries students are based in. Unsurprisingly, given the focus on Russia/Eastern Europe, Brazil and a few others, it gets harder over time to 'tick off' new ones

italki Commission, Rates And Income

100 Lessons:

Because I was starting out, and more interested in positive feedback good ratings, I deliberately pitched my prices low. Trial lessons were $5 (italki works in USD). For Conversation Practice I charged $12/hour (previously as low as $8); Interview Coaching $15/hour (previously also a bit lower, and a bit higher). So there wasn't a 'standard' price per lesson.

Over the 4 months, I was paid a total of $766. At today's exchange that's ยฃ585, or about MEX$14,500.

You don't need to be a maths wizard to calculate that that's an average of $7.66 / ยฃ5.85 per lesson.

Given italki trial lessons are 30 mins, and I'd done a few 45 min lessons, I'd actually worked a total of 90 hours.

So the hourly rate came to $8.50 / ยฃ6.50 per hour, inclusive of italki commission, but excluding Payoneer withdrawal charges ($3 flat rate) and exchange conversions.

It's not huge money. But I wa starting out, and I planned to raise prices in future. It's also worth pointing out that the minimum wage in Mexico is scheduled to rise in January 2020 - to $6.36 per day. So this hourly rate is more than ten times minimum wage here ๐Ÿ˜ž

200 Lessons:

Over the last few months I've raised my prices, rewritten my lesson profiles, and added a new Structured Learning lesson. I've also been working more regular hours than I was in 2019, as I'm more settled in Mexico than I was last year.

For clarity, my current prices are as follows (they've varied a bit previously):

Trial Lesson: $8

Conversation Practice: $12/hr ($10.50/45m)

Structured Learning: $14/hr ($12/45m)

Business English: $18/hr ($15/45m)

Interview Coaching: $24/hr ($21/45m)

I also offer packages of 5 for Interview and Business, and 10 for CP and SLP.

In addition I've been gently trying to pivot towards more business work and less CP. Obviously this means more income for fewer hours: although it equally obviously needs more prep for me.

I'm not walking away from CP: first of all, I have repeat students I enjoy working with. Secondly, sometimes I suggest mixing CP with business classes for students who aren't C1/C2.

My cumulative summary now stands as follows:

Total lessons: 212

Total Income: $1956 (after 15% italki commission)

Average Income/Lesson: $9.23

Average Income/Hour = $10.36, or about ยฃ8.29. (It's less as the exchange rate has changed since the previous update; here and in future I've kept this at 0.8 for consistency).

All up that's about a 20% increase in my hourly rate since 3 months ago. As most of change to rates is still feeding through - remember, these are cumulative figures - these should continue to rise even without upping my rate again.

300 Lessons:

As of 1 May I raised my prices again, although they haven't yet had a chance to feed in. Since the last update, Structured Learning, where I use news articles or lesson plans from Linguahouse, have proven very popular. (And they're fun!)

Business and Interview work, on the other hand, has not been strong. I'm putting this down to the economic impact of the pandemic - people are losing their jobs, and few places are hiring ๐Ÿ˜ So it's a strange time and I'm not sure how representative the numbers are.

However - summary currently stands at:

Total lessons: 310

Total Income: $3,045 (after 15% italki commission)

Average Income/Lesson: $9.73

Average Income/Hour = $10.68, or about ยฃ8.54

400 Lessons:

Prices have gone up a little. I've raised my trial rate to $10/hour. I think this encourages students who're more serious about learning.

I've been working on getting more out of (and giving more to!) existing students, rather than trying to bring more new ones in. Part of this has meant putting more effort into learning plans, identifying weak areas and giving more targeted homework.

It seems to be paying off, as more students are sticking around for more lessons.

Current lessons/prices:

Trial Lesson: $10

Conversation Practice: $14/hr ($12/45m)

Structured Learning: $16/hr ($14/45m)

Business English: $18/hr ($16/45m)

Interview Coaching: $28/hr

I also offer packages of 5 for Interview, and 10 for Business, CP and SLP.

Compared to the last update, business and interviews have risen strongly. I still don't really understand the impact of the pandemic, but I'm doing more work and selling more packages here than previously.

Summary Total:

Total lessons: 421

Total Income: $4,437 (after 15% italki commission)

Average Income/Lesson: $10.44

Average Income/Hour = $11.43, or about ยฃ9.14. ($/ยฃ exchange rate at 0.8 for consistency).

How much teachers should charge for lessons is a tricky subject. I've written an article which can help you decide how much to charge for italki lessons.

500 Lessons:

I've made no changes to my pricing during this period.

Number of students is steady, with a nice balance of new and regulars. Oddly, the last few weeks have been really quiet; I'm putting this down to a lot of people being on holiday, taking the chance to travel again in Eastern and Western Europe while lockdown restrictions are easing somewhat.

I've also had a rush of new students in the last week. I'm sure that part of how italki decides to promote teachers to students is connected to their availability and regular hours. But that's a whole black art there!

Current lessons/prices:

Trial Lesson: $10

Conversation Practice: $14/hr ($12/45m)

Structured Learning: $16/hr ($14/45m)

Business English: $18/hr ($16/45m)

Interview Coaching: $28/hr

Packages are also the same as the 400 lessons update. Business and structured are doing well.

Summary Total:

Total lessons: 518

Total Income: $5,636 (after 15% italki commission)

Average Income/Lesson: $10.88

Average Income/Hour = $12.05, or about ยฃ9.64. ($/ยฃ exchange rate at 0.8 for consistency).

How much teachers should charge for lessons is a tricky subject. I've written an article which can help you decide how much to charge for italki lessons.

Total cumulative earnings over time. Reasonably linear, although the curve does (and should) start to bend up as prices increase

$/hour over time. Remember that this is only partly because of increased prices: it's also related to lesson length, but more importantly which lessons you do more of. Conversation classes will always bring in less than more structured or niche classes. I probably need to raise my prices again.

Summary - And italki Tips

At the start of December 2019, I said I was making reasonable money, but not doing enough hours. I'd scheduled a lot more, but things were slowing down for Christmas. I'm a Professional Teacher - italki also has Community Tutors who usually charge a bit less. But was only starting to get the reputation and feedback I felt I needed to raise my rates.

Working on it since August 2019, I feel like I've got a good feel for how the platform works. Here are a few tips I'd like to share with other teachers.

italki Top Tips

  1. The platform is laggy. I don't mean slow or buggy. I mean that changes you make take time to work through. If you take time off for a holiday, for instance, expect it to take time to build students back up when you return

  2. Similarly, if you make changes to prices or lessons, you may see a delay - or even a drop-off - before the effect takes hold. Use italki for a while and you'll start to get a feel for its "personality"

  3. Never turn off "Accept New Students". If you do this, in my experience, it can take quite a while for new students to come through again when you turn it off. If you feel overwhelmed, decrease your availability - or raise your prices

  4. I've made changes to my prices a number of times. Every time I've done it, I've seen lesson requests drop a little for a few days or a week, then come back up to previous levels. Or higher. You lose students at the lower end, but gain them at the upper. Some people will automatically search for more expensive teachers, on the (correct or otherwise) basis that they must be "better"

  5. As a new teacher: put as much availability as possible for the first couple of weeks. Offer trial classes at $3. Offer a single conversation class at the minimum rate ($8 professional / $4 community). Your aim for the first few weeks is to get some scores, rating and feedback on your profile. You'll also understand the platform better. Once you have some reputation you'll find it much easier to bring in new students

  6. The more often you're logged into iTalki, the more often you'll show as being online in the teacher listing. This means you're more likely to appear to students. This means you'll be busier. Students like to see busy teachers, as it suggests that they are popular and therefore good!

  7. Don't expect miracles overnight. It takes time and patience to build a base of students. See the previous point - it's a virtuous circle where success leads to more success

  8. Once you've done some lessons, you'll have an idea of what you like and don't like, and what your students respond to. Try focusing classes around what works. Don't be afraid to experiment with new lessons - you have 3 or 6 slots to play with, per language you teach.

  9. Review your lesson titles and content! Make them sound engaging to students. Don't say what you are or just quote your qualifications - tell them what you can do for them. My personal view, in addition, is that a degree of humour goes a long way here - as in many other aspects of life!

  10. Consider hosting a web site. You're going to be answering a lot of the same questions time and again. You're going to be sharing links to students for news sites, language tools, dictionaries... put them all in one place, make it a resource for you as well as your students. A basic site is pretty straightforward to set up these days; if you have a techie background, you can easily add more features to it. I set up my own English language resource site, and while it isn't bringing me any new students yet, several students have commented on it looking professional. (If anyone is interested in contributing/sharing material, by the way, contact me privately!)

(Technical note: if you're trying to use Skype screen share with a Mac, you may have discovered you can't share the audio with the video! Read my guide on how to share skype audio on Mac for a solution.)

Compared to some of the other platforms out there, I think italki is a solid option if you want to work your own hours, at your own rates, and learn more about how to work with students online. italki commission is low, and service is good. In addition, it's easy to build up a base of regular students.

At 15%, I consider the italki commission to be very fair. For this you get all the marketing done for you - and their campaigns are high profile. They provide responsive support when there are problems with lessons; their dispute resolution is, in my experience, fast and fair. And in general the platform is pretty stable - although see my review of italki vs Cambly for some caveats.

Recommended! ๐Ÿ˜€

For general information on teaching on italki, check out my Unofficial italki Teaching FAQ!

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