Updated: May 29
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I used to be a senior IT professional from Scotland who changed career to become an English teacher. I’m currently living and working in Mexico.
I spent a lot of time researching ways to teach English online, before finally settling down with italki as my primary platform. If you’ve come to the same conclusion, congratulations - I think you’ve made a good decision! :)
If you’re a current italki teacher or tutor, or you’re considering signing up, you likely have a lot of questions. In this post I do my best to answer them. If you have a question that isn’t answered, leave a message in the comments or contact me, and I’ll add it in.
Disclaimer: this article is specifically for teachers. I don’t study on italki myself, so I’m not really qualified to cover the student experience in great detail. Also, note that I’m not in any way associated with italki - this is entirely my own work, interpretation and opinions.
Any mistakes are likewise mine!
What Is italki?
Italki is a teaching marketplace. It allows registered students and teachers to find suitable partners to teach and study with. They do marketing, payment handling, dispute resolution and support.
When Was italki Founded?
italki was set up in 2007 in Shanghai, initially as a language exchange site. It added paid teaching facilities in 2009.
Since then it’s grown to a site with millions of students and thousands of teachers. However, people still use it for free language practice (see below).
Do I Need A Degree To Teach On italki?
No. Unlike many teaching platforms, you don’t need a BA or BSc to be accepted as a teacher. You also don’t have to be a native speaker.
The italki entry requirements only require that you’re C2 or native in the language(s) you teach, for Community Tutors; and that you’re a certified teacher (and C2/native) for Professional Teachers.
Can I Only Teach English On italki?
No. italki supports teaching in more than 100 languages, including Esperanto, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Xhosa and many more. The languages most in demand are (in order) English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Japanese.
Sadly, at the time of writing, there are no Klingon teachers listed. Perhaps you could be the first?
Why Work For italki?
Actually, you don’t work for italki at all - you work for yourself. This is one of the advantages of italki. You choose your own hours, set your own rates and design your own classes. italki takes care of marketing and the platform. There’s no minimum number of hours/week or similar restrictions. You can take a break and come back, take days off when you want to - it’s all up to you.
Does italki Focus On Teaching Adults Or Children?
Many teaching sites focus on teaching children. italki isn’t one of them. There are some, as parents do book classes for their kids; but it’s not the majority.
If you want a platform where you can choose to work exclusively with adults, italki fits the bill.
ITALKI SIGNUP PROCESS
Is italki Accepting New Teachers?
Maybe. They change their openings all the time, depending on the market, number of students, and number of teachers for each language. Check this page to check the current italki hiring position.
italki Teacher vs Tutor?
There are two kinds of teacher on italki. Community Tutors, who do not have professional teaching experience, and Professional Teachers who do. In general, Tutors charge less than Teachers; they also offer a smaller range of classes (up to 3 instead of 6 for professionals).
Some students feel an academic background is important. Others prefer to work with someone in a slightly less formal way.
How To Become A Teacher On italki
The process is pretty straightforward. Assuming you meet the criteria for either a Community Tutor or Professional Teacher, follow these instructions:
Go the the italki teacher homepage and click on ‘Apply now’
In particular check which languages they are currently hiring for. As noted above, this changes all the time
Create an account
Fill in the details - including a teacher profile video - and submit
Wait. This process can take several days to several weeks (or longer) depending on demand and how busy they are
If you’re approved, you’ll be sent an email with welcome instructions. Follow them!
New teachers are asked to do a video call with italki staff before their profiles are made live. This is a good chance to ask any questions of the team
Get your profile made live
Create some lessons (see below) and wait for students to start booking you
Don’t forget to set up PayPal or Payoneer so you can withdraw your income. You don’t need to do this right away, but I’d suggest doing so in case of any weird problems. (Payoneer can take a while to get set up, for instance)
What’s A Trial Lesson?
New students are issued with 3 trial lesson credits. This lets them familiarise themselves with the platform, as well as find a teacher they may want to take further lessons with.
While they are not supposed to be used to trial with the teacher, in fact many students use them for exactly this purpose.
Just bear in mind that as they only get 3 trials, many potential students will not have any left.
You may want to suggest students in this situation book a low-price conversation class instead - consider adding wording to this effect in the lesson description.
Trial lessons are always 30 minutes long. Note that italki doesn’t charge teachers commission for trial lessons.
How Many Different Classes Can I Offer?
If you’re a Community Tutor, you can offer up to three different kinds of class for each language you teach. Professional Teachers can offer six.
How Long Are italki Lessons?
That’s up to you. The platform allows lessons to be 30, 45, 60 or 90 minutes long. You can also offer the same lesson in different lengths.
What Are italki Packages?
italki packages are simply a way for teachers to allow students to book more than one lesson at a time. Package sizes available are 5, 10 and 20 lessons.
Most teachers will offer a discount of around 5% - 10% for students booking a package. However, there’s no requirement to do this.
What lessons should I offer?
Depending on your background and experience, there are a wide range of lesson types.
Others offer specialised courses in niche areas such as journalism or accent coaching.
The cheapest and most commonly offered classes are Conversation Practice; you literally spend the lesson talking to the student about their day, work, family, holidays, or other topics that you or they suggest. This is a good way to get some experience with the platform and initial feedback and ratings.
Many teachers offer some kind of structured lessons - similar to language coursebooks, with a steady progression from easier to harder material. Linguahouse and Off2Class are just two examples of paid sites with excellent material: there are also plenty of free lesson plans and other material on the internet, albeit of fairly variable quality.
If you have a specialism then consider teaching it. I worked for years in IT in corporate environments, so one of my popular classes is Roleplaying for IT Engineers. You can add value by not only teaching the language associated with the subject, but giving coaching and the benefit of your experience to students.
What’s the best time of day to offer lessons?
It depends on your timezone, of course, and the timezone of your target students.
For instance: I live in Mexico. This timezone is perfect for the whole of Latin America. Naturally, most of my students are from that part of the world, right?
Nope. Open English is by far the biggest English teaching platform operating in Latin America, and they only accept teachers from the USA or Canada. Actually, by the far the bulk of my students are Russian.
I get a few from Japan, Taiwan, China and Vietnam, but these guys need to get up pretty early to make classes. So apart from a few South Americans, most of my students come from Europe and the (western) former Soviet Union countries.
Italki knows all this of course, and carefully targets areas where they believe they can best exploit the market. Here's a slide from the italki teachers' handbook:
The most important thing is to make yourself available at hours which work for you, and for which there are going to be students looking for the lessons you’re offering.
You can change your availability any time, so don’t be afraid to experiment if you’re not getting any interest!
Does italki use Skype?
Unlike some platforms, italki is pretty neutral about the video software you use to service your students. italki officially recommends Skype, but as long as you’re using something like Zoom, Google Hangouts, WeChat or one of the other big brands you should be fine. Just make sure it’s an application that your students can use.
They also have their own video tool called ‘italki Classroom’. See the technical section below for more information.
Are italki teachers penalised for declining lesson requests?
No. italki does not penalise teachers for not accepting lessons. Once you set your availability, students can request lessons during those periods. Normally you’ll want to accept (in fact, you can actually set this to happen automatically in your settings).
But if you’ve suddenly got a really busy day, something comes up, or for whatever reason you don’t want to teach the student, you can decline the request.
Whatever you do, do it in a timely way. italki can penalise teachers who are slow to accept or decline lessons. I’m not entirely sure how, but I think you’ll show up lower down the search pages when students are looking for a new teacher.
What if there’s a problem with a lesson?
If the student doesn’t show up, you need to stay at the computer for the duration of the lesson. Use it to prep for other students or just play Patience 😉
If there are any other problems - technical, disagreement over lesson times - wait till after the lesson has finished, and in your lesson calendar click on “There was a problem with the lesson”. Select the option that best matches what happened and italki support will investigate.
Keep screenshots of message exchanges and so on in case you need to justify yourself.
And take comfort from the fact that it’s fairly rare.
ITALKI RATES, COMMISSION AND MARKETING
How Much Can I Earn As An italki Teacher?
All other things being equal, it obviously depends on how much you charge, what you offer, which language, and how much availability you have.
This is a huge and thorny topic. So huge, in fact, I wrote an article about just this: how much should I charge as an italki teacher?
What's italki’s Commission Rate?
Italki charges a flat 15% commission for every lesson. If your lesson price is $10, italki pays you $8.50. Note that trial lessons don’t incur a commission fee.
What Do italki Do For Their Commission?
Well, they have a business to run 🙂
Seriously though - in return for the commission they take, italki makes sure the platform is (usually) up and stable, they manage the payment process, and will handle disputes between teachers and students.
Most of all, though, they are responsible for marketing the platform. They have frequent and high-profile marketing campaigns in all parts of the world, in various channels including being very active on social media. I personally think it's well worth the fee.
Can I Change The Price Of An italki Class?
You can edit the prices of lessons and packages whenever you want. These will only apply to future booking requests.
If you want to change the price of an individual lesson - say, for a regular student you want to give a special rate to - you can edit the price when they send you a lesson request.
Note that you can only do this with individual lessons - you can’t set a special price on package of lessons.
How Do I Get More italki Students?
That’s another one of those tricky questions!
In a nutshell - have a professional profile video and well written profile, offer lessons that students will want at prices they like, and keep persevering!
For more details though see the tips at the end of this post about my italki rates and income.
How Do I Get Paid?
You can withdraw your earnings via Payoneer, PayPal, or Bank Transfer (via Payoneer.) You need at least US$30 in your account before you can withdraw.
It’s important to understand how the italki payment cycle works.
For PayPal and Payoneer, they do the processing twice a month - on the 15th and the 30th/31st. For “other” methods it’s only the last day of the month.
After that, it takes up to 10 days to process that request. In my experience that means 10 days, give or take.
If you use Payoneer then it can take another few days to withdraw that into your bank account.
Example: you request a withdrawal from italki 16th March. Nothing will happen until 31st of March. You should expect the cash in your PayPal or Payoneer account around 10th April.
Example: Request withdrawal 13th March, it’s processed 15th and you’ll get it by 25th March.
If you really need it sooner you can request an express withdrawal for $10; this should get to your account within a few days as it bypasses the twice-monthly payroll runs. Do the withdrawal as normal, then edit it and ask for express.
What About Tax?
Remember the bit about not working for italki? You work for yourself. You’re responsible for any tax liabilities you incur, either in your home country or overseas while teaching.
Using italki Classroom
italki Classroom is a proprietary video conferencing system. It’s fairly basic - it supports messaging, screen sharing, sending files, audio and video. It runs in a browser as well as the italki app. You and the student don’t need to download an app to use it.
It’s well-integrated into the platform and private - unlike some companies, italki doesn’t record the sessions. Importantly, it works in China whereas government controls can make it difficult for students to use other apps like Skype.
Sounds good, right? Well...
The experience is good when it works. However, at the time of writing it is unstable. It’s common for audio and/or video not to work properly, for the teacher, student or both. Many teachers (myself included) won’t use it.
Until these problems are resolved I don't recommend using Classroom. You may be lucky and have no problems; you may spend a day swearing at the screen and losing lessons.
Another technical issue with italki concerns their messaging system. Again, this is built into both the italki app and the web platform. When it works it works fine. But it’s unstable.
It’s not unusual to go to check your messages and get a popup saying “Oops, there’s a problem”. Usually refreshing the screen or clicking again on the messages button will clear this - but not always. And occasionally alerts don’t seem to get through to teachers.
This isn’t a showstopper but it can be really irritating - it’s possible to miss a message and miss a class.
Once I’ve made initial contact I use Skype to message the student, and if it’s important (homework assignment for instance) I also send the message via italki messaging.
Belt and braces!
Audio Sharing With Skype
I like working with video and audio clips with students. Unfortunately, Skype on Mac does not share the audio along with the video.
I’ve a solution to playing audio through Skype screen share on Mac here - although it’s not, unfortunately, free software.
How Do I Sync My italki Calendar?
Go to the ‘My Schedule’ page and scroll to the bottom right of your calendar. You’ll see a button marked ‘Get icalendar feed’. Click here and copy the long URL (it’ll start https://www.italki.com/calendar/… and end in ics).
This is called an iCal feed. You can now paste this into any app or service which supports iCal - Apple Calendar, Exchange, Google etc. Note that this is a one way feed. If you work on multiple platforms, or if you just want to book out time in your main calendar and mark unavailable in italki, you can’t.
Important note: iCal is essentially a static feed. While it does support the idea of notifying client applications when something changes - time, cancellation, a new event - not all clients can handle this.
Also, client applications go back and check the iCal feed at different frequencies. In Apple Calendar, you can set the app to do this by setting “Auto-Refresh” to a value like once an hour, or even 15 minutes:
Google Calendar only updates once a day, and you can’t change it.
The bottom line is this: calendar sync is a useful tool to have, but you should treat the italki schedule itself as the source of truth.
Language Partners (and switching them off)
Other than Tutors and Teachers, there’s a third way to learn a language on the italki site. You can sign up other members to be a Friend, and then ask to be mutual ‘language partners’. This means just what it says - you meet up on Skype, Zoom or whatever, and support learning each others’ languages.
As a teacher you may find yourself being invited (or pestered, depending on your viewpoint) by people asking to be language partners with you. If you find this a problem, you can switch off this facility in your Account Settings/Notifications:
What Is italki Premium?
Italki Premium is a way to encourage students to buy lessons. Language partners can take part in discussions and message other site members, but volume of messages is capped. Spending US$10 lifts these bars, and also allows people to set a custom URL for their account.
All teaching/tutoring accounts are automatically Premium members.
What’s A Custom URL?
An italki teacher profile looks like this: https://teach.italki.com/teacher/1234567 By setting a custom URL, you can make it easier to remember and share: https://www.italki.com/teacherjoe
You can set it up in Account Settings/General/Personal URL.
Can I Buy Student Credits With My italki Balance?
Yes, you can transfer money you’ve earned teaching on italki to student credits.
(Note you can’t do it the other way round).
Just go to "My Wallet" and click on “Transfer Credits”:
Is italki Safe?
If you mean ‘safe’ as in ‘Free from trolls, sexual harassment and general weirdos’ then I’d say italki is as safe as any online environment, and safer than some. In 500+ lessons neither myself or Mrs Wench have had to deal with any particularly difficult students, or any kind of sexual or other harassment. On some other sites this is much more common.
If you’re being harassed or bothered you can block and report the culprit. italki support is generally pretty good at handling things like this.
If you mean ‘safe’ as in ‘A safe place to invest all my time and energy’, again, I’d say it’s as safe as most bricks and mortar businesses. There’s always the chance that it will go bust, or perhaps more likely be bought out and taken in a new direction by future owners.
That said, it’s one of the largest and oldest teaching platforms around, and appears to be in rude health, so probably not a huge concern.
Another consideration is that the italki TOS give them carte blanche to terminate teacher accounts for a number of reasons, such as persistently not turning up to lessons or being in breach of their rules. They can (and occasionally do) kick people off the platform and confiscate any balance of credits. I think this is rare, but you should be aware that it can happen.
With all that, it’s probably good advice not to put all your eggs in one basket - many teachers teach on italki mainly, but have a sideline on other sites like Cambly or Preply.
I think italki is an excellent platform, and I encourage anyone who'd like to teach online to consider it. There are few drawbacks and many advantages. Notwithstanding the technical issues mentioned above, the platform is easy to use and stable.
They do great work on the marketing front, and unless you're doing something very wrong, you're unlikely to have a problem attracting students.
I hope this has answered your questions! If not, please contact me or leave a comment in the comments below. I'll update the FAQ with the answer.
Good luck and happy teaching! 👍🏻
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