You can’t help but be amazed by the Internet when you’ve been attending a virtual classroom with teachers from all over the world while traveling and blogging for a living. But that is exactly what I’ve been doing since I began taking Arabic lessons on italki in December.
Despite shifting timezones, a long layover or two in Istanbul plus the occasional rickshaw traffic jam, I’ve learn to read, write, and speak Arabic conversationally. These are the 7 cities across 3 countries, from the developed to developing world, where I’ve been able to log in most days for class.
Although Bulgaria doesn’t quite have the amazing Internet speeds of neighbor Romania, in Sofia the average download is faster than 90% of the world. Maintaining a solid Skype connection was never an issue, at least on my end.
Despite being a 5 hour grandmother’s drive from Sofia, by the time I got to this Black Sea coastal town I had picked up quite a bit of Arabic.
There are always late nights in Istanbul but I made sure to set aside some time during the day for an Arabic lesson.
New Delhi, India
The Internet in Hinduism’s holiest city wasn’t the easiest to work with but the Arabic teachers I have developed a routine with were very flexible. My regular teacher Ali has especially made rescheduling around flaky Internet connections very easy.
I have visited the Taj Mahal three times and can further confirm, it’s one of 5 popular tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you.
Where I am currently typing this from, a few hours before my next Arabic lesson using italki.
Location Language Independence
Even learning to speak tourist before your next vacation takes some time, a commodity that oddly can be scarce when traveling. Programs that don’t have a human element are great for some basic phrases you should know everywhere, but having a teacher can force you to stay committed if you want to go a lingual level deeper. Even a few hours on italki can teach you the slang, local bargaining skills, or colorful curse words to give you a much more local experience.
There are a number of ways you can save money to travel, see the world for less than $50 a day, but you can expand your travel budget from the other end by converting existing skills into a side income. The language learning website italki I’ve been using for the past several weeks lets you do just that as a language teacher in your native or other fluent tongue. Many of you may have teaching certificates, language degrees, or other qualifications you can use to become a teacher in your spare time to boost your travel fund.
I’ve spoken about my experiences from a student’s perspective, but for a view of the other side, I interviewed Ali Abdulwahed, a professional teacher who has been giving me lessons in Arabic. He shared his experience using the italki, how he puts together lessons, and how much you might be able to earn with classes of your own.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and teaching background.
How did you first hear about and get involved with italki?
Several years ago I began searching online for good teaching sites where I could give lessons when I have time from my university work. I found italki provides a lot of good options for teachers and was where I could be most visible to potential students.
How many courses have you given through italki?
I’ve given over 225 lessons, averaging one to two hours each, to approximately 30 different students.
How do you plan your curriculum for each student?
The first thing I do is assess the level of the student in terms of what Arabic they know. Some students are complete beginners while others require more advanced lessons. It’s also important for me as a teacher to know why the person wants to learn Arabic – is it for business, travel, school, etc. I have a number of course books as well as a series of my own supplementary lessons for a variety of levels.
About how much time do you spend teaching on italki? What’s the amount per lesson a teacher can earn?
I teach as often as I can when I have time which for me is generally between semesters; when school is in session I can’t offer as many courses. italki lets you set up your schedule so students can choose when to take a lesson based on when I’m available. Right now I’m teaching about 7 regular students. italki also lets teachers set their own rates and from looking at others, I decided to charge 120 italki credits (roughly $10 per hourly lesson). Most students purchase package of 10 lessons with some taking courses for months while others simply need a brush up.
What do you like most about using italki?
The site is excellent for connecting students and teachers. You can add a lot of information to your teaching profile, there are teacher ratings, and students can take sample courses. There is a great base of people who can search, find, and take classes with you.
What do you think they could improve?
There are a few things I wish were built-in to the italki site itself. Right now you connect with students directly through Skype but I would prefer a communication method embedded in italki. Also, a digital whiteboard or virtual classroom space would be great so I could prepare a few things before each lesson. Currently I use Google Docs with other online whiteboards which works but having it all in italki would be better.
Would you recommend others to become teachers on italki?
Yes, definitely. I’ve told a number of my friends to sign up to italki. You can be easily found through the site, it’s really superior to other online language websites in this regard.
Thank you very much Ali for taking the time to answer these questions. For those of you interested in learning Arabic, I can highly recommend Ali (here’s his italki profile). He’s an organized teacher who knows how to maximize every lesson so you learn as much as possible. This little digital postcard of mine shows what I was able to learn in a short time and what I need to work on for my next lesson!
The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament that’s run every spring on this site has become more controversial every year since I began running it 2009. During the past two years (some) people have been upset primarily because the cities advancing have been Romanian. What most of the complainers seem to ignore is that winning in The Best City To Visit Tournament isn’t just clicks on a mouse – there are passionate people behind what is often part of a larger campaign to bring travelers to a town.
Anyone who thinks Craiova isn’t deserving of winning the title of best city to visit in 2014 especially needs to plan a trip there so you can be introduced to all of the reasons why it is.
Fighting Under Its Weight
Craiova is the very unassuming 6th largest city in Romania that has to work hard to compete in a country where tourism is booming. Government officials estimate the number of foreigners visiting has doubled over the last 12 years so Craiova is not only working to differentiate itself from the Paris’ of the world but also the Brasov and Sibiu’s nearby. Though rather than trying to emulate stale croissants in a snobby atmosphere that many large cities pollute themselves with over time, Craiova embodies what travelers crave most – a local experience.
Saturday’s Blogger Meetup
Many of us dig through layers of a town to reach its kernel, which isn’t found inside large statues or restaurants overflowing with tourists but instead in small groups of people enjoying their version of every day life. Craiova doesn’t really have overpowering monuments or any pillar historical buildings on par with “those” places you think of when it comes to tourism, which means finding its essence isn’t much of a search at all.
On most Saturday nights in Club Q, you can meet up with the dedicated group of bloggers who love Craiova about a much as they like having fun. There are discussions about pretty much anything. When I visited there was a group of international students hanging out with the Craiova locals, reflective of the open invitation to anybody in town. The mayor, Lia Olguta Vasilescu, even stopped by and when I finally realized everyone wasn’t playing a prank on me, I was struck by what a unique experience Craiova can offer.
Refreshing On Both Ends
Craiova is an industrial city that’s now working as hard to build itself into a tourist destination as it does in producing cars. The old city is being completely rebuilt in hopes of a successful 2021 European Capital of Culture bid; a compliment to the larger Mihai Viteazu Square whose thoroughfare is lined with cafes like Restaurant Viena, leading back to it.
The Constantin Mihail Palace is being renovated to accommodate paintings that will eventually fill its new role as the local Art Museum.
Over 90 hectares makes the 111 year old Parcul Nicolae Romanescu one of the largest urban parks in Eastern Europe, accounting for 2% of the total national park area of Romania.
Craiova also has a number of churches, the oldest being the Cosuna Monastery, built around 1483 from a past that’s surprisingly Craiovan. A three hour drive from Bucharest, four by car to Sofia, and five to Belgrade, given its location Craiova has been a crossroads – or more of a dead end – for conquerors. Notoriously stubborn, Craiova’s was burned down in 1802 by frustrated Ottoman forces, and just north of the city you can take a small boat on the Danube River into caves where rebel forces fired canon balls upon trespassers.
What remains today is exactly why you should visit Craiova and part of the reason some were against the city winning in the first place. Craiova is growing and eventually, with all hopes, be the type of tourist destination many paying people will want to see. Before others catch on however, you can visit a city whose core is at its surface and meet a population of residents who are downright passionate about Craiova, a sentiment that leaves you infectiously feeling like a local. Mulțumesc Craiova.
I’ll be writing more about Craiova in the coming weeks, including what to see and do in the city but wanted again to thank everyone there for their kind hospitality. I’m thrilled The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament brought me to Craiova in 2014 look forward visiting again.
Over the next three months I’ll be using the interactive language teaching site italki to learn Arabic. I recently partnered with italki to see how well the service works and whether it might be able to help travelers pick up useful conversational skills before a trip. In this video I talked a bit about my goals for italki but here’s the breakdown of my strategy, motivations, and where I plan to put my Arabic skills to the test.
Where I’m Starting From (Hint: Zero)
Well, nearly zero. I pick up a lot of a local tongue before I visit a country using some of the best online language services; but my very frequent traveling ironically leaves me retaining little once I’m on to the next destination. Previous essential word combinations every traveler should learn fade into new terms or local dialects. Although the information is still tucked somewhere in my brain it becomes harder to conjure up on neural connections that vanish over time.
With Arabic, I’m starting at the beginning. I know a few critical phrases like, “hey my brother, can you please replace these shisha coals for me,” from my first visit to Egypt. There’s also a good deal of overlap vocabulary between Turkish and Arabic, which makes things a bit easier for me. The Arabic script is different however plus there are sounds which are new to my tongue and ears. Knowing some vocabulary only makes things simple once you know they’re related; besides words are often slightly different enough to make your brain default to the one you know, not the Arabic pronunciation.
Why I Set Arabic Goals
First, I don’t know how to write in Arabic and as you know by now, I don’t have much of a background in the language. Beginning with a blank slate seems the most logical way to clearly see the benefits of italki – three months from now almost all of the Arabic I know will be because of the online courses I take there. Aside from measuring progress, I also tend to travel a lot in the Arab-speaking world. I’m on a journey to travel to every country in the world but am not in a rush; I often go back to places I find interesting. Arabic will be useful for me as chances are, it will be the predominant language in an eventual upcoming stop.
I want to learn conversational Arabic, in the Egyptian dialect (as it has the widest reach), so I can wander around Dubai for example, without falling back on English. Or Yemen. Or one of the other many Arab-speaking nations I haven’t been to yet. In addition to speaking, I want to be able to read Arabic with enough consistency to comprehend common road signs, phrases, and words.
Updates Every Friday
On the Friday of every week through next February I’ll be posting updates about my progress learning Arabic with italki plus how it works (and doesn’t) as I get more familiar with it. I’ll be taking 5 hours of lessons a week initially, spread out more or less evenly and I hope you’ll follow along with me. I look forward to sharing updates with you in English plus some Arabic in the weeks to come.