foreign language
Pick up a foreign language anytime, anywhere. Source: MICHAEL LOCCISANO/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Are you studying a foreign language? On a scale of one to ten, how difficult would you rate it? 

Like many of us, you can put in hours of self-study and still find yourself stuck for words during a test at university or when talking with a native speaker. 

It doesn’t help if you’re learning a language that isn’t spoken among your circle of friends – who do you then practise with?

The most common way is to sign up at the nearest learning centre near you or using an app like DuoLingo but these are no longer in the only options in the 21st century.

What if you want to fast-track your learning with a live person? 

That’s where online language tutoring platforms like Preply come in. 

Foreign language learning unlocked?

foreign language

Preply was founded by (L-R) Serge Lukyanov, Kirill Bigai and Dmytro Voloshyn in 2013. Source: Preply

One of the benefits of using online tutoring platforms is that it is learner-centric, allowing a tutor – who could be based on any continent, so long as he or she has a computer and reliable Internet connection – to tailor classes according just one student’s pace, without pressure of leaving anyone behind.

Students, on the other hand, enjoy a cost-effective learning experience in addition to studying at a time and pace that suits them.

That’s part of the appeal that led to the inception of Preply in 2013 by its founders Kirill Bigai, Dmytro Voloshyn and Serge Lukyanov.

In an email interview, Kirill, who is also the CEO of the company, said his first experience in online language tutoring dates back to 2012 when he started having classes with a Texas-based teacher via Skype from his home in Kyiv to learn English. 

The Ukrainian, along with Serge and Dmytro, who were also learning English, realised there was enormous potential on a global scale, both from a learner and tutor perspective.

Preply offers a variety of foreign language options, including Chinese, French, Spanish, German and Arabic. 

Users can go to the platform and search by language, price, nationality, or availability before scheduling their lesson with their chosen tutor that meets their criteria.

Preparing learners to speak confidently in their chosen language

foreign language

Preply came from the word “preparation”. The idea behind the platform was to prepare learners to speak confidently in their chosen language. Source: Preply

With the current coronavirus outbreak, Preply has seen a big influx of registrations and enquiries, with thousands of tutors and students joining the platform, said Kirill.

But for university students who aren’t sold on the idea of an online tutoring platform, among its appeals include a global supply of tutors at your fingertips. 

“For instance, if you’re in Kyiv and want to learn Japanese, it might be hard to find a local teacher, particularly at the time you require, but by using Preply, you can do this very efficiently,” explained Kirill.

Affordability is also a major consideration for students. Tutors set their own rates, but Kirill notes that the average price for an hourly lesson is US$15-20. Cheaper rates can also be found.

“We very much believe that one-on-one engagement with a teacher is the most effective way to learn a new skill and Preply enables you to maintain that engagement online,” he said.

“Video is a key part of our value proposition so students and teachers can maintain the non-verbal cues that mimic the classroom experience.”

There’s a thorough vetting process to ensure students learn from tutors with the right credentials, with the platform approving a mix of native speakers and non-native speakers as tutors. 

“If someone has a certification to teach Spanish, but isn’t Spanish, that’s fine. We do sometimes reject tutors at this stage, for example, if they have a written profile that isn’t 100 percent perfect in the language they want to teach,” said Kirill.

Online language learning platforms to the rescue

Mira Dittmer is among those whose studies have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. 

The 27-year-old, who is enrolled in the MA in Conference Interpreting programme at Heidelberg University in Germany, took up advanced French on Preply after her university shut down due to the virus. 

Her course involves written and oral aspects of foreign languages, which is why she felt it was essential that she continues speaking languages on a day-to-day basis.

Despite working as a freelance translator, Dittmer hopes to continue work as a conference interpreter upon graduating.

“I consider my studies on Preply more as a hobby, but it is a great way to keep speaking French with people from France,” she explained. 

“It gives me more human contact during this period of isolation. The tutors I found on Preply are very motivated and qualified, I am always looking forward to my lessons.”

The first-time user booked three lessons with three different tutors with the intention of choosing one after testing all three. 

Dittmer chose tutors who are trained in teaching French as a foreign language, in addition to being a native speaker. 

“I like that there are a lot of selections, so you can be quite detailed about your parameters and find a tutor that fits what you need. I like that everybody has been very punctual,” she said.

Prior to starting her session, she sent them an email stating her goals, along with her level of command in the language.

“So far, all the teachers had something prepared that was super relevant. And they all suggested ways in which I could continue practising between lessons,” she explained.

Not having other students in her lessons can sometimes work as an advantage and disadvantage, but for the most part, Dittmer enjoys the sole attention of her tutor to facilitate her learning. 

“Other than that, I’m surprised that it’s not too different from live learning in [the] classroom! All the teachers have sent me homework that I can do and I send back, and we then discuss it next lesson,” she said.

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