With nearly every language-learning resource I’ve used, I run into the same problem. I don’t feel like I’m getting adequate speaking practice. I know from experience that learning a language academically and using it in the wild are two very different beasts.
I’m convinced that the only way to truly get around this is to actually practice speaking with a real human in addition to study.
Finding a language tutor can be difficult, however. If you’re lucky enough to be living in close proximity to tutors of the language you want to learn, you’ve still got to find one that fits your budget and learning style. Finding a good tutor can be time-consuming and frustrating.
In the last decade, online educational platforms have aimed at solving this problem. Preply is one of them.
Preply is an educational platform that matches language learners with tutors. The initial focus of Preply was to provide online SAT and ACT tutoring services, but they’ve since transitioned to a language learning focus. Their pool of tutors includes over 25,000 tutors teaching 27 different languages.
There are a lot of tutors using this platform. This makes finding the type of instruction you’re looking for highly probable, but you might have to do some digging.
Preply lets you take one-on-one language classes from anywhere in the world with a tutor using the platform. There are a few platforms out there doing this, namely italki and Verbling.
This type of resource is great for learners interested in getting some real speaking practice and live feedback from a native speaker.
For this review, I used Preply in preparation for an upcoming trip to Italy as a beginner of Italian and for some Spanish speaking practice as an advanced student of Spanish. Preply was well suited to both of these endeavors.
FINDING A TUTOR ON PREPLY
The method for finding a teacher is pretty standard for this kind of platform, and Preply does it well.
Basic details are available at a glance: you can see a teacher’s rating, their hourly rate, what they look like, where they’re from and what languages they speak. This is all very useful when it comes to choosing the right teacher for you, especially for languages that are spoken in more than one country and have a variety of accents and dialects.
Each teacher also has a short bio you can read that usually details their areas of expertise and experience. This is super useful — I felt more comfortable making my decision based on what the tutor prefers to teach.
For Italian, I chose a tutor that mentioned preferring to work with beginners. Teachers will also describe their preferred student age in their profile.
In addition to the basic info and short bio, each teacher has recorded an introduction video that you can watch. I was grateful for this feature and found it useful in my search for a teacher.
The video accomplishes a lot. You not only get to check out the teacher’s personality, but you also get to hear their accent, their “teaching voice,” and the chance to see what equipment they’re working with.
There’s a lot of variety when it comes to the equipment teachers have available, and the quality of audio and video can heavily impact the lesson.
BOOKING A LESSON
booking a tutor
You can see here that I’m booking a trial lesson. The first lesson you book with any teacher is a trial lesson, and it means that you can get a free lesson with another tutor or a refund if the lesson is subpar.
It also means that the teacher won’t get paid for the lesson, but we’ll talk more about that later.
Once you book a lesson with a teacher, you’ll have the chance to fill out some preliminary information about yourself, your language proficiencies, and your motivations for taking courses on the platform.
First, you’ll select the languages you speak and your level of proficiency in each.
Next, you’ll be asked why you want the language.
This is nice in theory, but the preselected options are broad and pretty limiting. In both of my lessons, we ended up talking about this at the beginning of the lesson anyway.
While I was fortunate enough to have an Italian tutor that speaks English and already be at a level where I can communicate this information to my Spanish tutor, you could end up with a tutor that you don’t share a language with. In this case, the survey would certainly be useful for making sure everyone is on the same page as far as the focus of the lessons.
After completing the mini-survey, you’ll fill out some practical information that will supposedly help plan your study schedule and lay out how you’ll achieve your goals.
I’m not sure how they calculate the amount of time it will take to progress from one level to another, but they use CEFR reference levels to measure language proficiency.
Once you’ve booked lessons, you can view them in the My Lessons tab.
Here you can see a record of lessons you’ve taken and those that are upcoming. You can also set and monitor basic learning goals in this space.
This is pretty much the limit of Preply’s features. Aside from the tutor search function and the My Lessons page, you just use the site’s video chat function to have lessons.
The experience you have during a lesson will be totally dependent on the teacher.
Preply is the platform that brings you and the teacher together, but they don’t have any influence on the curriculum or teaching style of the teachers.
This means that every teacher has their own way of doing things, and some will be a better fit for you than others. Of the two lessons I took on Preply, the teachers had drastically different teaching styles. Their technological situations were also very distinct.
Fortunately, there are a ton of teachers out there, and you should be able to find one that suits you with a little searching around.
Both teachers were able to share their screen with me, which gave the lesson a classroom feel.
I was a bit apprehensive about going into an Italian lesson without speaking much Italian. The fact that the teacher had a beginning Italian book to go through was a relief and made the experience much less stressful than I had imagined.
Again, the lesson structure is really up to the teacher. Both of the teachers I worked with were interested in how I wanted to learn and were willing to tailor lessons to meet my needs. They were also both ready to provide direction and structure if I didn’t have any specific requests.
Given the number of tutors using Preply, I’d say the sky’s the limit when it comes to the lesson quality you can expect. It might take some digging, but you can probably find a teacher that is close to ideal for you if you’re studying one of the more popular languages.
AFTER THE LESSON
After a trial lesson, you may be asked to confirm the lesson. Upon confirmation, you’ll be able to rate the lesson and report any issues you experienced.
after the lesson
You’ll then have the option to book more lessons with the same teacher.
buy packaged lessons
As you can see, there are only three lesson packages to choose from, and none of them allow you to purchase a single lesson.
The fact that you are purchasing hours with a single teacher is important to note here. I read multiple reviews from users that had purchased 10 or 20 hours with a teacher after a good trial to find that the teacher was frequently late or that the quality of classes had decreased dramatically.
These users found getting a refund or transferring their hours to a new teacher to be a difficult process. I got this information from their facebook page.
I also immediately wished I had the option to purchase hours that could easily be used with any teacher. A good trial might not necessarily mean that teacher is the best fit after five lessons. This doesn’t necessarily mean the teacher’s doing a bad job, either. Sometimes it’s just nice to switch things up.
Verbling and italki let you pay per class.
Unlike italki, Preply doesn’t offer much in the way of free extras. There’s a way to plan and monitor your study habits, but not much more.
italki, on the other hand, offers several cool extra features. One of these is the Exercise feature, which provides students with writing and speaking help. You simply submit a piece of writing or a recording and then someone proficient in the language you’re learning corrects it for you.
italki also has a very lively community that’s active on the app. Many learners use this community to find language exchange partners. It’s easy to connect with others with messages, and many people write posts explicitly looking for partners. If you’re a native English speaker, you’ll have plenty of people to choose from. This type of learning has the benefit of being free!
Preply does have a built-in chat feature that’s basic, but nice. My Italian teacher invited me to message her with questions about the language, saying she would reply even outside of class time. That’s going above and beyond.
My Spanish teacher was quick to send a hello message as soon as I booked a lesson with him.
TEACHING WITH PREPLY
I’ve never taught for Preply, so I can’t really comment on what it’s actually like. But I have read a ton of reviews, and I think they’re worth considering.
There is a fair number of people out there that feel like Preply rips off its teachers by taking unreasonably high commissions. I was shocked to learn that teachers aren’t paid at all for teaching a trial lesson, even though these lessons are just as long as a normal lesson.
Preply justifies this by saying that the money from trial lessons is put into advertising and developing the platform. As a teacher, I don’t think I’d be happy with that reasoning, but I did come across some that said they were fine with it.
Teachers only get paid if you decide to purchase a package of hours from them. Even then, Preply takes a sizeable commission.
For new teachers, Preply takes 33% of their hourly rate. As teachers gain more experience, the commission decreases until reaching 18% when a teacher has taught for over 400 hours on the platform.
This is in comparison with italki and Verbling, which both only ever take a 15% commission and pay for all classes. I’m personally more inclined to go with a platform that I know lets its teachers keep more of their fee.
Champions of the Preply teaching experience are grateful for the huge pool of students that Preply has access to and the convenience afforded by being able to teach online from anywhere. The freedom to set your own hours and hourly rate is a big plus.
Many, my Spanish teacher included, are also just elated to be able to communicate with people from all over the world and get paid for it. Hefty commissions aside, teaching online does have a lot going for it.
You can apply to teach with Preply here if this speaks to you.
Each teacher on Preply sets their own hourly rate, and I’ve seen classes from $40 an hour all the way down to $2 an hour.
The average price was around $15 an hour for the languages I checked out. You can pretty much find your price point, whatever it is, on Preply. This is nice, and it’s easy to filter your search results to only show teachers within your price range.