It's never been so easy to learn a language online, and sites like Duolingo and Babbel have become very popular with literally millions of learners. However, you need a lot of motivation to teach yourself a language, and the activities on such sites can quickly become repetitive and, dare I say, boring after a while. In my opinion, nothing beats a real-life teacher (I'm biased, I know!) The good news is that there are an increasing number of sites offering one-to-one tuition via Skype or other video calling platforms. One such site is Skill Silo, which was co-founded by American entrepreneur Josh Aharonoff. I thought it would be interesting to interview Josh to get an insight into this rapidly expanding area of language learning.
EB: Josh, can you begin by giving us an overview of your site?
JA: We provide live 1-on-1 language instructions via video conferencing. Users sign onto our website, choose a language they would like to learn, find a professor that fits their needs, and request a free 30 minute trial lesson.
EB: Do you have a background in languages or education yourself?
JA: Nope – just a passion for learning as a whole.
EB: How did the site come to be?
JA: When I graduated college, I decided that a fun hobby to take up would be to learn Spanish. I found an ad on Craigslist that offered to teach me Spanish via Skype and I thought “man…that sounds pretty cool”. After trying out the service for just a few hours, I was amazed at my level of progress. Instead of having to pay for a class that meets at a fixed time, I now could have a lesson whenever I wanted, from anywhere in the world. Instead of following a lesson plan that the course designated, I was now free to learn whatever I wanted. About a year later I decided to quit my full time job as an accountant and work with 2 of my close friends to open up a website that taught languages, and eventually will teach other subjects, via videoconferencing.
EB: There are plenty of other sites which offer online one-to-one language tutoring using video chat. What makes Skill Silo different?
JA: A couple things. The biggest difference is that we personally vet all of our teachers, and provide a curriculum, which the student is free to follow, or customize. In addition to that, we also charge a fixed price, regardless of the professor a student uses. Last but not least, we service both companies and individuals.
EB: You offer a dozen or so languages. How do you find your teachers?
JA: We personally interview each and every candidate, and put them through mock lessons. Our acceptance rate is lower than 20% - which is OK. Our service won’t work if we can’t provide the utmost quality – which 98% of our users rate 5/5 after each lesson.
EB: Online language learning is a very competitive marketplace. How are things going at the moment?
JA: Running a business is real tough. Everyone has this notion that you can create a new service, it will spread like wildfire and you can just sit back and count the profits. The truth is, this whole experience has been one large marathon in which we are still learning a ton. Our first dream is to become self-sufficient thanks to our company, while a second place dream would be to continue learning each and every day what it takes to run a successful company. Our second dream came true on day one, and we are now hoping that our first dream will follow.
EB: How do you see Skill Silo developing over the months (and hopefully, years) ahead?
JA: We are working on expanding our service beyond languages to other subjects such as standardized testing, computer programming, and other crafts. Our vision is to allow anyone to learn anything, from anywhere in the world, via a live tutor, at an affordable price. We look forward to having more good news for you soon!
EB: Thanks Josh, that all sounds very exciting!