I understand that recent changes in my behaviour have become a source of increasing consternation for those close to me. I’ve been disappearing every day during the afternoon, locking myself into a room with my laptop, and emerging 45 minutes later looking drained and in need of a chocolate biscuit. I owe it to my colleagues and family to come clean

The truth is I’ve been paying a Brazilian women to Skype me. Yes, I’m trying to learn a new language again.

My Skype escapades are just the latest in a long series of attempts to become bilingual. First there were 10 years of Welsh lessons in school—I’m still none the wiser. Then came a few years of French—I couldn’t order a freshly baked croissant in Paris to save my life. Finally, last year I tried to learn Turkish using freely available Internet resources—and I failed miserably. Again.

For my Turkish escape, I tried all the major language learning websites including the much-hyped busuu and livemocha. They all sucked pedagogically, with most attempting to teach multiple languages from the same teaching template. My best bet would have been to download a textbook and work through it the old-fashion wayed, but with a track record like mine, I feared I lacked the aptitude.

Learning on-demand

With a vacation to Brazil coming up, I was determined to try and nail down some basic Portuguese. Private lessons in London would be prohibitively expensive (at least $50 an hour), but after doing some research I thought I’d found a solution—Skype lessons.

The premise is simple: All around the world are qualified language teachers with unscheduled teaching hours in their day. A raft of new websites are offering to connect students with these instructors for on-demand language lessons through live video conferencing.

After a quick Google search, I chose a site, Lingo Live, because it was the cheapest and I’m cheap. The next step was to choose a teacher. While soliciting such services in real life would have meant replying to the least dodgy-looking Craigslist ads and spending a day chasing people on the phone, choosing an online teacher was a revelation.


Each teacher had made a short YouTube video in which they touted their services. There was Luciana, originally from São Paulo but now living in Spain; she started teaching online in 2010 and has given over 2000 lessons. Alternatively I could had gone for Marcel from Belo Horizonte who has only given around 400 lessons or Carla, a globetrotting teacher originally from Santa Maria who has eight years of experience and promised she was “fun.” I decided to try Ana, originally from Rio de Janeiro; she is studying for a Postgraduate degree in Applied Linguistics in Belgium. She seemed like the person least likely she wouldn’t get too angry with my shambolic grasp of basic grammar.