How to Get Money to Venezuela (and support capitalism)

You likely know that Venezuela is a disaster right now. I could post about the causes, but most of us know what happened already and the actions being taken by their socialist government will not make things better. Many people are starving.

Planet Money’s spinoff (and equally good) podcast The Indicator did a show on Venezuela. Like all Indicator shows it is under 10 minutes long. Listen to The Measure Of A Tragedy if you are interested. The short version is that the median salary is also the minimum wage and if you spent 100% of your salary on the cheapest food you could find, you would only have enough to buy 900 calories a day. Tragic.

I accidentally figured out a way to get real money (US Dollars) to people inside of Venezuela.

One of my side interests is learning Spanish. In 2016, I started taking conversational lessons with a teacher in Venezuela via the company iTalki. iTalki connects teachers with students and is based out of Hong Kong. Classes are held via Skype and Google Hangouts.

I use my PayPal account to pay iTalki, which takes a 15% cut. The rest goes to the teacher. My teacher is able to receive the funds via a credit card attached to her PayPal account. That credit card was purchased on the black market. Those dollars can be converted to the local Bolivar currency to be spent at the stores on your assigned shopping day or taken to the black market to buy goods.

Because the Venezuelan government sets the price for items and often that price is lower than the cost of production, the country has many shortages of essential goods. Basic economics. This gives rise to the black market, where those with the means can acquire things they need.

Expats can now send money directly into Venezuela, via the Western Union and MoneyGram, but the official exchange rates are far less than the rates one can get on the black market.

How To Help

Create an account on iTalki and add some money. I recommend using PayPal, as I had issues using my local credit union credit card, probably due to the fact iTalki is in Hong Kong.

This is my referral link. After you schedule your first class, we both will get $10 in credits, which comes from iTalki, not the teacher.

If you are not interested in learning Spanish, you could always donate those lessons to someone you know learning Spanish or perhaps a local school. They have gift cards to make it easier.

The “Find a Teacher” tab allows you to search for teachers by location. Pick Venezuela. The hourly rates are mostly around $5-$12. A deal for us and survival for them.

Someday the current government of Venezuela will collapse completely and when it does, I hope the current generation of entrepreneurs teaching Spanish online have a greater voice in shaping their future.


Photo by Andrés Gerlotti

More Duolingo Data – My 2 Year Fluency Estimate Chart

Back in January, I posted Duolingo Fluency Estimates – My Data, in which I shared my fluency estimates charted over time to help other users better understand what a fluency path might look like if they show a similar level of commitment to the program.

Below is an updated view of that data. In mid-April this year, my fluency spiked 12%. Many users on Instagram reported a similar bump at that time.

Duolingo Spanish FLuency

The first data point I have is a 6% Spanish fluency on September 25, 2015. I began using the program on May 5, 2015. I’m currently on a 650 Day streak and I’m at Level 23 with 22,890 XP. A few observations:

  • Sometime after achieving a new level of fluency, you will go up 1% more within a few days.
  • Almost always after hitting a higher level of fluency, Duolingo will drop you back down 1-3% and then you can spend weeks or more getting back to where you were. And I’m telling you this as someone that is consistently using the program and uses other tools to augment my education.

Duolingo is no longer the great program it once was. Now the app is cluttered with ads and is obsessed with giving out worthless gem currency that you can spend in a store with only a few items. Memrise is a superior app for learning Spanish. But Duolingo is free and I’m still getting some benefit, so I’ll continue using it for now.

If you are learning a foreign language and would like to learn with a native speaker, check out iTalki. I’ve been using them for a year and it is a great service. Use my link and we both will get $10 credit after you schedule your first lesson.

UPDATE (October 12, 2017): I created a web page to track my Duolingo progress:


Duolingo Fluency Estimates – My Data

If you use Duolingo you will on occasion get a Fluency Estimate. I’ve talked with people and read forums online and there is a lot of mystery on how it is calculated. I know of people that got 50% or more fluency that were nowhere near that level. Conversely, I know people near fluent that had lower scores. I have no clue how it is calculated or if it is an accurate measure.

What I am providing in this post is my data for other Duolingo users to look at. Maybe it will help them make sense of their own progression.

I began Duolingo on May 5, 2015, and have been using it almost every day. On two days when I was driving all day, I used the streak freeze feature. In early December 2015, Duolingo robbed me of my streak. (Boring story that I won’t tell). Currently, I am at a streak of 393 days. My level is 21 at 18,644 points.

My first fluency estimate came in at 6% on September 5, 2015, which was 143 days after starting. It may have been a new feature then, so I’m not sure if it really took me that many days to reach 6%.

Duolingo Fluency in Spanish (September 5, 2015 – December 23, 2016)

NOTE: Whenever I’ve earned a new milestone fluency level, Duolingo will immediately drop me back down 1-3%. Then I need to re-earn the levels again and ultimately reach a higher fluency score. I find this discouraging, but at least be aware they are doing this.

UPDATE April 12, 2017: Since I posted this my account has been capped between a range of 22-25% fluency, despite never missing a day and blasting through most lessons without missing a single question.

UPDATE April 19, 2017: What happened today? My fluency which was frozen in the 22-25% spiked to 36%! I saw another user on Instagram that jumped 12% today with the Swedish program.

Duolingo is a Great Tool to Start

Every morning I do my Memrise and Duolingo lessons. Today I discovered that Duolingo is now showing ads when you complete a lesson. The worst part about the display of the ad is they are playing the same sound I would hear whenever I achieved a new higher Fluency Level. They’ve hijacked my Pavlovian queue. Not cool.

UPDATE April 19, 2017: They removed the sound and replaced it with a pause that forces you to look at the ad. 

Today I decided to quit Duolingo when I hit my 400-day streak next week. I would have paid for an ad-free version, but now I’m just going to walk away. It was a great tool to get started, but Memrise is a far superior learning tool, especially at this stage. Duolingo is good for beginners, but the marginal benefits decrease over time.

If I ever decide to pick up a different language I’ll likely do a jump start of 200 days or so with Duolingo, but not as much as I did for Spanish. Until then, I’ll be over on Memrise. Follow me here if you join.

UPDATE: I’ve decided not to quit as the new chatbots are providing value.