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Teaching English Online: The Ultimate Guide For Beginners
Are you thinking of teaching English online to speakers of other languages? If you’ve never taught before or if you’re an offline teacher, the timing has never been better.
Online English teaching has exploded since the Covid-19 pandemic and is only going to expand as students, teachers and online education companies realise the benefits that come with flexible, convenient, location-independent online teaching and learning.
English language teaching as a whole continues to do well as a sector as at least 1.7 billion people learn English as a second language to integrate into the global community. Many people use English as a lingua franca, while others will want to relocate to English-speaking countries for work or study.
As a result, helping people improve their English can be a rewarding career choice. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about getting started as an online English teacher.
Before we get started… If you want to become a qualified online teacher and learn to build your own teaching business so you can escape the 9-to-5 and live life on your own terms, then I strongly recommend you check out CeOLT. CeOLT is my comprehensive online teaching certification programme which trains you to become a qualified and highly skilled online language teacher. You can find out more about CeOLT here.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article…
These are some of the most common questions new online English teachers ask themselves. To best answer them, I’ve broken down the article into sections based on these questions. If you have a question, you are particularly interested in, you can click on it below to jump ahead to that question.
You’ll first discover the basics of what teaching English online is, then move into technical requirements, qualifications and more. Finally, I will end by giving you some places you can apply for online English teaching jobs or find students.
Teaching English Online: The Basics
So let’s clarify a couple of things regarding teaching English online. When people refer to this type of teaching, they’re talking about teaching English as a second language using online tools such as Skype or Zoom to deliver lessons.
You’ll also come across many acronyms to describe the profession such as ELT (English language teaching), TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages).
Online English teaching could mean working for an online company such as Cambly or it could mean working on platforms that connect teachers and students, such as LanguaTalk. You can also go looking for your own students and teach English independently.
Is Teaching English Online Legit?
Yes, teaching English online is not a scam, it is a legitimate career. In this post, you’ll discover companies you can work for that have been established for several years. They’re not fly-by-nights that are going to disappear tomorrow.
And it’s also a profession that you can train for. In fact, I wholeheartedly recommend getting training as it’s not enough to simply speak English. You also need to know how languages are learned, how to teach English grammar and to develop teaching techniques such as error correction or lesson planning.
What Exactly Does It Mean To Teach English Online?
In the past, English language teaching often meant relocating to a new country to teach English abroad. Perhaps you’ve heard of people who jetted off to exotic locations to work in private language schools, public schools or universities to teach English.
Typically, you could start applying for jobs after an intensive 4-week training to teach you the basics. That meant that teaching English as a foreign language, i.e teaching abroad, was a popular choice for career-changers or anyone who fancied moving to a new country to live and work.
Some jobs were also available in English-speaking countries, such as working at summer schools, private language schools, or teaching English to refugees and other groups of new arrivals.
All of those scenarios took place face to face. The difference with online teaching is that all of these types of teaching can now be done online, with various online tools, notably video conferencing.
That means that once you’ve trained to teach, you don’t need to relocate to look for a face to face job at home or abroad. You can connect to the world from your computer and teach from home, or anywhere you’d like, as long as it has a decent internet connection.
For example, you can get started with online companies such as Cambly to get some experience and see if you like teaching English online. You could also become a community tutor as opposed to a professional teacher (which requires qualifications) on iTalki, an online teaching marketplace.
As you can imagine, the fewer qualifications you have and the lower your level of experience, the lower the pay tends to be.
As you move from working with companies to online teaching marketplaces and even to working independently and finding your own students, you can increase your rates. To do that though, you’ll have to get results for your students which demonstrate the value of your teaching.
Requirements For Teaching English Online
Different online teaching companies will have different requirements when it comes to things like internet connection speed and equipment. Generally you’ll need to have a webcam and a microphone.
As for qualifications, these depend on the company or platform that you want to work for. Some may require a degree, while others may not ask for any formal qualifications. Others will want a teaching certificate, or a combination of degree and teaching certificate. Experience is a requirement for some, but not always necessary.
In the next sections, you’ll discover where you can work and what specific requirements these companies and platforms have.
You also have the option to work independently – this doesn’t necessarily mean you need particular qualifications, but you will need a business and marketing skill set to do this.
Teach English Online No Degree
You may have noticed if you’ve been looking around that some online English teaching jobs require you to have a degree.
But there are some companies that will hire you even without a degree. Usually that means applying to platforms that put students and teachers in contact with one another, such as LanguaTalk.
Another requirement of certain companies and marketplaces is that you have some kind of qualification or certification for teaching English as a second language.
Before I get into the types of qualifications, it’s worth mentioning that being a native speaker of English isn’t enough to make you a good teacher.
You will need to learn how to teach – some of that will come from experience and trial and error. But before you get there, you’ll need a solid foundation in the basics of language teaching and learning.
You’ll need to know how to plan lessons (including planning a series of lessons), how to deal with errors, how to adapt your teaching to different levels and needs, how to give instructions in English etc.
Otherwise, TEFL qualifications themselves can vary a lot. You’ll find crazy-cheap so-called TEFL certificates on Groupon, intensive 4-week courses costing $1000 and more and everything in between.
If you’re in any way serious about becoming a language teacher, whether online or offline, then it’s worth taking the CELTA, which is recognised by employers throughout the world. You can also look for CELTA equivalents which tend to be 120 hours long and should offer assessed teaching practice.
For instance, if you want to avoid the low-pay of companies or the uncertainty of market places and create your own thriving online English teaching business where you attract the students you want to work with then my top recommendation is the CeOLT (Certificate of Online Language Teaching).
The CeOLT is a unique programme where you learn not only how to become a qualified English language teacher, but also how to build your own tutoring business.
Some teachers go on to gain further qualifications such as the DELTA or a master’s degree. These tend to be more relevant if you want to go into managing a language school or teacher training.
If you just want to dip your toe in the water and a TEFL certificate is a requirement for an online teaching job, then an online TEFL course might be enough. These jobs are often part-time and the pay isn’t great so it will be hard to make back the investment in a more expensive course.
English language teaching is a world full of acronyms. You may come across courses called TESOL rather than TEFL. Some people will also tell you that a TESOL course is somehow more “complete” than a TEFL.
Listen, TEFL and TESOL aren’t qualifications in themselves; they’re simply abbreviations that refer to the profession. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a foreign language while TESOL stands for teaching English to speakers of other languages.
Some will argue that TESOL is an umbrella term that covers TEFL and TESL (teaching English as a second language), but ultimately all the acronyms refer to the business of teaching English to non-native speakers of the language.
The tech side of online English teaching may sound intimidating. But the good thing is that you can get started with equipment that you already have at home such as a laptop. And I assume that you have an internet connection if you’re reading this!
Of course, your connection will need to be fast and reliable, especially if you want to give live lessons via video conferencing.
These days computers usually have a built-in microphone and webcam so you won’t have to worry about paying for additional hardware, such as a separate headset or camera.
Online teaching companies and platforms may have specific requirements regarding hardware and software, particularly internet speed. So you’ll need to check out their requirements before applying, just in case.
If you teach independently, you’ll have more flexibility in how you teach so you could offer live lessons with the video off which will consume less bandwidth.
So what happened? Well, for years, many teachers had been working at well-paid online ESL jobs with Chinese companies such as VIPKid, or GoGoKidand many others. They were tutoring children online in private lessons, paid for out of pocket by the parents.
According to the new rules, companies can’t be for profit and tutors have to be located in mainland China, be Chinese and/or be approved to teach by the Chinese government. Companies closed or reduced the size of their operations.
Now this makes it sound like online English teaching is not such a great gig any more. And in some ways this is true. You can’t make easy money teaching Chinese children.
But there’s more to the online ESL market than teaching kids. And besides, these companies would only hire Americans so plenty of people didn’t benefit from these opportunities.
A record 1.7 billion people around the world are learning English. The Brainy Insights market research report valued the size of the English language learning market at USD 11.35 Billion in 2021 and it is expected to reach USD 35.78 Billion by 2030.
According to the report, the online learning segment is the one expected to have the fastest growth, with a compound annual growth rate of just over 16%.
And that’s no surprise, especially following the Covid-19 pandemic. Much like the rise of remote work, face to face English learning switched to online so people know it works and are used to it. Many will be seeking out online options over face to face in the years to come for reasons of cost, convenience, effectiveness and more.
Before the collapse of the Chinese ESL tutoring market, many people equated online teaching with teaching kids, which is natural given that VIPKid worked with 70,000 teachers at its peak.
But there’s much more to online teaching than tutoring kids. You can also work with teenagers and adults. And we can dig down within those groups too. In fact, there are at least 8 kinds of online English teaching roles you could take on!
Some people may just be learning English as a means to travel and not even necessarily to English-speaking countries. Other English learners will be interested in developing their English skills for business communication. Others need help preparing for tests such as the IELTS or the TOEFL so that they can work or study abroad.
As you can imagine, you can drill down even further within the work category. Some professions, such as healthcare and air-traffic control, have specific English exams that professionals need to pass to work abroad.
And even in the absence of exams, professionals from all kinds of different sectors need English for their work, whether they’re living overseas or not. For instance, scientists and researchers have to write papers in English or present at conferences in English.
In addition to these different student types, you can also work independently, on a platform or for a company. I’ll go into this a bit more in the next section.
Can You Teach English Online Full Time?
Yes you can. But that’ll depend on how you work. If you sign up to work with an online company the “pay” will be low, often around $10 an hour or less in some cases.
That rate is made worse by the fact that you’ll be an independent contractor, so you’re expected to file your own taxes. In other words, you won’t earn much and that type of work would only suit you if you’re looking for a side gig.
But if you work independently, finding your own students who need your specific services, then you can earn more. Going this route means it will take longer to generate an income, but you’ll earn more and have more job satisfaction in the long run.
Depending on your qualifications and experience, you might want to start off teaching for a company to see if you like it, get some experience and figure out which kinds of students you like to work with best.
If you decide that you want to go further, your next step would be to create a profile on a platform such as LanguaTalk or iTalki. To stand out from other teachers, you can tailor your profile to the types of students you want to attract – legal professionals, Japanese business people, expats who want to improve their pronunciation skills etc.
And on the side, you can build up assets to help you attract your own students via social media, blogging and podcasting. Check out this post on how to find your own students for more ideas, including offline and low-tech methods!
Like any profession, teaching English online has its upsides and downsides. So let’s have a realistic look at what that could mean for you.
Let’s start with the pros:
Unlike traditional English teaching, you don’t have to relocate to a new country. You can work from home, but if you do want to move, you can also be location independent
Start-up costs are low as you can get going with equipment you already have at home
It’s a rewarding job for anyone interested in language learning, where you can make a real impact in people’s lives – getting promotions, relocating abroad, connecting with people from other countries thanks to the world’s lingua franca etc
There are plenty of opportunities thanks to the number of people learning English around the world
You can bring previous knowledge and experience into your teaching, such as knowledge of a particular industry
You have the opportunity to create your own business and be your own boss
Thanks to the magic of timezones, you can work at times that suit you so the job is suitable for night owls, early risers and everyone in between
As the job is remote and you can set your own schedule (especially if you’re independent), you can fit it in around your life
And let’s address the cons too:
The low barrier to entry in terms of time, money, qualifications etc means that a lot of people want to get into the industry. And that means more competition, including from people living in countries with a lower cost of living
Working for online companies is poorly paid, and finding your own students will take time, so it’ll take a while to get on your feet financially
Many online teaching companies are paying relatively low amounts and $10 (before tax!) is becoming increasingly normal. One example is Cambly which pays $0.17 per minute meaning you can make $10.20. Some schools do pay a bit more, but it will be hard to break the $20 ceiling.
The situation changes when you look at online teaching platforms. Some of them have a floor meaning that they will not let teachers charge less than a particular amount. This is the case at LanguaTalk where you can’t charge less than $9 for a 55-minute lesson.
Some tutors on these platforms are also charging very high rates. On Preply for instance you can find people charging up to $96!
As a rule though, it will be difficult to start teaching at those prices because to attract students on platforms you need to have reviews. And as a new teacher or tutor, you won’t have any. So you’ll probably have to start at a low price and increase it as you accumulate experience and reviews.
A tendency on the platforms is for more specialised teachers to be able to make more. So be wary of presenting yourself as a generalist or as a conversation tutor. Profiles that tend to charge more offer services such as preparation for language exams or for specific professions such as medical or legal English.
The situation changes again if you decide to go independent and find your own students. When you’re independent, you can set your own rates and work with the students you most enjoy teaching. But attracting them and setting rates at $50 an hour and above requires business, marketing and sales skills that you’ll need to develop.
If you were to teach 20 hours a week at $50 an hour (leaving you time for planning, grading and marketing your business) you could make $1000 a week or $4000 a month before taxes. Compare that to just $800 with one of the $10 jobs!
So while it’s great to know how much money you can make, you will need to get stuck into the actual business of teaching English at some point!
While English teaching is often marketed as something any native speaker can do, the truth is rather different, especially if you plan to create your own resources and attract your own students. If you’re just working from Powerpoint slides a company gives you, then the reality is a little different.
Here are a few tips to make online English lessons go smoothly for both you and your students.
You Don’t Need To Speak All The Time
Private online lessons can be a little intense, with both student and teacher feeling that they need to talk all the time.
In fact, it can be a great change to communicate by text only for part of the lesson, sending messages in the chat box for instance. You can also switch your videos off so that your student focuses more on listening.
And there’s nothing wrong with letting your student work quietly on a task independently. You don’t need to be there to hold their hand the whole time. And the more independent they can become, the quicker they will get results anyway.
Opt For Shorter Lessons Where Possible
For some reason, the default length of many online lessons is one hour or 50 to 55 minutes in some cases, so you can have a toilet break between classes. But who decided one hour is the optimal length of time?
I actually prefer learning in shorter bursts. It can be nice to go off on a tangent in lessons and let the student talk about what’s happening in the news or something going on in their life of course.
But when you only have 30 minutes, you both need to focus and that will naturally lead to a more productive session, particularly if you have a goal for that chunk of time. Speaking of which…
Have Specific Goals
While it’s important not to over-plan or follow your plans too rigidly, it’s helpful to set goals for your lessons. You’ll need to have goals for each session as well as an overarching goal for a longer period, such as 3 to 6 months.
If you’re teaching people who work in a particular field, you may be building up to something specific, such as presenting at a conference, or going through the recruitment process in English.
In that case, you can break these bigger goals into smaller goals that you tackle in the lessons. So you might start by looking at how resumés in English-speaking countries differ from ones in your student’s country. And then look at verbs used in English to talk about the responsibilities in different roles etc.
Sometimes students won’t have super-specific goals or they’ll have goals that are more vague or hard to measure, such as boosting their confidence in speaking English.
In that case, you can create situations in which they have speaking time with you in the lessons. That could look like giving them a resource to read or listen to outside of class (an article, a podcast), which they then present and discuss with you in the lesson.
Many students enjoy this more structured approach to speaking practice, where they can use new words and expressions they learned in context from reading or listening while speaking.
It’s Ok To Use Offline Materials
While online lessons enable you to bring a whole range of digital resources into your classes easily, don’t neglect offline resources.
If you have a textbook or course book you like to use, ask the student to buy a copy and give them specific tasks to do from that book. In class, you can go over the work with them and answer any questions they might have.
Only a small fraction of learning actually happens in class time, and how fast your student progresses also depends on what they do outside of class. That’s why I teach and learn languages with stories because they’re an excellent way to get input in your target language. And this input will feed into your output.
So get your student to read a chapter of a book like short stories in English every week. And then use the time in class to discuss the chapter or to go over any new vocabulary or grammar that came up. They’ll learn better and faster and your lesson planning will be simplified.
As an online teacher, you suddenly have access to pretty much any resource on the internet! But this can be more overwhelming than helpful.
When you can show any YouTube video or share any blog post in a lesson, it can become stressful to know where to start.
So here are a couple of ways to reduce that overwhelm so that you’re not spending your days rushing around, bookmarking more and more websites.
Your greatest resource is your student! As the online lesson format tends to be 1:1 rather than groups, you can spend time really getting to know your learners:
Ask them what they’re interested in and what they’d like to talk about
Get them to bring documents they’re working on to the lessons
Role-play the situations they need at work
Ultimately, teaching is not about how well you teach the material you’ve prepared, but about how you react to the learner in front of you. When you get to know the people you work with, you can spend less time planning lessons, and more time focusing on what they need.
Resources to Reduce Lesson Planning Time
That said, you will make your life easier if you’re not trying to plan lessons from scratch every time. You’ll find plenty of material online that you can use or adapt in your lessons.
Here are a few sites to get you started:
Off 2 Class – a lesson plan library that works well for 1:1 teachers or anyone in an online teaching setting
English Club– materials for both learners and teachers, many of which are free
Using English – created by experienced teacher Alex Case, you’ll find materials, quizzes and a forum for both teachers and students
Perfect English Grammar – created by my friend Seonaid way back in 2007, the site has interactive exercises and downloadable PDFs about every grammar topic imaginable
Teachers Pay Teachers– exactly what it sounds like, teachers upload lesson plans that others can download for a fee
So now you know a bit about how to teach, here’s where you can find students and give your first lessons.
As I said, working for companies can be a good place to start, especially if you’ve never taught before. You’ll find out if you actually enjoy teaching online, and from there you can envisage finding your own students if the business building route is for you.
As a rule, the more qualifications and experience you have, the higher the pay and the better the conditions. Some companies will also want a minimum commitment in terms of hours.
I’m also including platforms in this list which put language learners in touch with tutors. The downside of these platforms is that you’re not guaranteed any students. You’ll also have to create your own materials which will require some teaching experience. But you can work as much or as little as you like.
LanguaTalk is a tutoring platform that describes itself as made for tutors, not just students. They have developed several policies to improve the lives of tutors such as:
a 24 hour cancellation policy
55 minute lessons to allow for breaks between sessions
commission capped at 16%
earnings sent monthly directly to your bank account to avoid PayPal or Payoneer fees
limited number of tutors on the platform to increase chances of getting booked and to avoid a race-to-the-bottom on prices
iTalki is a tutoring platform that I’m sure you’re familiar with. You may even have used it yourself to take language lessons.
With a 15% commission on your lesson rate, iTalki takes less than rival platform Preply. However, many teachers have complained that the platform has accepted too many English teachers, so it may be difficult to get bookings.
The advantage is that you can sign up as either a community tutor or a professional teacher. To become a professional teacher, you’ll need a teaching certification or teaching experience. Community tutors just need to be native or near-native speakers of the language they want to teach.
Professional teachers tend to earn a bit more, around $15 per hour compared to $9-$10 for community tutors.
The pay on Cambly is notoriously low, but it’s where many online English teachers got their feet wet and tried out online teaching.
You can teach for Cambly even if you have no degree, no teaching experience and no certificate as long as you’re a native speaker.
But you’ll get just $10.20 per hour (that’s not salary by the way, so you might end up earning below minimum wage in your country) and you have no guaranteed hours.
That said, Cambly is a long-established and legitimate company so if you wanted to try out online teaching, it could be a good place to start.
Vivaling is one of the better online language schools I’ve come across (although I haven’t worked for them or vetted them in any way). But it won’t be suitable for complete beginners.
This company requires a minimum of 2 years full-time experience, a teaching certificate and/or educational degree and a native or near-native level in the language you want to teach. But the “pay” is $20 per hour and you’ll have a minimum of 12 hours per week.
Superprofis a teaching marketplace that’s a bit like GumTree but for tutors. You can create a profile quickly and easily, but you’re not guaranteed bookings, particularly as there are far more students than tutors on the platform.
Superprof has a “premium club” that costs $9 per month that you can join to boost your profile’s visibility.
Being a club member also means that you won’t have to pay 10% commission on payments made through the platform. But you can also avoid this by making other arrangements with your student.
Although you can set a rate of up to $80, the average is more like $25, with people offering English lessons for just $1!
You don’t need a degree, teaching qualifications or teaching experience to join Superprof. But you will need to craft your profile to attract students by highlighting what results you can help them achieve, just like on any other platform.
5. Work With Brand Names
Another way to find reliable English-teaching work is to go with a brand name that’s offering online tuition as well as traditional in-person teaching.
By brand name, I mean some of the established names in the teaching business such as International House, the British Council, Wall Street English or Berlitz.
Given the pandemic, many of these companies have started offering more online options to their clients so there may be opportunities to find work this way.
6. Work With Existing Language Schools
Due to the pandemic, many traditional language schools have switched to online lessons.
In fact, some clients are now requesting online learning rather than face to face!
To find opportunities with brick and mortar schools that have now gone online, you can use platforms such as Indeed to search for “online English teaching jobs”.
These schools may be less visible than some of the big “brand names” listed above, but they will recruit on the traditional platforms for job seekers.
If you’re handy with LinkedIn, you may also be able to search for this type of job, or at least find the details of various schools.
GoStudent was founded in Austria in 2016 and operates in 22 countries.
It’s not a marketplace as the company assigns students to teachers, but be aware, you’ll be working with younger learners aged 6-19. You’ll need a high school level of education yourself to teach there.
Classes are 1:1 Zoom sessions lasting 50 minutes and the pay is $20 per session. You’ll have to prepare your own lesson materials. There are also bonus schemes to reward loyalty and repeat bookings with the same students.
There is a minimum commitment of 6 sessions per week during peak times: weekday afternoons and evenings and day times during the weekend. One particularity is that you have to apply to tutor children from a country where you have a bank account. You’ll also need to be familiar with the school system in that country.
Ringle could be a good place to start teaching online as you don’t need a teaching qualification or teaching background.
However, they prefer to recruit people who have attended an elite US or UK university. They’re also interested in your experience at particular companies such as Google, Microsoft, Deloitte or Nike to name a few.
You start on $15 – $18 per hour which can increase to $20 – $21 with promotion. Bonuses are also available. You conduct lessons lasting 20 or 40 minutes over Zoom to adults across Asia. The company also offers opportunities to take on other tasks such as content creation.
The company supplies some materials, but you’ll have to write up feedback reports for your students within 24 hours of completing the lessons. And this time is unpaid. Now all this makes Ringle, for now at least, a bit better than some other online teaching companies. But still, going your own way is going to be the best plan.