How to Teach English Online
Would it surprise you to know that you have had a high-ticket, money-making skill since you were 7 years old…one that is truly in demand in the global market…a skill that foreign executives pay top dollar hourly rates to learn?
What skill could a 7-year-old possibly possess that a CEO would pay top dollar for? Well, English, of course!
As a native English speaker, you have a latent money-making skill. Your ability to read, write, and speak in English is one of the most in-demand skills on the internet. More people than ever before are learning to speak English and most of them are doing it online.
In September, BusinessWire published an article stating, “The online language learning market is expected to grow by $18.61 billion during 2020-2024.”
Another study in 2019 by market research firm Adroit reported that “the global English language learning market value was around $33.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach around $54.8 billion by 2025.”
If you’d like to get in on the predicted multibillion growth in the English learning market, now is certainly the time. We are in the midst of a “perfect storm” of opportunity for online English teachers.
Demand for English teachers is at an all-time high. There are more internet users on the planet than never before, and the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced a massive boom in online learning.
So there’s never been a better time to get involved than right now.
Why Teach English Online?
I’m Kary Vannice, and since 2012 I’ve been helping people earn either a part-time or full-time income teaching English online. And the majority of them had absolutely no prior teaching experience. They were simply native English speakers with a desire to help others create a better life for themselves.
I started out much the same way, helping friends and neighbors learn English when I was living in the Patagonia region of Chile back in 2006. My lessons were informal, but I had a skill they were desperate to acquire. Plus, I was one of only a handful of native English speakers within a 300-square-mile radius, which made me a top candidate for the position of in-house tutor.
A few years later, I taught English in a more formal setting in Mexico at a private bilingual school from 2008 to 2011, teaching elementary and high school students. I still had very little experience when I started, but again, the fact that I was a native English speaker secured me the job, and a higher salary than my Mexican counterparts, which is often the case.
The reason I made more than Mexican peers with years more experience is because language students want to learn from a native speaker, and they are willing to pay more for the privilege. Learning from a native speaker ultimately means better pronunciation, fewer grammatical mistakes, insider knowledge on common English colloquialisms, and access to their own personal cultural liaison—something that wasn’t easy to find in the remote Patagonia region back in 2006 but is readily available to over 4.5 billion internet users today in 2020.
With international travel curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching English online is a great way to engage with people all around the globe. Not only that, you can have a positive impact on the lives of other people without leaving the comfort of your own home.
And if the idea of cultural exchanges doesn’t entice you, then maybe the flexibility and freedom will. You work entirely from home, often dictating your own schedule, including the hours you work, the days of the week, and even how much or how little you are “on the clock.” But, honestly, it doesn’t really feel like being on the clock.
Online tutoring often feels more like having engaging coffee shop conversations than work.
Depending on how you choose to earn online, you might just be helping non-native speakers refine their existing English skills through everyday conversations, like talking about the weather, their next vacation, or their kids’ school projects.
However, if you like a more structured approach, you can do that too, working for an online school that provides you with all the lesson plans and materials and a reliable, set schedule you can count on.
There are dozens of ways to teach online. All you have to do is select the one that suits you best and fits the lifestyle you’re looking to create.
What Does an Online English Teacher Do?
If you’ve ever used a system like FaceTime or Skype to talk with friends or family, you already have a basic idea of how to interact with students as an online English tutor.
You and your student set a day and time to meet online and you help them with their English. It might be as simple as having a conversation, so they can practice speaking as you give guidance and corrections when they make grammatical or pronunciation mistakes. Or it might be more formal, with you giving a prepared lesson on a specific topic. You decide what level of student you’d prefer to work with.
If you decide to work for an online school as an employee, you’ll likely be interfacing with your students on the company’s platform, delivering lessons, and talking with students or groups of students at set times.
Most online schools provide training when you begin, to ensure that you are comfortable and familiar with how to use their system and what to do during a lesson. Some companies even offer teacher training to help you be a more confident and effective educator.
Who Can Teach English Online?
If you are a native or near-native English speaker, have a strong, reliable internet connection, some basic tech skills, and enjoy interacting with others, you have everything you need to get started teaching English online.
However, depending on who you want to teach and how you want to teach them, you may need to have some additional qualifications to secure a position. While I do know people who are successfully teaching/tutoring online with nothing more than what I mentioned above, I’m a strong believer in setting yourself up for success, so you may want to consider getting some English teacher training before you begin.
Your ability to speak, read, and write in English is enough to get you hired with some companies or teach as an independent tutor on some websites, but learning the skill of teaching English to non-speakers is something worth investing in.
English Teacher Training
There are several ways to get training that will make you a better English teacher and will make the process of teaching more enjoyable for you and your students. The most common is to take an English-language teacher certification course.
The training that’s right for you will depend on how you want to teach and to whom, but I’ll share with you the most common certification options and give a few recommendations to consider when making your decision.
TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
This is a basic training course that covers many aspects of teaching English to students. The time it takes to complete TEFL certification ranges from as little as 40 hours or as many as 150. The standard is 120 hours of training. A TEFL certification class can be taken either in person or online. Quality online courses can run as low as a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile, on-site, in-person training courses can cost in the hundreds or thousands of dollars and take a month to complete.
TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
The TESOL is intended for teachers who wish to teach English in their home country to speakers of other languages, though it can also be used online or abroad. The TEFL and TESOL cover much of the same subject matter, such as lesson planning, English grammar, classroom and student management, error correction, teaching with technology, and much, much more.
The TESOL can also be taken in person or online. Some organizations even offer you the option of tacking on additional specialty training, such as teaching young learners, business English, medical English, etc. These extras are often referred to as “endorsements” and I highly recommend taking them if you have the chance.
They not only give you additional credentials other teachers won’t have, but they also demonstrate your dedication to preparing to be a more effective teacher and going the extra mile. What prospective employer doesn’t like that?
Monetary and time investments are similar to a TEFL, and again, opting to take more training hours is always better.
The TEFL or the TESOL are great options if you want to get started but aren’t sure exactly what type of student you want to serve yet. Their broad-based approach means you can apply much of the training to young learners and adult learners alike.
CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults)
The CELTA is considered the global gold standard certification for teaching adults. This is a standardized curriculum developed by Cambridge English that is taught in hundreds of locations around the globe, including online. Not only is this widely considered to be the best training program available, but because it is standardized, employers know the quality of your training and exactly what materials were covered.
The CELTA is a 120-hour program that includes several hours of actual teaching to English students. These hours are observed by a teacher trainer, who gives feedback and guidance. Because the CELTA offers these practical teaching hours, it is highly favored by hiring managers.
Prior to the pandemic, the CELTA typically involved an intensive, month-long, in-class program with rigorous oversight by highly trained teacher trainers. CELTA programs could cost in the thousands of dollars when both room and board were factored in, in addition to the training costs.
If you are serious about teaching English online, especially as an employee of an online school, I recommend you take a CELTA course. And now’s the perfect time to do so because COVID-19 has created the opportunity to take the “full-package” CELTA 100% online, making it more accessible and affordable.
The number one thing to keep in mind when choosing a certification program is accreditation. Whether you decide to take an online or in-person training program, make sure the one you choose is accredited.
Accreditation means a third party has evaluated the program. They have examined the curriculum and given their approval and endorsement to the certificate. And it’s important to note that online programs are sometimes accredited by different organizations than in-person courses.
Who to Look For
There are a number of accreditation bodies that put their stamp of approval on English teaching certification programs, but the four most widely recognized are:
- NCFE—Northern Council for Further Education
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- University of Cambridge
- Trinity College
Online certificates aren’t always accredited by the same bodies as in-person programs. If you decide to take an online certification course, and don’t find online certifications accredited by any of the above bodies, look for a course accredited by one of these:
- Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
- U.S. Distance Learning Association (USDLA)
- Accreditation Council for TESOL Distance Education Courses (ACTDEC)
- Open and Distance Learning Quality Council (ODLQC)
What Other Qualifications Do You Need?
Depending on how you want to teach English online, either as a tutor or as an employee, you may need to meet other qualifications as well.
Some online employers require a four-year degree, but others do not. A few will want you to have previous experience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean formal teaching experience. If you’ve ever been a trainer before, taught new employees the “ropes,” worked in a position where part of your job was to teach someone something new, then you have the qualifications they’re looking for.
If you don’t have a university degree, don’t worry, there are employers who do not require this, and still others who prefer if you have almost no training or experience, so they can train you in their own methodology for teaching English to their students.
Being an online tutor is a great option if you’re looking to schedule your own hours and select your own students. Some online tutor sites allow you to set up a profile and begin offering your services immediately.
If you decide to approach teaching English this way, it is very unlikely that your future students are going to request to see a diploma or certification of any kind. Their aim is to practice the English language with a native speaker, preferably with one who has worked in a similar industry as they do. This allows you to leverage your previous work experience and engage students who are more interested in your industry knowledge, than your education credentials.
This is an excellent way to pass on your hard-earned wisdom from years of working in a specific sector. You are not only teaching a life-altering skill, but you are mentoring young professionals who will be shaping the future of the industry. It’s a way to give back and stay at the leading edge of innovation and growth.
What Technical Equipment Do You Need?
When it comes to earning online you might think that being more portable is better. Meaning, that an iPad or other tablet is the way to go. After all, they are designed for maximum portability. No pesky keyboard, trackpad, or mouse required.
And, yes, when it comes to internet surfing, Skype calls with family, or checking your email, the convenience of a tablet is hard to beat. But those are all things you do on your own time and there’s not much riding on the outcome.
When you’re teaching someone English online, you have to consider their needs as well. And if you’re working as an employee of an online company, they may have specific requirements for your computer, or special software you will need to use to interact with their students.
As an online tutor, if you’re creating any kind of lesson that requires you to type text or give a presentation, you’ll find it far easier to complete these on the keyboard of either a laptop or a desktop.
Speed and Performance
You might think your computer’s speed and performance are based solely on your internet connection. But, actually, speed of performance, and both download and upload speeds, are all dependent on the hardware inside your computer, as well.
When teaching online, at a minimum, you want to make sure your computer has the following:
- Processor speed: 1.8 GHz
- Storage capacity: 256 GB (less if you use cloud storage)
- RAM: 1 GB
- Hard disk space: 16 GB
- Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
To be an effective teacher, you will also need to have some additional hardware, like an internal video camera so your students can interact with you face-to-face in real time. If your computer doesn’t have a built in camera, you’ll want to buy an external one with a USB cable.
It’s also important to invest in a quality headset with a noise canceling microphone.
When teaching English online, your students’ ability to hear you clearly helps them tremendously with their pronunciation, a major reason why they work with a native speaker. Any kind of background noise or interference with your audio could mean a diminished experience for them and they will likely go looking for another tutor.
Plan to invest somewhere between $30 and $40 on a good headset that will last several years. Logitech sells quality headsets that are affordable and easy to find at your local tech store or online.
Required Internet Speeds
Having quality video and audio capabilities won’t do you much good if you don’t have the bandwidth to transmit all that digital information, and online companies know it. Both online schools and many tutoring platforms will require you to run a speed test on your internet connection before you can even apply to work on their site.
Their commitment is to their students and they want to ensure that their students have a quality learning experience, to support their success. They know that if students are struggling to see or hear you during a lesson, they are less likely to learn and excel.
So, be sure you meet their minimum requirements before you begin. Individual companies will usually post their internet speed requirements on their website in a place that is easy to find.
On the low end, some schools require only 4 Mbps (megabits per second) upload and 8 Mbps download speeds. On the top end, schools will require you to work on a wired system (as opposed to wireless or WiFi) and want a minimum of 25 Mbps both up and down.
If your internet speeds are somewhere in the 10 Mbps range, you should meet most schools and tutor sites’ requirements.
What Teaching Materials Do You Need?
Again, depending on how you decide to teach, you may or may not be creating your own teaching materials.
Conversational English usually doesn’t require you to create structured lessons. Having some “go-to” conversations starters is usually enough to get the ball rolling and keep students engaged.
If you’re not feeling ready to create your own lessons, then working for an online school that provides teaching materials is a great place to begin. This is an excellent way to get your feet wet and really start to understand the student/teacher interaction in the online medium.
If, on the other hand, you’re ready to explore the creative side of teaching and start producing your own lessons and teaching materials, then online tutoring to beginners is a wonderful option. You can start in your comfort zone and expand out to more intermediate learners.
If the thought of creating your own lessons and teaching materials is anxiety inducing, consider taking one of the certification courses I mentioned earlier. It’s the best way to get guidance and hands-on instruction on how to do this and you’ll walk away with an entire teaching manual of tips, tricks, and best practices, making the process much easier and more enjoyable for you and your students.
How Much Can You Earn?
This is a question I get often and it’s not always easy to answer. It all depends on who and how you plan to teach. I know online tutors who charge $90 per hour for their services, because they offer instruction in a very specific type of English that students must learn in order to advance their careers. And, on the other end of the spectrum, there are online schools that pay as little as $7 per hour for general instruction.
As a rule, however, you can earn anywhere from $10 to $40 per hour teaching online. Some schools start you out on a base rate and then offer bonuses if you receive good ratings from your students, so your hourly rate can almost double.
On most of the tutoring sites, you set your own rates. And when you create a profile that speaks not only to your English knowledge, but also your professional know-how, you can target business professionals in your sector and charge higher rates.
With this approach, you offer not just English instruction but also industry knowledge, such as technical vocabulary, business culture, and industry-specific jargon that other “general” English teachers do not have. This is a way to set yourself apart from other tutors and make more money per lesson.
Platforms Where You Can Teach Online
Depending on who you would enjoy teaching most, there are several online platforms to choose from. And you have option to work as an employee or independently on a tutor site.
Don’t fancy teaching kids but still want to work as an employee? Then you might consider companies like Open English or English First. Both of these companies specialize in teaching business English to adult professionals.
Tutor sites draw in students of all ages and ability levels. As a private tutor you get to set your own hours and rates, and even target the specific kind of students you’d enjoy working with most. A few of the top tutor sites are italki and Preply.
These are just a few of the many sites that offer the opportunity for you to teach English online. And, if the ones I’ve mentioned here don’t appeal to you, do a simple Google search for “Teach English Online” or “Tutor English Online” and I promise you’ll find many more to choose from.
Whatever your background, if you’re reading this article, I assure you, you can teach English online. You have a skill that countless people around the world will pay to learn. And with so many different ways to approach teaching online, you can find the perfect fit for you.
Whether you’re looking for freedom and flexibility or structure and stability, teaching English online is an excellent way to earn and have a positive impact on the lives of others without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.
By Kary Vannice