Teach Chinese Kids English: All You Need Is a Laptop and WiFi
San Juan del Sur is a laidback town set in a horseshoe bay on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, where beers cost no more than a dollar, and life centers around the all-encapsulating beach. It’s not a place you’d expect to find Chinese students eager to learn English. Yet, for Canadians and U.S. expats living here, teaching English to Chinese schoolchildren has become something of a cottage industry.
Not that you could expect to see Chinese students roaming the sand-strewn streets there. The classrooms are entirely virtual; the lessons taught exclusively online. Spread by word of mouth, and with very little training required, expats are happily taking to their laptops and capitalizing on China’s surging demand for English teachers. Profitable and featuring a flexible schedule, it’s become a popular way to fund life in the sun.
JoAnne Stolz, 52, hails from Manitoba, Canada and has been living in Nicaragua for six years. She originally moved there to run an ecolodge but took other positions and eventually found a job managing San Juan del Sur’s 24-unit La Santa Maria resort.
“Nicaragua is great, especially San Juan del Sur. I love the ocean, sunsets, laidback way of life, and the fact that many expats live here. Because it’s so affordable, my standard of living is much higher than it was living in Canada or the U.S. And you don’t need to travel far to go on a fabulous vacation and feel that you have walked across the pages of National Geographic.”
In San Juan, JoAnne started teaching English to Chinese children part-time, using a platform called DaDaABC. “This is a supplementary income that I use for travel. I wake up at 3:45 a.m. and work from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m., three days a week. My students are generally 8 to 11 years old. But I’ve heard of someone who has a 1-year-old student.”
Part of the attraction of teaching through platforms like DaDaABC is that it doesn’t require any specific qualification. “Teachers must be native speakers, have a university degree, and pass a one-on-one interview,” says JoAnne. They then create a video promoting their strengths, and the students and parents select the teacher they want from the videos. “I have quite a few regular students each week and the others come and go. Working nine hours a week, I make about $600 each month doing this.
“If you want to earn more money teaching at DaDaABC, You can complete TESOL and TEFL certification courses through the company for $300 (taken out of the pay that they owe you). Once you have this certification, you can raise your salary to $25 an hour.
“It’s so great to be able to have this extra job here in Nicaragua. I’m a resident and have no plans to leave. I like the beauty of this country, the Caribbean Islands, the active volcanoes, the lush forests, the amazing rivers and lakes, the surfing beaches, the wildlife. Life is less stressful, and you don’t have to impress anyone.”
The opportunity to teach English online, with few qualifications, has emerged from three different contributing factors.
First, there is a massive demand for English in China. As the global economy grows and companies search for native English speakers, parents are scrambling to get their kids up to speed. As Chinese parents want to connect directly with teachers from the U.S., the demand has given birth to a multi-billion dollar online education market.
Second, teaching styles are changing. Traditionally, curriculums for nearly every introductory language class revolved around grammar and the rules of language. And though this might imbue students with a knowledge of conjugating verbs, it often leaves them tongue tied when it comes to real-world conversation. As a result, conversational teaching exercises are growing in popularity, and the teachers don’t necessarily require English teaching qualifications.
Third, we now have the technology to do it all online. That’s where platforms like DaDaABC come in. Within five years of its launch, hundreds of thousands of students in China have enrolled on this platform to learn from instructors all over the world. As the first ed-tech company to provide two-way interactive video classrooms through mobile devices, DaDaABC’s platform allows students and instructors to connect and communicate anytime, in any location, through video, text messages, emojis, and drawings.
With this new remote one-on-one teaching, online English language schools have multiplied exponentially. It’s no wonder that this has become a popular job for retirees, people who want to move abroad, and even younger people who want to see the world.
Ali Rossi, 44, lived in Malibu, California before arriving in Nicaragua. Back home she was a licensed optician and owner of two eyeglass stores. “My life was very busy in the U.S. I spent at least four hours commuting to my job, I dropped my daughter at pre-school by 7:30 a.m., then rushed to pick her up by 6 p.m. I felt stressed out. I would try to squeeze in time to work out, shop, cook, clean, and walk the animals. It was too much. My husband Rob told me about Nicaragua, where he had visited 13 years earlier, and the idea of a natural, freer lifestyle sounded great. We also had friends who had recently moved down to San Juan del Sur, and we learned about the wonderful international day school there.”
Once in Nicaragua, Ali started teaching English using DaDaABC as a way to supplement her income. “In total, I work 10 hours per week. Last month I made $563, but I didn’t have a full load of classes each day. I can work up to 30 hours per week and even more if I substitute teach or sign up for part-time hours. If I get more ambitious, I can actually work for other online teaching companies as well. I have an 8-year-old, and since I can work when I want and for the number of hours I want, I have a lot of time to be a mom, too.
“I love teaching English online because the job is fun, interesting, and the extra money helps out. Just knowing I can always do this work keeps me happy and grounded and allows me to have ‘me time’ for my jujitsu, yoga, and Pilates workouts. Nicaragua is our home, my daughter has been here for more than half her life, and we hope to stay here forever. I love the weather, the hearts of the local people, and the great blend of expats. We all come together to form a wonderful community,” says Ali.
The hourly rate for teaching English online is competitive, even for North American standards. But in Nicaragua, that money goes a lot further. And this is reflected in Ali’s lifestyle. “Rob loves to surf and fish so we picked the perfect place to live. Right now, we rent a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a pool that goes for $550 a month, which includes pool maintenance and 24-hour security. Everything else (WiFi, water, electricity) costs around $250. We spend so much less in Nicaragua than California. A house call from a veterinarian sets us back $10 to $20. I spend $12 a month for my cell phone, and fruits and veggies are way less than in California. When I’m ill, I can just go into the pharmacy and ask for the medicine that I need instead of having to see a doctor first.”
Kathleen Thompson lived in Chicago, Illinois, working as a kindergarten and first- to third-grade reading teacher. During her summer breaks, she’d volunteer in San Juan teaching English. She liked it so much that after a few years, she decided to move there. “A friend of mine was from Nicaragua and recommended it,” she says. “The combination of volunteering and teaching, plus fun activities, a varied night life, and a much cheaper place to live, really attracted me to this great town.
“For income, I work for three different online companies teaching English to Chinese children and adults remotely. Two of them, VIPKID and Gogokid are based in China and pay more than most. I like these companies because the classes are one-on-one and the children are between 3 and 12 years old and so eager to learn. I also use Cambly, which is fun because the ‘classes’ are very conversational, and I get to talk to interesting adults. Because the students are from all over the world—not just China—I can use Cambly any time of day I want.
“I have many regular students who I teach between one and three times per week, but I teach many new students every day, too. I work about 25 hours per week and make a little over $2,000 a month. Between the three jobs, I can work any days I want, whatever hours I want, and as many hours as I want. I can sustain myself here on this income. The Chinese companies require a college degree, but Cambly does not. The absolute best thing about teaching English remotely is the flexibility.
“I would say that living in San Juan del Sur is about a fifth of the expense of living in Chicago. Even though I own a home in Nicaragua (that I rent out), I’m renting a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house outside of town. The huge yard houses monkeys, palms, and fruit trees, with plenty of space for my son and our four dogs. Rent for this large living space is just $700 per month.”
Kathleen says, “I’ve been in Nicaragua permanently for 12 years now and don’t plan to leave. The laidback lifestyle, fewer unnecessary amenities, and the less frivolous concerns and worries really makes this place a peaceful paradise.”
4 Platforms for Teaching English Online
Using an online teaching platform, you can work from anywhere and create your own flexible schedule with part-time or full-time hours. However, there are a few subtle differences between the different platforms that you should consider before you begin.
DaDaABC is one of the highest paying online English teaching platforms, offering between $15 and $25 per hour, depending on your performance in their interview. It allows you to set your schedule. However, you need to give them 30-days notice if you plan to change.
VIPKID is unique in that it requires you not only to be a native English speaker but to be from the U.S. or Canada. This of course, means that the teacher pool is smaller, giving you some competitive advantage. VIPKID is also great if you have an irregular schedule and want maximum flexibility. Classes are booked one week in advance, so that’s the only commitment you have to make.
Cambly offers multiple advantages to other English teaching platforms. Classes aren’t taught formally but through chat, making it easier and more enjoyable to use. Because the classes aren’t formal, it doesn’t require any previous experience or a degree of any kind. Also, Cambly is international, rather than just Chinese, meaning you can teach classes at any time of day. However, at $10.20 per hour the pay rate isn’t as high as you’ll find elsewhere.
iTutorGroup pays as well as DadaABC but also offers teachers the chance to earn bonuses based upon both the number of students in their class and the ratings awarded by students in their class feedback. Applicants do need to have a TESOL or equivalent and commit to at least 10 peak hours per week.
Written by Bonnie W. Hayman