How to become an online English teacher in 2022
Becoming an online English teacher seems to have massively increased in popularity over the last few years. A few years ago, the number of opportunities to teach English, particularly to children in China, was huge and salaries were high. Then Covid 19 hit and many schools moved online, or started online arms of their businesses. Many people began changing careers and beginning to look at teaching English online.
That has changed recently as the Chinese government put restrictions on the online English teaching market and many of the big companies downsized or closed down. However, it is still possible to have a career in teaching English online, with companies around to teach English to Japanese and Korean students as well as companies focused on other nationalities. It’s possible to teach English online with no degree, although it’s easier to find a job with one, and as a native or non-native speaker. You can also find jobs teaching English online with no experience.
In this post, we explain the basics of online English teaching, concluding with a list of the ‘best’ online English teaching jobs.….well, the most appropriate for you, depending on your situation.
Disclosure: some of the links to TEFL courses in this post are affiliate links and we get money if you buy them using our link.
Why teach English online?
You can work from home
Teaching English online can be done from anywhere, so long as you have a strong enough internet connection and the right equipment (see below). Thus, if you are a stay-at-home parent or carer who needs flexible work, becoming an online English teacher is an option for you.
You can work from anywhere in the World
Another group of people with whom online English teaching has really taken off is the digital nomads. 10-20 years ago, people just took off backpacking with a round-the-world ticket. People who wanted to stay longer/hadn’t saved enough money got jobs on farms in Australia or New Zealand on a working holiday visa, or settled in South East Asia or South America to teach English for a school or academy.
Nowadays, people pack up, TEFL and laptop in hand, and travel the World slowly, teaching English online along the way.
Another reason for teaching English online is that there aren’t any decent English language schools where you are based. It might not be possible to get a work visa to teach English without a Bachelor’s degree where you are, so a company where you can teach English online without a degree might be a good option.
Is it easy to find an online English teaching job?
Since the companies catering to Chinese children downsized and closed down. it is becoming harder to get into the online English teaching market. The teachers who worked for those companies were put out of work and are now trying to find new positions. Along with this, many, many people are now trying to get into online English teaching, having heard about it as a way to make money from home. Sometimes it seems that supply of teachers is far higher than the number of available jobs.
That is not to say that you can’t start out teaching English online now. There are opportunities, but you need to be smart about it and do proper research beforehand. What kind of teaching can you offer? Do you have a specific niche? How can you become the most proficient online teacher so companies want to employ you and students want to study with you?
Simply taking a budget TEFL course and then waiting for jobs to be offered to you won’t work anymore. We see far too many people in Facebook groups asking ‘I have finished my TEFL course. Who wants to employ me?‘ It really doesn’t work like that nowadays.
What are the different types of online English teaching jobs?
Working for a big online English teaching company
As I said above, up until quite recently most of the adverts you saw online on social media were for the big online teaching companies catering to Chinese children. These schools provided their own materials to teach from, with lessons lasting for 20-40 minutes to groups of 1-4. Salaries were pretty high in those days and it was a good market to get into.
However, when China put restrictions on when and whether companies could offer out-of-school classes to Chinese students, this changed a lot. There are now fewer companies that have this business model.
There are other big companies that also include teaching adults, and that teach a wider variety of nationalities, including companies that teach English online to Japanese students, Korean students, Russian students etc. Companies vary in the commitment they ask for. Almost all have a minimum number of slots you need to open per week and this ranges from a couple to 10 or more. Salaries are lower than they used to be, with offers ranging from a few dollars an hour up to around $20, although the higher rates tend to be for experienced teachers.
Most of these online English teaching platforms require a TEFL certificate. Some require native speakers, including some that ask for a specific USA or Canadian passport. However, many accept all nationalities. If you are already a teacher, it’s easier to get hired, but for some you can get a job teaching English online with no experience.
Something to look at in different online English teaching companies is whether the parents choose the teacher or whether you just open slots and the company fills them for you. Where the parents book the teacher, you need to impress them and then they book regular slots for you. For some companies, the company assigns the classes to the teachers, so the parents don’t choose a specific teacher. This means that you could be teaching totally different kids each lesson.
Payment usually has a base rate, and then various bonus schemes depending on the rating that your student gives you, how many classes you have taught for them, whether you teach a lot during peak time and other factors. You can get penalties from some for missing a class, even due to illness or technological breakdown. Teachers can earn additional money for referring new teachers.
The application process for these companies generally involves sending an application video and having a demo lesson. As teachers can earn money for referring and helping new teachers set up, you can find teachers who will help you get hired.
Advertising on an Online English Teaching Platform
If you are an experienced teacher and/or you’d prefer not to use a company’s materials to teach, then you could advertise yourself on one of the online English teaching platforms. These provide the website to teach from and to advertise yourself to students. You set up a page there with introductory videos and blurb and students can find and try your services.
The advantages of these are that there is no minimum commitment and you aren’t restricted to specific hours. They also do not restrict by passport or location. They are also less likely to require experience. The online English teaching platforms do charge you commission, ranging from around 15-35%. There are also a lot of teachers promoting themselves on these platforms, so you need to work hard to get noticed and get students.
Find out the pros and cons and what’s the best online English teaching company to work for in our post, with interviews from teachers working for different online teaching companies.
Free Talk Programs
Free talk programs are where students can call English speakers for speaking practice. This has the advantage of not needing lots of technology; generally, you can teach using your phone or tablet. They also don’t usually require a Bachelor’s or a specific passport, so they are an option for teaching English online without a degree and/or as a non-native speaker. They also accept new teachers so you can teach online with no experience for Palfish.
Teaching English for the online arm of a brick-and-mortar school
Since Corona virus hit, many schools that had previously taught face-to-face classes have started teaching online. Our old school in Ukraine was one of them and we taught classes using Zoom. If you are already working for a company who’ve moved online, this could be an option for the future.
These schools vary in what they provide. Some have their own curriculum, with coursebooks and course plans to follow. You generally have to plan your own lessons through. Others give you a free rein to negotiate with your students what you want to cover in your classes.
You can find adverts for these types of jobs on TEFL.com
Setting up your own online English teaching business
If you are confident and don’t want to work for a company, or you are finding you can’t find a company or platform that will allow you to start out with no experience, you can set up a freelance online English teaching business. The best way to be successful at this is to have a niche – a specialism that you focus on e.g. corporate English, exam preparation or ESOL. This helps with marketing and attracting students. If you were a pilot before, look into aviation English. If you worked in healthcare, consider medical English lessons. If you were a lawyer, look at legal English.
People teach online using a variety of platforms, so you can set up online with video chat programs like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or Zoom, and/or with messenger apps like Whatsapp.
Unless you are already experienced in business, this can be a difficult area to get into, as there are lots of aspects to consider: how to find students, arranging your finances and settling up websites. To help, there are freelance online teaching business coaches around who have personal experience of doing the same. One of these is Ola Kowalska, and another knowledgeable one is Jaime from ESL365 (who wrote our blog on Teaching English in Australia) but there are many others. They often offer a free bootcamp, where you can learn a lot, even if you don’t want to pay. There are also many online TEFL coaches who have blogs and Youtube channels explaining how to start out. Give it a quick Google and you will find a wealth of useful information.
As I said, it isn’t easy to get into online English teaching nowadays, so you need to do a lot of research to become successful.
For great tips for being a successful English teacher, check out our Top Tips post. The author, Shannon, runs a training course in settling up as an online teacher too, which we recommend to learn how to start out successfully.
How much can you earn with online teaching English?
This is the magic question, eh? Some online teaching companies pay very little – like a couple of dollars an hour. On the other hand, experienced teachers with specialisms are earning $50 an hour and upwards. It depends on many factors. The average is probably $10-20 though.
Can you teach English online with no degree?
It is possible to teach online without a degree, in the same way that you can teach abroad without a degree. However, it does limit your options. Some of the big online teaching companies need a degree, because it’s a government requirement where they are based
There are a few of the big-name online English teaching companies that have programs that will employ teachers without degrees, for example, the Palfish free talk program. Some of the platforms where you market yourself, like Amazing Talker, also allow you to teach English online without a degree. The smaller companies, or less well-known e.g. those teaching English online to Japanese students, or Russian speakers, are more likely to accept online English teachers without a degree.
Of course, if you set up as a freelance teacher, there is no requirement to have a degree. You are your own boss so you set the requirements!
Read Ross’ story of teaching English without a degree.
Do you need to be a native speaker to teach English online?
Nope. Just like you don’t need to be a native speaker to teach English, you don’t need to be one to teach online. We’re not getting into the NES vs. NNES debate now, but the bottom line is that there are excellent non-native speaking teachers, as well as native-speaking teachers, and, in contrast, poor examples of both. We work and have worked with teachers from all over the world and their passports didn’t dictate how they were as teachers.
Find out more about teaching English as a non-native English speaker
Some online English teaching companies ask for specific passports. Some ask for a so-called ‘native speaking’ passport e.g. one from the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Sometimes South Africa is included in those. Other companies require specifically a North American or Canadian passport.
However, there are lots of companies that employ teachers from all over the world. Try this list of online English teaching companies that employ NNES.
Do you need a TEFL certificate to teach English online?
While there might be a couple of schools that accept teachers without qualifications, why wouldn’t you learn how to do a job before doing it? You aren’t a teacher purely because you can speak English and you owe it to your students to learn some background and techniques.
Since the online English teaching market exploded, so did the number of TEFL courses on the market. Sometimes it seems like a new one appears every week. As you will be teaching English online, it makes sense to take an online TEFL course, but it’s hard to know which to take. The courses range in price from ‘free’ to $2000, and what you get out of it ranges in that way too.
The cheapest courses are some reading and some multiple choice questions, which can often be completed quickly. It may say ‘120 hours’ on the certificate, but it rarely takes that long. The issue with such courses these days is the lack of practice. With no practical element at all, you do not get any hands-on experience in teaching or lesson planning.
If you have no teaching experience of any kind, you need to make sure you look as employable as possible to potential companies and/or as professional as possible to potential students. To get jobs, you usually need to produce a demo video, do a demo lesson and/or an interview. If you have never been in front of students before, you are going to struggle with that. If you get students, you need to ensure they will continue to study with you. You need to show them that you know what you are doing.
A cheap TEFL course with no practical aspect is not going to help you with the above. Instead, choose one with practice. You can get courses where you have to write lesson plans for various types of students and your tutor will give you feedback on them. For a bit more money, you can get courses with peer teaching of your classmates. Your ideal would be a course where you teach real students and your tutors observe you and give you feedback.
Exceptions to this are if you are already a licensed teacher back home. Some companies will accept you with this qualification. Others want some kind of TEFL certificate, but a cheap one is fine. You are more likely to be more confident in front of students if you are already a teacher.
We have a whole blog post on what to look for in an online TEFL course.
If you are new to teaching English and you want to learn about it before getting online, then pay a bit more. Look for a course with assignments and lesson plans to produce, and tutor support. One option is Premier TEFL. They offer various TEFL courses where you need to plan lessons They have an add-on to do live peer teaching of other teachers so you can get some practical teaching, and also hybrid online courses with in-class online classes and teaching practice. Apart from the practical elements, one thing I like about PremierTEFL is that the Director is on social media and responds to issues that teacher trainees have.
You can get discounts on Premier TEFL courses using this link, using the code BF10 for a 10% discount on any course and TEACHONLINE12 for a 12% discount on the hybrid course.
i to i is another high-quality online course with practical elements, including lesson planning and add-ons of practical teaching sessions.
Since Covid19, the most widely recognised TEFL courses have also been offering their courses online. The Cambridge CELTA and Trinity certTESOL both have teaching practice where you plan and deliver lessons online to real classes while your tutor watches and then gives you feedback. Both of these are widely accepted for work abroad as well as online, so if you are thinking of going abroad later, these are a great choices.
Another full online TEFL course with teaching practice is International TEFL Academy, who have excellent post-course support and a wide alumni network. You can download their brochure by clicking on the banner below:
Total disclosure here, these are affiliate links and we get money if you use these. It’s up to you if you do or not. You would be thanking us for the free information, but you can also just use Google as well.
Courses in teaching English online
If you already have a TEFL certificate but you’d like to learn how to teach online, rather than in the classroom, then there are courses you can take.
A good choice is Online English Teacher from TEFL Horizons. With this, you not only get training from experts in online teaching who are also teacher trainers, but you also get a hands-on practicum so you can put what you learn into practice. To find out more about them, you can join one of their free webinars.
If you are already an experienced teacher and you want to transfer to teaching online and just want a self-guided program with no practice, Futurelearn has a four-week course in teaching English online. Kate’s taken this course and it was very useful, especially when she started teaching on Zoom during the Covid lockdown.
Nile Teacher Training Centre has a course in taking your teaching online.
Well-known CELTA and Trinity certTESOL provider, Oxford TEFL, has a 30-hour course in teaching English online for 250 Euros.
Can you teach English online with no experience?
For some online English teaching companies, you need a year’s experience. Some only count actual teaching experience, or even online teaching experience, but others will include any work with students e.g. tutoring or volunteering with kids.
There are companies where you can teach English online with no experience though. However, these days, getting a role with no experience can be tough and you need to make sure this isn’t your only source of income.
Read our New Teachers Tales stories of how teachers all around the world started teaching English.
What equipment do you need to teach English online?
In general, you’ll need a desktop or laptop computer with a spec fast enough to run whatever program you are using to teach online. The big online teaching companies have specifications like Intel i3 processor or above, at least 2-4GB RAM and Windows 7 or higher.
For some companies like Palfish, you can teach just using your mobile phone or tablet.
Fast internet connection
Obviously, to do a video call with a student, you need to have fast enough internet. This might be 10 mbps or 20, depending on the software you are using. We’ve found that it’s often better to teach using an ethanet cable plugged into your router. If you haven’t got stable internet, you could use a portable wifi hotspot, which works using a sim card, or a portable router.
While your laptop or desktop may come with a built-in webcam, the quality might not be as good. If you want a nice crisp picture to look professional to students, then consider investing in a webcam.
Sound is going to be vital for teaching English online, so a good headset is useful, and a requirement for many online companies. Headphones cancel out background noise that could distract you from the students and a good microphone ensures that the students can hear you properly.
Wireless mouse and keyboard
Unless you want to spend hours a day hunched over a computer, it’s a good idea to get a detached keyboard. If you are teaching from a laptop, you need the screen to be far enough away from you to see properly and to be far enough away from the webcam to not be huge on the students’ computers. If you then want to use the computer keyboard, you’ll end up looming towards them and leaning in all the time. A wireless keyboard means you can sit back from the screen.
If you need to apply for a job teaching English online, check out our post on how to write a TEFL c.v. and covering letter.
What are the best online English teaching companies?
Before we start, we need to start that we haven’t worked for any of these companies. We taught English online for the school we worked for before Corona Virus. We do know people who do work for some of these, and we know their reputations from online Facebook groups. We’ve tried to include a range of different types of jobs. We’ve included companies where you can teach English online with no experience, without a degree and to different ages and nationalities.
There are negatives and positives of each company. Some teachers love them, some hate them, others work for them and put up with the negatives. So just to be clear, we aren’t recommending any, they are just ones we know of and that seem to be ok.
These online English teaching companies are not necessarily recruiting now, so you do need to check this before you apply.
EF, or Education First, is a huge teaching company with schools in many countries in the World, including China, Russia, Indonesia and the UK. Their online school has options to teach adults as well as children, both in groups and 1:1. Lessons range from 20 to 45 minutes and materials are provided.
To work for EF Online, you need to be from the USA or the UK, to hold a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate.
Teaching adults pays around $12 an hour, while the kids teaching pays $13-16.
Why teach for English First?
You are from the UK and want to teach adults as well as kids.
If you’d rather teach adults as well as kids, another option is iTutor group. This company works with students worldwide so you aren’t restricted to peak Beijing hours. However, while they have other hours, they do require a minimum of 10 peak hours (Monday to Friday 7.30-8.30pm and 8.30am-8.30pm at weekends. This means that you have to teach at the weekends for iTutor Group.
iTutor Group requires a Bachelor’s degree, TEFL certificate and 1 year teaching experience. You do not nee to be a native English speaker. One of the massive downsides of iTutor Group is their controversial pay policy. Pay rates are based on your location. For teachers in the UK, USA, Australia etc this is ok, but if you are located in most of Asia, Central and South America, pay rates are low.
Why teach for iTutor Group
If you are a non-native speaker based in a well-paid country and/or you want more classes with adults.
English Dom – teaching Ukrainians
English Dom provides lessons to students via Skype, largely to students in Ukraine. Most of the students are adults. Teachers need to take at least 15 hours a week and pay averages at around $600 a month. They accept non-native speakers, particularly Ukrainian-speaking ones.
Why teach for English Dom?
You’re a Ukrainian English teacher wanting to teach adult students.
E-Comm – teaching English online to Japanese students
E-Comm offers jobs teaching English online to Japanese students who are largely business people. They offer 20 hours a week, morning and evening weekdays (Japanese hours) and weekends. Pay is $16-20 an hour. They are very strict with their requirements, needing a minimum of two years’ experience and preferring experience teaching test preparation.
Why teach for E-Comm?
You are an experienced test preparation teacher looking for a job teaching adults. It looks like they also accept teachers without degrees and non-native speakers. In general, Japan accepts non-native speakers to teach there so long as they have 12 years of English education.
Italki – online English teaching platform
Italki is an online English teaching platform where teachers advertise themselves to students. There are two parts: professional teachers and community tutors. To be classed as a professional teacher, you need to prove teaching qualifications, as a community tutor you don’t need any certification at all. To teach English on both you can be a native or non-native speaker as long as you have CEFR C2 English.
Italki isn’t exclusively for English teaching. You can teach all kinds of languages and subjects on there, depending on your specialism.
Tutors set their own rate for lessons and Italki takes 15%.
Why teach for Italki?
You are a non-native speaker with C2 English and want to use your own materials.
Other similar online English teaching platforms which provide tutors for a variety of subjects are Preply and Skyeng.
Similar to Italki, Amazing Talker is an online English teaching platform where they match teachers to students. Students submit request for what kind of tutor they want, and the app matches teachers to them. They can then communicate and decide if they want to work together.
You need to produce your own materials and you set your own fees. Suggested fees are around $15 an hour, although you can increase this if you have a specialism, of which Amazing Talker takes up to 15%. They do require teachers to have experience, but you do not need to be a native speaker. It also doesn’t look like you need a degree.
Like Italki, you can also teach other languages on their online teaching platform.
Why work for Amazing Talker?
You are a non-native speaker with a degree in English and/or you want to teach adults and you have a specialism.
Outschool and Allschool
I’ve put these two together because they seem to have a similar business model. They offer lessons in all kinds of subjects to students, largely children. Teachers offer dance, Spanish, painting and many other things, including ESL You can offer on-off sessions to small groups, or longer programs. You have to be from certain countries to teach on these platforms because there are quite strict background checks but as you get paid per learner that joins your class, you can earn quite a lot by working for them.
Palfish is a mobile phone app. which connects you with English language learners from all over the world. There are two strands:
The Official Kids Program
Here you teach Chinese kids aged 3-12 1:1 via phone or tablet. You need to be a native English speaker from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK or Ireland but you do not need a degree. There is also a Philipines course where teachers from the Philipines can teach too.
Palfish Official kids program has a minimum requirement of 3.5 hours per week during the peak hours from 6-9pm Beijing time during the week and 9am-8.30pm at the weekends. It pays up to $22 an hour, although most teachers earn $10 -18.
This is a program where English language learners call you for conversation practice. Another option is to live stream to groups of students which they pay for. For this program you do not need to be a native speaker or to have a Bachelor’s degree
Why teach for Palfish?
You are a non-native speaker and/or you do not have a degree. You want a flexible job where you do not need a computer etc.
That’s our round up of teaching English online. Whether you are an experienced teacher wanting to start teaching a different way, wanting to teach English online without a degree, or teach English online with no experience, hopefully we’ve provided you with an answer in how to get started.
If you’re an experience online English teacher with a story to tell, get in touch or comment below.
Read more of our posts on teaching English, including country guides and lots more advice.
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