How to become an online English teacher
Over the past couple of years, the opportunities for an online English teacher have exploded, with many companies catering to Chinese students, but also opportunities in teaching English online to Japanese students and Russian students, as well as companies focused on other nationalities. It’s possible to teach English online without a 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 the last couple of months, with Coronavirus worldwide, online English teaching jobs have exploded. Teachers worldwide have been forced to move online, some working for their old schools but others searching for online English teaching companies. 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 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 where you are, so a company where you can teach English online without a degree might be a good option.
What are the different types of online English teaching jobs?
Working for a big online English teaching company
Most of the adverts you see online on social media are for the big online teaching companies catering to Chinese children. These schools provide their own materials to teach from, with lessons lasting for 20-40 minutes to groups of 1-4.
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. Those that teach Chinese children have classes during peak Beijing hours – weekday evenings Beijing time and all day weekends.
Most of these online English teaching platforms require a TEFL certificate, although some will provide one if you are accepted. 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 to teach 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 peak Chinese hours. They also do not restrict by passport or location. 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. Ours is one of them and we currently teach classes using Zoom. It’s highly likely that many of them will continue having an online arm, even after the schools reopen. Some schools had this before. I know that British Council schools in some cities also offered online classes.
If you are already working for a company who’ve moved online, this could be an option for future. Some will probably recruit more staff so that’s something to look out for.
Setting up your own online English teaching business
If you are confident and don’t want to work for a company, 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.
People teach online using a variety of platforms, so you can set up online with video chat programs like Skype or Zoom, and/or with messenger apps like Whatsapp.
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 $12-25 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. The big online teaching companies catering to Chinese kids (see below) need a degree, because it’s a government requirement. As with English teachers in brick and mortar Chinese schools, online English teachers need to hold a Bachelor’s degree in any subject.
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. 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.
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.
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.
We have an extensive blog post on what TEFL qualification you should do but as this is a post specifically about teaching online, the recommendations are slightly different.
For face to face teaching jobs, we strongly recommend doing a TEFL course which includes real teaching practice, as it will make you a more effective teacher in the classroom. For online work, it isn’t so important. You can get a job teaching English online with an online TEFL qualification.
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. There are also companies that will put you through their own TEFL course while you start teaching with them.
Online TEFLs range in price from less than $20 to $500+. How much to pay depends on what you want to get out of it. If you want a quick tick box course which can be completed in a matter of hours, then pay a small amount. You won’t learn much at all with this though. If you want to learn something to help you be a decent teacher, do practice lesson plans and assignments and get some tutor contact and support, pay a bit more.
We have a whole blog post on what to look for in an online TEFL course. To summarise:
If you just want a piece of paper, for example, if you are already an experienced kids teacher with a teachers’ license and the TEFL is just to satisfy the online English teaching company, or you have lots of teaching experience but no certificate, then you can take the course from the International Open Academy which is currently 19 Euros. By the sounds of things, it can be done in less than a day with multiple choice quizzes, and the answers can be found online.
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.
ITTT have a 170 hour TEFL course, with 120 hour TEFL certificate (the industry standard) and a 50-hour add-on course in teaching English online – $369 with tutor support (recommended) or $289 without. You can get a 15% discount through our link (we get some money too for this).
Total disclosure here, these are affiliate links and we get money if you use these. Up to you if you do.
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.
Futurelearn has a four-week course in teaching English online. Kate’s taken this course and it was very useful, especially now she teaches on Zoom.
Nile Teacher Training Centre has a course in taking your teaching online, which is currently free until the end of May.
International Open Academy, mentioned above, has a course in teaching English online, as well as their TESOL course. This one is also 19 Euros
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 that where you can teach English online with no experience though.
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 teach 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, not just list all the companies aimed at Chinese children. 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.
VIP Kid – teaching Chinese children online
VIP Kid provides 1:1 English language lessons to Chinese children. It’s one of the biggest and best-known online English teaching companies. Pay ranges from $15-22 an hour and they require a 6-month commitment. VIP Kid only employs teachers who are in the USA or Canada, but this doesn’t include teachers based in California for some legal reason.
You need a Bachelor’s degree and a teachers’ license or a TEFL certificate. You also need 2 years of teaching experience; this can include tutoring, volunteering etc. Our friend’s sister works for them and is happy so far.
Why teach for VIP Kid?
If you are from the USA or Canada with teaching experience and want to teach small kids 1:1
Another option for potential online English teachers based in the USA or Canada is Magic Ears. Again, they require a 6-month commitment, and the pay structure means that you can earn $18-26 an hour. Classes range from 1-4 students and classes are 25 minutes long.
You need a Bachelor’s degree and TEFL certificate and they want you to have some ESL online teaching experience.
Magic Ears assigns students to open slots. There is no minimum for how many slots you need to open at Magic Ears, although they recommend 10 and if you open peak slots (Monday – Friday 7pm-8.30pm, Weekends 9am-8.30pm) you are more likely to get bookings.
Why teach for Magic Ears?
There is no minimum of classes to teach, so it’s flexible, and they have a lenient cancellation policy.
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 Russian speakers
English Dom provides lessons to students via Skype, largely to students in Russia, Ukraine etc. 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 Russian-speaking ones.
Why teach for English Dom?
You’re a Russian or Ukrainian English teacher wanting to teach adult students.
Want to teach English in Russia? Read our post on the pros and cons of different jobs there.
E-Comm – teaching English online to Japanese students
E-Comm offers jobs teaching English online to Japanese students who are largely business men. 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.
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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