How To: Teach English Online to Adults

Working with children simply isn’t for everyone, so if you’re considering teaching English online you might be wondering what the options are for teaching adults. It’s true that many of the big players in the industry cater towards teaching children, but there’s still plenty of work to be found teaching adults!

Just as you’d expect, teaching English online to adults is very different to teaching young learners. They have different needs, expectations, and approaches to language learning, which teachers need to be conscious of and accommodate to.

If you’re aiming to teach English online to adults then there are three areas you need to get clued up on before you start:

  1. The qualifications and experience you need
  2. What types of lessons in demand
  3. Where to find jobs

So, let’s dive in!

What you need

Obviously, fluency in English is absolutely essential, but there are a few other things you’ll need if you’re going to get started teaching adults online.

TEFL qualification

Whether you’re aiming to teach English online or abroad you’ll need a TEFL qualification. With most employers requiring applicants to have a 120-hour TEFL qualification, it’s advisable to make sure your training includes at least these hours. And that you gain it from an accredited TEFL course provider.

Further TEFL qualifications, like those specifically focused on Teaching English Online and Teaching Business English, can help to give your CV a boost. These qualifications aren’t usually an essential requirement, but they can help you get off to a strong start and stand out to potential clients and employers.

Other requirements

While a TEFL qualification is required by most online employers, some will have additional requirements. This can include a BA degree (usually in any discipline), specific experience (this can be common for Business English jobs), being of a particular nationality, and more. It’s important to check out these requirements before applying for positions.

Equipment

The great thing about teaching English online is that the start-up costs are low. All you need is a computer, webcam, headset, and a good WiFi connection and you’re good to go!

A woman on her laptop


Types of online teaching

When it comes to teaching adults there are certain types of lessons that are particularly popular. Developing expertise in these areas will help you to attract more clients and increase your earning potential.

Conversational English

Many English language learners don’t have the opportunity in classes or in their day-to-day lives to converse extensively in English, which is why this type of lesson is particularly popular. Conversational lessons help the student to increase their confidence and gain experience speaking practical English.

Business English

English is the language of international business, so it’s no wonder there’s demand for these types of lessons. Businesspeople may be looking to improve their English language skills in order to get ahead at work, or perhaps they have upcoming meetings or trips that will involve speaking English that they want to prepare for. Business English can be a lucrative area of TEFL but keep in mind it usually involves a lot of preparation work, as these lessons have to be specifically tailored to a client’s needs.

Test preparation

There are a variety of tests an English language learner may need to prepare for. The most common are the IELTS and Cambridge Proficiency exams, which learners take in order to have a certificate proving their language ability. They may be required to do this in order to live and work in an English-speaking country, for a job, or for education reasons. Teachers specialising in this area need to thoroughly understand the structure of the exams and how they’re assessed in order to help their students prepare.

Webinar this Thursday

Join TEFL tutor Carl this Thursday at 1pm BST for a webinar about the different types of online lessons. From conversational classes to exam preparation, he’ll be giving you an insight into what’s involved and the opportunities out there.

Register to get a reminder here!

The pros of teaching English to adults

1. They want to learn

In the vast majority of cases adult learners are there because they want to be. With children you have to put in a lot of work to make sure they stay engaged and motivated, but that’s not (usually) an issue with adult learners.

In the vast majority of cases adult learners are there because they want to be. With children you have to put in a lot of work to make sure they stay engaged and motivated, but that’s not (usually) an issue with adult learners.

2. You can have more interesting conversations

It’s quite common to hear English teachers talk about what they’ve learned from their students. As you’re teaching someone from another part of the world you’ll also be getting to know about them, their culture, and discover what common interests you may have.

3. Teaching material can be more interesting

Many adult learners will have a more advanced level of English than the children you would typically be teaching online. This means that the material can be a lot more interesting for you, which makes the job that much more enjoyable. You also have a lot more freedom in the sort of materials and resources you can use with adults, particularly if you’re not bound to a set curriculum.

4. Higher earning potential

Most of the opportunities for teaching children are with online companies. This makes sense because safety and security online is so important when it comes to teaching children, but it does mean that a hefty cut of what parents are paying goes to the company. When you’re teaching adults you have the option to go out on your own and find clients, which means you keep 100% of the fee charged.

a woman with a notepad on her laptop


The cons of teaching English to adults

1. Demanding

Adults know what they want from classes and they also want to ensure they’re progressing. Their expectations are going to be a lot higher than a child’s, so you’ll likely need to provide a lot more feedback and insight into the lessons you’re offering.

2. They have busy lives

Lack of time can be a big problem for adult learners, who will often be taking lessons on top of a full-time job. This means they may not always be able to commit the ideal amount of time to the language learning process, which is something you will need to be conscious of. For example, when it comes to homework it can be a good idea to stick to short exercises and tasks, which they can more easily fit into breaks or lunches.

3. More self-conscious

Adult learners are often much more self-conscious than younger learners, which can be a real barrier to effective language learning. This is often a bigger problem when adults are in a class and worrying about making mistakes in front of others, but even in a one-to-one situation it can be an issue. A good teacher will help to build a students’ self-esteem as well as their language ability.

4. Often more prep needed

If you’re working for an online company teaching children then, in a lot of cases, the lessons are pre-made for you. This is often not the case with adults and even if you are working for an online company a degree of tailoring will likely be needed. So, while it’s true you can earn a lot more teaching English online to adults with that does come a lot more prep work!

Where to find online jobs teaching adults

When you’re teaching English online you can work for an online company/teaching platform or go independent (or do a combination of both!). If you’re working independently then you’ll have to source clients and really understand how to market yourself – we’ve got some great tips here to help you get started.

The best way to get started teaching online and build up your experience is to work for an online company or advertise using an online marketplace. The companies listed in the table below all offer the opportunity to teach English to adults and you can easily see their requirements and how much you can earn.

Hourly rate Degree required Lessons provided Students Min. hours per week TEFL qualification required Accepts non-native speakers Additional requirements
EF English First £8 - £13.50
($10 - $17)
Yes Yes All ages None Preferred No UK/US citizenship
Preply* £4 - £35
($5 - $45)
No No All ages 5 Preferred Yes None
Cambly £8 ($10) No No All ages None No No None
iTutorGroup £4 - £19.50
($5-$24)
Yes Yes All ages 10 Yes Yes Teaching experience preferred
Open English £10.50 - £12
($13 - $15)
No Yes Teenagers and adults 10 Preferred No Previous teaching experience, Spanish/Portuguese skills preferred
Skima Talk* £8 - £13
($10 - $16)
No No Teenagers and adults 15 Preferred No None
Verbling* £14.50 - £22.50
($18 - $28)
No No All ages 5 Preferred No Previous teaching experience
Lingoda £6.50 - £10.50
($8 - $13)
Yes Yes Adults 5 Yes No 2 years’ teaching experience
Learnlight £7 - £9
($9 - $11)
No No All ages 10 Preferred Yes Two years’ teaching experience
Italki* £2.50 - £28
($3 - $35)
No No All ages None Preferred Yes Degree OR TEFL qualification required to be a Professional Teacher
TwoSigmas** £16 - £24 ($20 - $30) Yes No All ages 5 Yes Yes None

*Online marketplace. Teachers set their own rates.
**TwoSigmas is a recruiting agency able to match teachers with online teaching jobs.

Interested in finding out more about teaching English online? See our definitive guide for more helpful info.

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4 thoughts on “How To: Teach English Online to Adults

  1. Hi there
    Thank you for the interesting information on teaching adults. I am in the medical profession and want to help medical staff with improving their “Medical-English” – can you recommend any links or contacts. I have lectured clinical pharmacology for the past 30 years and am now working from home in the UK.

    1. That’s great Jacqueline! Many healthcare professionals are required to sit the Occupational English Test (OET) to work in countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand, so they will often complete an OET preparation programme at a language school, take an online course and/or sign up for lessons with an online English teacher. You can find more information on what the test involves, sample papers and preparatory materials on the OET website

    2. Hi Jacqueline,

      I teach individuals in the medical field quite regularly – I have a couple of nurses and an aneasthetist on my books currently. As you’d expect, they don’t necessarily need to discuss medical terminology but are more focused on sounding more native by using common medical phrasal verbs and idioms for example. I often ask students to describe patient scenarios/what happens in the event of particular health issues as well as more typical Business English such as how to deal with colleagues/patients in different situations. As with most adults, it needs to be a bespoke approach and I often decide the lesson material in collaboration with the student.

  2. I have always worked offline before teaching English and in these challenging times I am indeed finding it hard to find work online. I have uploaded my CV to different companies but it is very competitive. From my experience as a language assistant and language counsellor I think teaching conversational English would be the best route to go on.

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