What to expect from teaching English online in 2020

There’s a lot of misinformation and deliberately misleading information out there about teaching English online. Here at The TEFL Org we’re not in the business of making false promises – we want our students to have all the facts because we know that preparation is key.

The online teaching market is one that is full of great opportunities, and for those prepared to put in the work it really can be incredibly rewarding. Our students who have gone on to achieve online teaching success have loved the flexibility it affords them, balancing life as a working mum like Laura; having the funds to travel as a digital nomad like David; and being able to pursue a new path after being furloughed like Poppy.

But we don’t want you to have unreasonable expectations about teaching English online. It would be misleading for us to lead you to believe earning £25 an hour when you’re just starting out is likely. Or that establishing yourself as an online English teacher won’t involve hard work and perseverance!

This article is intended to help you understand the state of the online teaching market in 2020. We’ve written it in the hope that, equipped with the facts, you’ll be better placed to find work teaching English online and join the ranks of successful online teachers like Laura, David, and Poppy!

Is there still demand for online English teachers in 2020?

Yes! 2020 has been an eventful year (to say the least) and more people are learning online than ever before. This change has driven demand for online English teachers, but at the same time there’s never been more interest in teaching online. Unemployment is rising and more and more people are looking for jobs that allow them to work from home.

If you’re considering teaching English online then it’s important to be aware that it is currently a competitive market. You’re not going to find a job as easily as you might have last year, you’re not going to start off earning £20+ an hour, and you’re not going to go straight into earning a full-time wage.

There is work out there, though. If you understand the market and what to expect then you’ll be better placed to get started on the road to online teaching success. The opportunities for teaching English online can be fantastic, but it’s important to not have unrealistic expectations when starting out.

What do you need to teach English online?

The basic requirements

The minimum you need to teach English online is fluency in English and a 120-hour TEFL qualification. But in 2020 just ticking those two boxes may not be enough, unfortunately.

How to boost your chances

Are you a native English speaker? Do you have a degree? Do you have any previous experience teaching English? If the answer is no to any of those questions then you need to think about how you can make your CV stand out as much as possible.

A native English speaker with a degree and some experience under their belt might not find it too hard to find work online with a 120-hour TEFL qualification. But, particularly for non-native speakers and non-degree holders, finding work with a 120-hour qualification alone can be a struggle.

To boost your CV consider a Level 5 course instead, and/or add on advanced training with a course such as our 40-hour Teaching English Online course.

A man teaching English online

Where people go wrong

You can find lots of online teaching groups on Facebook where people are complaining about not being able to find work because of a ‘crowded market’. This can be concerning to read! But it helps to get a bit of perspective on this.

If you have no previous teaching experience but are unwilling to work for less than £15 per hour then you’re going to struggle to find a job. If you’re a non-native speaker who cannot provide evidence of your proficiency in English then you’re going to struggle to find a job. And if your TEFL course cost you £20 from a budget provider that isn’t accredited then you’re going to struggle to find a job.

In our experience, those who have been unable to find work teaching online have either had unreasonable expectations, do not meet the requirements, or are unwilling to put in the work required. Harsh, maybe, but true!

Can you earn a full-time wage teaching English online?  

Yes, you can absolutely earn a full-time wage teaching English online but do not expect to be able to do this immediately.

Online teaching companies don’t usually hire teachers on a full-time basis. Typically, you’ll open up your schedule and students will be able to book a slot. As a new teacher it will take a bit of time to build up a student base and fill up your schedule and it’s really important at this stage to ensure you don’t put a toe out of line.

What do we mean by this? Online companies will penalise teachers for missing lessons, being late, and even for not being available enough. One black mark against your name at the start can be hard to recover from, so be careful!

As you begin building up your reputation and getting good reviews you’ll start filling up your schedule and earning a more stable income. But this doesn’t happen overnight and we don’t recommend putting all your eggs in one basket, which leads us to…

How to get started teaching English online

We would recommend working for an online teaching company to anyone starting out teaching English for the first time. This is the easiest way to get your foot in the door and start building up experience.

It’s also a good idea to work for multiple companies at the same time instead of relying on just one. You’ll be able to work more hours this way and test out which ones work best for you.

The below table lists a number of popular online teaching platforms and their requirements. If you find yourself struggling to secure a job then consider using a platform such as italki or Skima Talk, which are essentially online marketplaces that allow teachers to set their own rate.

You may need to compromise on pay and work for less than is ideal to begin with in order to build up experience, which at this stage must be your priority. The reality is, if you’re new to teaching you’re going to start off on a lower hourly rate and this can be especially true if you’re not a native speaker and/or don’t have a degree.

Hourly rate Degree required Lessons provided Students Min. hours per week TEFL qualification required Accepts non-native speakers Additional requirements
VIPKid £11 - £17.50
($14 - $22)
Yes Yes Children and teenagers 7.5 Yes No US/Canadian accent + citizenship
Palfish £8 - £24
($10 - $30)
No Yes Mainly children 4 Yes Yes Native English + degree for Official Kids programme
EF English First £8 - £13.50
($10 - $17)
Yes Yes All ages None Preferred No UK/US citizenship
Dada £12 - £20
($15 - $25)
Yes Yes Children and teenagers 4 Yes No 1 year teaching experience
Preply* £4 - £35
($5 - $45)
No No All ages 5 Preferred Yes None
SayABC £12 - £22.50
($15 - $28)
Yes Yes Children and teenagers None Preferred No None
Cambly £8 ($10) No No All ages None No No None
QKids £13 - £16
($16 - $20)
Yes Yes Children and teenagers 6 Preferred No US/Canadian citizenship, 2 years’ teaching experience
Landi £13 - £18.50 ($16 - $23) Yes Yes Children and teenagers 10 Preferred No US/UK/Canadian citizens preferred
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
Whales English £11 - £17.50
($14 - $22)
Yes Yes Children and teenagers 8 Yes No Experience teaching children
Magic Ears £16 - £21
($20 - $26)
Yes Yes Children and teenagers 1.5 Preferred No US/Canadian citizenship
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
GoGoKid £11 - £20 ($14 - $25) Yes No Children and teenagers 10 Yes No US/Canadian citizenship, previous teaching experience

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

Online teaching companies vs. going freelance

Online teaching companies will pay you less than freelance teachers can earn. You might compare the potential hourly rates of both and think going freelance is a no-brainer – the earning potential is so much more! But it’s important to first be aware of what online teaching companies actually offer.

As a freelance teacher you’re entirely responsible for marketing yourself and sourcing students. You need to create your own curriculum, lessons, and materials, plan your schedule, and set up systems and tools for delivering lessons. Online teaching companies do all of that for you. All you have to do is deliver lessons – simple.

So, yes, the earning potential for freelance English teachers can be significantly more because you keep 100% of what students pay. There’s a lot of work involved and those willing to put it in can reap the rewards. But it’s not for everyone, and freelance online teaching success doesn’t happen overnight.

A woman teaching English online

A few things to keep in mind

At the end of the day, the online teaching market doesn’t operate all that differently from other industries. The more qualified you are and the more experience you have, the more you’re able to earn. If you go into it aware of the state of the market and understand what to really expect you won’t be disappointed.

Here are a few tips to help you get off to a good start teaching English online:

  • Make sure to do your TEFL course with an accredited and established provider
  • Consider additional training to help you stand out, particularly if you aren’t a native speaker or don’t have a degree
  • Prioritise gaining experience, which may mean working for less than is ideal at the start
  • If you’re a non-native English speaker make sure you have evidence of proficiency, such as an IELTS score
  • Understand that it takes some time to build up hours
  • Persevere!

As always, if you have any questions or need some advice you can get in touch with our knowledgeable TEFL advisers through livechat or by emailing advice@tefl.org.uk.

Are you teaching English online and have tips to share? Comment below with them!

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4 thoughts on “What to expect from teaching English online in 2020

  1. Hello there.
    Excellent information you have shared in this e-mail. It is very helpful to keep all this points in mind for when start my teaching career.

    Thanks a lot.

  2. Thank you for this interesting information; I got my 120 hour from you last year, but have not yet used it (although I have 3 years of ESL teaching). One note from a different reply: I would not want to learn English from a teacher who writes “…keep all this points in mind for when start my teaching career.” Scary!

  3. That was a very useful overview. I am an experienced mentor and teacher, looking for a new way to spread my love of my own language and inspire others, just like Miss Hughes, my primary school English teacher did in the 60’s for me!
    Thank you for making the issues plain and easy to understand.

  4. Is there any chance for non-Native English teachers. I have a TEFL 120 hours Certificate. I have one year experience teaching Business English in Germany. Presently nor getting any more lessons because I don’t speak with an American or British accent. I thought teaching English was about learning the language properly.

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