Interested in teaching English online? Find out everything you need to know – from requirements to where to find work – in our handy guide.

Table of contents

Teaching English Online: The Basics

What does teaching English online involve?

Online TEFL involves teaching English language learners over a video connection. This is often on a one-to-one basis but it’s also possible to teach several students at once.

Teaching English online is a location independent job. It means that you can work from anywhere – as long as you have a good WiFi connection! This can mean working from home or working while you travel the world.

Why teach English online?

There are a lot of great reasons for teaching English online. When you consider the perks it’s no wonder that around a quarter of our course graduates go into teaching online.

Teaching English online allows you to work from anywhere in the world and take command of your own schedule. So, whether you’re looking for a career change or to supplement your existing income with a flexible job, it might just be for you!

It doesn’t come with some of the real pains of working in a classroom. No mounds of paperwork, unruly large classes, or cleaning up after students. And no commute really helps with the work/life balance.

If all this is sounding appealing then keep reading to find out how you can start teaching English online!

Who can do it?

Anyone with a TEFL qualification, a webcam, and reliable WiFi can find work teaching English online. Some restrictions can apply for certain online teaching platforms, but we’ll get into those later.

Where can you work?

Anywhere! As long as you have a WiFi connection it’s possible to teach English online both from the comfort of your own home and while you’re travelling.

Do I need to be a native speaker?

No, it’s possible to find work teaching online as a non-native English speaker. But if we’re completely honest with you it is more difficult.

Don’t let that put you off, though – just be prepared for it! Some online platforms simply won’t accept non-native speakers and others will but you may find that it takes longer than native speakers to build up business.

What do you need to teach English online?

TEFL qualifications

A TEFL qualification is essential to find work teaching English online. Almost all of the major online teaching platforms require teachers to have one.

You want to make sure you have at least a 120-hour TEFL qualification from an accredited course provider. You’re unlikely to find work with a course with fewer hours or a budget course that isn’t properly accredited.

Because teaching English online is a specific type of TEFL teaching, it’s can be very beneficial to take a course that focuses on it. Our 40-hour Teaching English Online course not only covers how to conduct online lessons but also how to set up and promote yourself as an online English teacher.

There’s a huge demand for TEFL teachers online. But if you’re aiming for success then you want to make sure you stand out from the crowd. The better your qualifications the easier that will be.

Equipment

A laptop/computer, a webcam, and a good headset are absolute musts. Your students need to be able to both see and hear you clearly.

Most laptops have in-built webcams, but many won’t be up to scratch for teaching online. This means you’ll need to invest in a good external webcam that can simply be plugged in. You also need to make sure the lighting is good, so sit somewhere well-lit or move around some lamps!

When it comes to headsets it’s really worth paying a little more for a good one. Just think, if a student can’t hear you clearly are they likely to come back to you for more lessons? Make sure to read reviews carefully and ask advice from other online teachers, which you can do over on our Facebook group.

If you’re teaching children then having props is really important. A whiteboard, toys, and flashcards all work great when working with young learners. If you’re aiming to work on one of the big online TEFL platforms teaching young learners then you’ll need to make your ‘virtual classroom’ as fun and appealing as possible.

Other qualifications

Many online teaching platforms require teachers to have a degree. Typically, a degree in any discipline will be accepted, so don’t worry if you don’t have an English or teaching degree.

If you don’t have a degree then you will be shut out of most of the major online TEFL platforms – but don’t despair! There are still options for teaching, you just need to know where to look.

The Online TEFL Market

If you ask us, there’s never been a better time to start teaching English online. There are so many opportunities out there and with so much room for innovation and growth it’s a very exciting area of work to be in right now.

We also love the fact that there’s room in this market for serious and casual teachers alike. If you’re driven, creative, and ambitious then there’s the potential to make some serious money teaching online. But if you’re simply looking to pick up a few hours a week to supplement your existing income then there’s plenty of work for you as well!

Demand 

The online language learning market is predicted to be worth a staggering $10.5 billion by 2025. There are two major factors driving this.

Firstly, the British Council estimates that in 2020 the combined total of English speakers and learners will hit 2 billion. The number of English language learners has been increasing rapidly every single year.

And secondly, last year saw a steep spike in the number of people worldwide who are now online. As of 2019, there were 4.5 billion active internet users – 60% of the world’s population.

With more people learning English and more people getting online, it’s not hard to understand why the online language learning market is booming. There is so much potential for growth and innovation in the industry, which makes it a very exciting time to get started teaching English online!

Here at The TEFL Org we’ve witnessed huge changes in the last decade. The number of platforms teachers can use to find work has positively exploded in recent years and online teaching jobs are frequently posted over on The TEFL Org Jobs Centre.

It’s why we launched our Teaching English Online Advanced TEFL course back in 2016. Over a quarter of our course graduates now go on to teach English online and this is a number we expect to see increase over the coming years.

Teaching online in 2020

2020 looks set to be the best year ever for the online TEFL market. New teaching platforms and opportunities are likely to arise and the demand for qualified EFL teachers will be at a record high.

But as the market evolves changes can take place that don’t benefit everyone.

In early 2019 new legislation brought in by China’s Ministry of Education had serious implications for some EFL teachers. New legislation required companies based in the country to ensure that all their teachers had both a TEFL qualification and a BA degree.

Why did this have such an impact? Well, if you take a look at the online teaching platforms out there you’ll find that most of the major players are based in China. This change has meant that it’s now a lot more difficult for teachers who don’t have a degree to find work teaching English online.

Types of online teaching

Just as there are different types of in-person teaching, there are a variety of online teaching jobs out there. With online teaching you can work with learners of a range of ages and abilities. Some will be learning English for specific purposes, such as business or academia, and others will be more general.

In terms of how teachers work online, there are two main forms and many will do a bit of both.

Working on an online TEFL platform

This is how most people get started teaching English online. Online teaching platforms connect students and teachers, which makes sourcing work simple and straightforward for the teacher.

You need to apply to work on most platforms. This will usually involve filling out an application form and attaching copies of relevant qualifications.

Many will also encourage applicants to upload a video of themselves conducting a mock lesson. Doing this will greatly increase your chances of being successful and there are a lot of examples on YouTube for the major platforms to help you with ideas.

The obvious benefit of working on an online platform is that it does most of the work for you regarding sourcing students. It can be as simple as logging on, indicating that you’re available, and waiting for students to come to you for a lesson.

Another major benefit, particularly for new teachers, is that many of these platforms already have a curriculum and teaching materials in place. This means teachers don’t need to spend time lesson planning outside of the actual lessons they’re getting paid for. It can be a great way to ease yourself into teaching and build up some confidence.

Now onto some of the downsides. Online TEFL platforms will take a commission, which can vary depending on the provider. This is usually around 10-15%, but some will charge more or have different systems in place.

Pre-prepared lessons can be a negative for some teachers. If you’re looking to gain experience lesson planning and bringing more creativity to your lessons then it’s best to avoid sticking only to platforms with set lessons.

Independent teaching

Independent online English teachers source students themselves. Many will have started by using online TEFL platforms and some will continue to do so alongside independent work.

Independent online English teachers will typically have their own website advertising their services. It’s also a good idea to have social media profiles doing the same.

Just like most freelancers, a client base is something you build up over a period of time. While teachers using online TEFL platforms can quite quickly find themselves in a position where they have a full schedule, this isn’t likely for most people working independently.

It’s certainly a lot more work but the benefits can be worth it. Working entirely for yourself means you keep 100% of the money students pay. You also have more control over how much you charge, meaning that you can potentially earn a lot more.

Working independently can be more lucrative and gives online teachers even more freedom when it comes to their working hours. But it’s important to be aware that there’s a lot more work involved – at least in the initial stages.

Teachers are responsible for finding students, which means they need to understand how to market themselves. A good website, social media profiles, and an awareness of channels for promotion are essential. Just what our 40-hour Teaching English Online course helps you with!

The pros and cons of teaching English online

Is teaching English online for you? There are a lot of benefits but here at The TEFL Org we think it’s always best to take an honest and pragmatic approach. With that being said, let’s dive into the pros and cons to help you get a better picture.

The pros 

Flexible working

Teaching English online gives you a lot of control over your own schedule. You can decide when to work, where to work, and how much to work.

A great work/life balance

For many teachers a good work/life balance can feel elusive. But when you’re teaching English online you’re able to choose your hours and make work fit around your life. There’s also no long commutes to work, which helps to make more of your non-working time your own!

Good earning potential

If you’re willing to put in the work there’s good money to be made teaching English online. Even if you’re just starting out it’s possible to make a living teaching online, but with more experience you’ll be able to earn more. Consider specialising and continually building your skills and qualifications in order to increase your earning potential.

It’s a great way to get started in TEFL

If you’re dreaming about teaching English abroad but you don’t feel very confident about your teaching abilities just yet, then teaching online is a great way to ease yourself in. It gives you the opportunity to put into practice what you’ve learned during your TEFL course and build your confidence. It’s also valuable experience that will be looked on favourably when applying for jobs abroad.

The start-up costs are small

Getting started as an online EFL teacher isn’t expensive. Once you have your TEFL qualification, all you need is a computer, webcam, and headset – that’s it! No visa fees, flights, or relocation costs.

You save money

If you’re working from home there are a lot of easy savings to be made. There are no commuting costs and you’re much less likely to be buying lunches and coffees during the day, which all add up!

Take holidays when you want

When you work for yourself you decide when to take a holiday. You can also easily bring work with you and teach alongside travelling!

The cons 

Variable income

When you’re in a salaried job you know exactly how much money you’re going to take home each month. But with online teaching it can vary. One month you could be earning more than you’ve ever earned in your life, the other could be slow. All freelancers have to deal with this, which is why it’s so important to put aside money when the times are good rather than living from paycheque to paycheque.

Loneliness

Working by yourself every day can easily lead to feelings of loneliness. Some people aren’t made for working from home and need the sociability that comes with working in an office. You need to make the effort to get out of the house regularly to avoid feeling cooped up and see people who aren’t on the screen in front of you.

Staying healthy

Working from home usually means you’re moving a lot less than if you were commuting to and from a workplace everyday. It can be so easy to complete a full work week without moving much at all, so you need to be careful of this. Build exercise into your daily routine and make sure you’re getting outside and experiencing some fresh air regularly!

The danger of always working

While teaching English online can offer a great work/life balance some people struggle to switch off. It can be easy to get into the habit of feeling like you should always be working and have it hang over you during your time off. Having a good routine helps avoid this, clearly separating work time and you time.

Slow to start

It’s unlikely (and inadvisable) to quit a full-time job and expect to instantly be able to make a full-time wage from teaching English online. It can take a bit of time to build up a full timetable of classes. Remember, students are looking for the best teachers, so why would they all flock to someone new on the scene for lessons?

Tech issues

The bane of the lives of all online English teachers. The fact is tech issues – whether it’s your equipment going on the blink or your WiFi failing you – will inevitably cost you money at some point or other as an online teacher. All you can do is minimise the risk of this happening.

Unreliable students

Different platforms have different ways of dealing with this – as do independent teachers. If a student cancels a lesson last-minute you may not get a penny on some platforms, on others you might be partially compensated, and some will still pay the full cost. It’s worth investigating a platform’s policy on this before signing up and reading reviews. Independent teachers need to make sure they have a cancellation policy in place to avoid being out of pocket.

Working late/early

The biggest demand for online English lessons comes from China. This means that the peak times for teaching will vary depending on where in the world you are. If you’re based in Europe then peak times fall around mid-morning to mid-afternoon, which can be ideal. However, if you’re in North America these hours fall in the very early hours, from around 3am to 8am – less convenient!

Online teaching platforms

10 Online TEFL platforms

To help give you an idea of what’s out there we’ve taken a look at 10 different online TEFL platforms. This is just a small sample of what’s out there – new platforms are appearing regularly – but this takes a look at many of the major players in the industry.

These platforms all have different ways of operating, different requirements, and different rates of pay. What works well for one teacher might not suit another, so it’s a good idea to trial a few different platforms rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.

EF English First

EF are unique in this list because they’re the only organisation that offer jobs abroad as well as online. There are 580 EF schools in 120 different cities across the globe and they have been running online classes for over 20 years.

Teaching online with EF offers you the opportunity to teach both adults and kids. They only recruit teachers eligible to work in the UK and USA. If you’re based in the USA then you’ll be employed as an independent contractor, while UK teachers are taken on as employees.

Requirements: BA degree, TEFL qualification, UK/US citizen
Salary: Up to £12 per hour
Commission: none

italki

italki is a huge platform offering over 5 million students a wide range of language lessons – not just English. It operates more like a social media platform than the others on this list and you have complete control over you own schedule and how much you charge.

When you sign up there are two options to choose from: Professional Teacher and Community Tutor. To be a Professional Teacher you will need at least a TEFL qualification, while there are no requirements for Community Tutors other than fluency in English.

Requirements: Native or C2 level proficiency in English, BA degree OR TEFL qualification
Salary: You set your rate
Commission: italki takes a 15% commission

VIPKid

VIPKid is a platform focused on providing English lessons to Chinese children between the ages of 4 and 12. The requirements for teaching with VIPKid are strict and the hiring process involves conducting a demo lesson that determines your base rate (between $7 and $9 per 25 minute class).

Since a curriculum is already in place there is very little prep work involved for teachers. You’re told what to teach and given slides in advance so you can prepare any props you might need. And VIPKid is reportedly great for bonuses, which can really help to bump up teachers’ hourly rates.

Requirements: A BA degree, US or Canadian citizen (or eligible to work in these countries), 1 year of teaching experience
Salary: $14-22 per hour
Commission: None

Cambly

Cambly is a platform that focuses largely on conversational English practice. Unlike many of the platforms on this list, teachers using Cambly regularly work with students from all over the world, not just in China.

Pay is calculated on a per minute basis, with teachers able to earn up to $10.20 per hour. The salary is relatively low but work is extremely flexible. One thing teachers seem to particularly love about the platform is that they get to have lots of interesting conversations with people from all around the globe.

Requirements: Fluency in English
Salary: $0.17 per minute ($10.20/hour)
Commission: None

SayABC

SayABC’s interactive platform really maximises the potential for fun in the online classroom. Teachers can utilise games, different types of media, and various other tools.

It’s possible to teach up to 4 students at once with SayABC. This is a bit different from other platforms and there can be a bit of a learning curve involved with teaching 4 different students in an online classroom.

Requirements: Native English speaker, BA degree, TEFL certificate, 1 year teaching experience desirable
Salary: Up to £15 per 40 minute lesson
Commission: None

PalFish

Palfish is an app with a focus on young learners, but there are opportunities to teach older students as well. Because the platform is an app no computer is needed – everything is done on your phone or tablet.

Teaching materials are pre-prepared and teachers are able to set their own rates, with PalFish taking a 20% cut. Many teachers report it to be an easy and convienent way of earning money.

Requirements: PalFish have two different programmes. Free Talk: open to non-native English speakers, no qualifications required. Official Kids Course: Native English speaker, TEFL qualification, US/Canada/UK/Ireland/Australia passport
Salary: Up to £16.80 per hour
Commission: Up to 20% on Free Talk lessons

Lingoda

Lingoda offer very flexible working hours and provide all the learning materials you need, which means no prep time for teachers.

While Lingoda maintains high requirements for their EFL teachers, the pay is low compared to other platforms. But the big advantage of the platform is the flexibility – there are no minimum hours and you can easily choose when to work and when not to work.

Requirements: C2 or above level of English, TEFL qualification, 2 years teaching experience
Salary: £6-£7.60 per hour
Commission: None

QKids

As the name suggests, QKids is a platform focused on teaching young learners. This means that they look specifically for energetic teachers who have the ability to effectively engage children.

Teaching materials are provided and teachers need to commit to a minimum of 6 hours a week. If you love working with children then it’s a great option for teaching young learners.

Requirements: Eligible to work in the US or Canada, BA degree, TEFL certificate
Salary: $16-$20 per hour
Commission: None

DaDa

DaDa is a company based in Shanghai and operates similarly to companies like VIPKid and QKids.

You’ll need to commit to teaching a minimum of 2 hours for 2 days a week working with DaDa. While teachers are able to set their own schedules this has to be done six months in advance and 30 days notice is required to make any changes. Salary is determined by your performance during the initial interview and training period, and are only reviewed after 12 months. So it really can pay to put in some hard work at the beginning!

Requirements: Native English speaker, BA degree, TEFL qualification, clean criminal background check, 1-2 years teaching experience desirable
Salary: $15-25 per hour (your rate will initially be set based on your performance in your demo class)
Commission: None

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