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Tutoring English Online with 51Talk

In no time, 51Talk became one of the most popular English learning platforms on the net in China and the Philippines, even going public on the NYSE – but what’s in it for TEFL teachers?

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When an English teaching company can list itself on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), you know it’s probably doing something right; say hello to 51Talk, a leading online education platform that did just that after rapid growth.

The online English teaching sphere is full of success stories. Perhaps 51Talk’s modus operandi - providing simple learning solutions for Chinese children - was always going to be successful. With China providing the biggest audience worldwide for young English learners, providing a user-friendly infrastructure that’s popular with both teachers and students was a surefire way to grow a business, and so it proved.

In the initial stages, 51Talk was a platform primarily for Filipino teachers teaching Chinese children. However, with changes to legislation in China barring tutoring for under-16s, and expansion of the 51Talk brand, it’s now a more global business, with plenty of North American teachers doing most, if not all, of their online teaching through the company.

So what does 51Talk have to offer teachers? Who’s using the platform, what’s the 51Talk salary like, and how are classes conducted? What do you need - beyond a strong internet connection - to make the most of 51Talk?

Let’s answer all those questions and more!

51Talk: An Overview

When Jack Huang started 51Talk in 2011, the original idea was to connect Filipino teachers, who Huang believed were “perfect” for online English teaching, to Chinese students under the age of 12, for conversational English classes over the internet. Why Filipino teachers in particular? Huang insisted that their English proficiency and friendly nature made them ideal for this role.

Over 100 million classes later, however, and 51Talk has expanded. The service now uses tutors from across the USA, Canada and the Philippines, and serves over 50 countries and regions, with 40 million users served. As well as one-to-one classes, there’s the HAWO online education platform for group classes.

Incredibly, 51Talk went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2016, although it was delisted in May 2023. This didn’t just show the growth of this online English education platform, it exemplified an ability to make headlines. The company would continue to do so through partnerships with Highlights, Oxford University Press, Pearson, Cambridge University Press and the American International School of Utah.

Nowadays, the company’s mission is emphatic: empower children to learn, and be recognised as a “highly respectable online education platform for centuries”.

What are the requirements to teach with 51Talk?

If you believe you have the core expertise and ability in English teaching to make a difference through 51Talk, their roster of teachers is ever-growing. There are very specific criteria for those who want to teach through this leading online English education platform, however, so let’s get into some detail.

Bachelor's degree 

You will need a bachelor’s degree to teach English online on 51Talk. Generally speaking, degrees in English, English Literature or any education-related degree is preferred. You will need to provide a scan of your degree certificate during the application process.

Don’t despair if you’re not a graduate; there are loads of fantastic ways to teach English online without a degree!

TEFL certification

You will need a TEFL certificate of at least 120 hours to be considered for a role with 51Talk. Completion of a TEFL course indicates not only the skills you need to conduct a lesson and support students but also the determination and understanding of the industry to be a top TEFL educator. The job requirements of most online English teaching companies will include a TEFL qualification. 

TEFL courses including CELTA, CertTESOL, DELTA, DipTESOL, and MA TESOL are all accepted.

Native/non-native 

Interestingly, 51Talk started as a platform that wasn’t for native speakers of English at all - only Filipino teachers with an exceptional grasp of the English language. However, the company has changed, and now 51Talk will generally only hire native speakers with a “neutral” accent.

Experience

To teach through 51Talk, you will need to demonstrate specific classroom experience which shows your English language teaching ability. You will need experience in either the Canadian or American education systems if you are an applicant from either country. Furthermore, you need to have experience in tutoring or teaching, and if you have a teaching licence, that is accepted either instead of, or in conjunction with, a TEFL qualification. If you don't have job experience as a teacher, don't despair, as there are lots of places to teach English online with no experience.

Other requirements

Along with relevant qualifications and teaching experience, you will need to meet a list of technological requirements for your home office or teaching setup. For the most rewarding experience of teaching in your own home, your computer (Mac or PC) will need to be recent and up-to-date with its software, to fully enable the virtual classroom experience. You’ll need a strong internet connection, a webcam, a noise-cancelling headset, and a quiet environment to teach in. Most 51Talk teachers work from their own homes, as is generally the case with online teaching.

You’ll also need to be flexible, as the majority of classes with young learners, particularly Chinese students, happen at specific times. On weekdays these peak times are Eastern Standard Time 6AM - 10AM, 5AM - 9AM Central, Mountain Standard Time 4AM - 8AM, and Pacific Standard Time 3AM - 7AM. In Hawaii, the peak times are 1AM - 5AM. This is different during the weekends: for those using EST, 9PM - 10AM, 8PM - 9AM CST, MST is 7PM - 8AM, PST is 6PM - 7AM and finally, Hawaii’s peak time is 4PM - 5AM.

On HAWO, you need to commit to 10 hours of group teaching time per week, including weekends, for 10-week blocks.

Download our teaching English online guide

51Talk: Job description

Depending on whether you teach on 51Talk or the sister site HOWA, your job will be slightly different. On 51Talk, 25-minute one-to-one classes are the norm, whereas group lessons on HOWA take 45 minutes. That, generally speaking, is where the differences end; either way, your goal is to teach the English language to students from around the world, from young learners to adult learners.

An important note here is that students will pick you, either by reading reviews or by using AI-generated tutor recommendations. These recommendations are based on the course that a student wishes to undertake, as well as specific traits and preferences.

Lessons and teaching materials are provided, but you will of course need to study and prepare beforehand, so you can meet the learning outcomes of your students. Lessons are conducted over 51Talk/HOWA’s video conferencing platform, although QQ and Skype are used in the event of the platform not working.

You’ll need to create memos for students, detailing the positives of a class, what a student has learned, and what they can work on for next time. Regular communication with students, whether they’re young learners or more advanced, is important; when students book with you, they’re booking a course, and not just one-off lessons. Their progress reflects on your teaching abilities, and the incentive of performance-based bonuses ought to keep teachers motivated!

How much can you earn teaching English with 51Talk?

Before we get into figures, it’s best to explain the hierarchy system in play at 51Talk for teachers.

There are different tiers of teachers on 51Talk, and the higher your level, the more you earn per lesson:

  • Starting Teacher
  • Newly Qualified Teacher
  • Junior Teacher
  • Senior Teacher A
  • Senior Teacher B
  • Master Teacher A
  • Master Teacher B

During your interview, you’ll discuss which tier you start at with a 51Talk employee, based on your qualifications and experience.

Salary

With your tier in mind, the teach English online salary you can earn with 51Talk depends on a few different factors, and it’s important to bear in mind that location is hugely important when it comes to money. As a leading English learning platform in the Philippines, and with the nation’s low cost of living (compared with nations including Canada and the United States), salaries that are industry-leading in one region may not seem as impressive in others.

For basics, though, let’s start with what American and Canadian teachers can expect on 51Talk; a standard rate, according to research, is between $18-$22/£14-£17 for 45 minutes of teaching (one group class on HOWA, or two consecutive lessons on 51Talk). 

51Talk insists that Filipino teachers can earn as much as PHP 80,000 ($1,439/£1,140) per month on the platform, from the comfort of their own homes. That amount constitutes a reasonable monthly teaching English online salary. 

However, some 51Talk reviews dispute these claims, and say there’s a far less stable income on offer. According to these reviews, if you’re a native English speaker your pay will be less than what a Filipino teacher will receive. Pay can vary, and it’s important to talk about the pay and support available with 51Talk. 

The application process

While the pay structure at 51Talk may be hard to fully comprehend at first, the application process for actually getting a teaching job isn’t quite as complex. 

The first step is to click on the “sign up” button. Here, you’ll fill out a pretty standard application form, detailing your career to date. If you meet the requirements and have all the qualifications you need, you’ll be asked to complete a demonstration of your teaching abilities.

This live demo will be in the form of a class, given to a member of staff at 51Talk. Remember to prepare a lesson plan, and remain engaged with your audience, using physical movement and an encouraging tone to keep things moving along nicely. If your demo class goes well, you’ll be invited to an orientation session. Here, you can ask about salary and support, submit some more forms, and sign an agreement with 51Talk.

Finally, you’ll receive job training. This includes learning about company policies, the teaching interface and the basics of how to conduct classes through 51Talk. After that, you’re off and running, and you can teach your first class or student and earn money!

What to consider before you start 

So now we know what kind of money is on offer with 51Talk, we know about the application process, we know the requirements teachers must meet, and we know about the actual task of teaching students on the platform. What else does a teacher need to know before teaching students on 51Talk?

Technology

The technology you have is particularly important on 51Talk. Be sure to re-read the requirements section if you have any doubts about either the hardware or software available to you. If you’re unsure about how recent your computer is, you can consult the serial number, and do a quick search on Google.

Though it can seem like an expensive outlay, making the call to pay for up-to-date equipment usually means there’s far less scope for something to go wrong with a class. Students won’t be impressed if there’s a bad connection, or a class doesn’t run smoothly. 

Pros and cons 

Let’s talk about the pros and cons of 51Talk from a teacher’s point of view. Every company and platform has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and 51Talk is, of course, no different.

Pros

  • Flexibility: Though there is a 10-hour minimum, 51Talk does offer a level of flexibility, one of the key plusses of any online English teaching role.
  • Room to grow: With tiered rankings for teachers, and training given upon request, there is room for teachers to progress and complete some career development. Learning new skills is always a good thing!
  • Teaching materials provided: Don’t worry about lesson planning or learning a complex curriculum - teaching materials are provided for you. Just focus on fun lessons for students who are learning English with you!
  • Salary: The top rates of pay at 51Talk compare well with other teaching companies and platforms.

Cons

  • Peak times are crucial: Though flexibility is afforded, your ability to work during peak hours will really make or break your teaching experience on 51Talk.
  • Confusing pay structure: The structure for payment, with employees structured into tiers, is a little hard to grasp at first.
  • Creative limitations: Fine, teaching materials are provided, but you may feel a tad stifled if you’re a creative teacher.
  • Support staff: Reviews for 51Talk aren’t always enthusiastic about the support network you have as a teacher. That could be an issue if you run into problems.
  • Strict requirements: If you don’t have experience or a degree, and you aren’t Filipino or a native English speaker from Canada or the USA, you can’t teach on 51Talk.

Reviews

So how fun is it to work for 51Talk? Whether you’re teaching an individual student or a small class, what’s it like having a job on this leading China-based English learning platform?

On Indeed, 51Talk is rated 3.3 out of 5, from over 600 reviews. In the main, it’s the consequences of no-shows and missed classes that earn the most ire from teachers working on the platform, with penalties being almost universally described as overly harsh. However, there’s a lot of credit for 51Talk as a platform for newer teachers - even though you need experience to get started.

Meanwhile, Glassdoor has a slightly lower rating of 3.1 out of 5 from nearly 3,000 reviews. Job flexibility, upward career momentum and the pay earned some praise, although the support staff and - again - the harsh penalties for missing classes earned severe condemnation across a high number of reviews.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. How much does 51Talk pay in the Philippines?

    51Talk says that Filipino teachers can earn as much as PHP 80,000 ($1,439/£1,140) per month through a teaching job. However, not every teacher will earn this much, as there is a tiered system based on qualifications and experience. 

  • Q. Does teaching English online pay well?

    Teaching English online can pay very well, depending on the platform/company, your level of experience, and how many hours of teaching you can conduct during a week.

  • Q. What are the levels of 51Talk teachers?

    The levels for teachers on 51Talk are as follows: Starting Teacher, Newly Qualified Teacher, Junior Teacher, Senior Teacher A, Senior Teacher B, Master Teacher A and Master Teacher B.

  • Q. What are the steps in to applying 51Talk?

    First, fill out an application form. If that passes muster, a teacher will be asked to do a teaching demonstration. If they pass this stage, they move on to orientation and training. After that, they can teach a small class or a student.