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Tutoring English Online with italki

italki offers flexibility and choice for both teachers and students. The Hong Kong-based platform has seen a rapid rise in recent years, and its social media beginnings are a big reason.

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With so many language learning platforms opening up online, it’s sometimes hard to know where the real quality is. Where can qualified teachers and eager students meet online for 1-to-1 lessons? Enter italki.

The Hong Kong-based platform has, much like Preply and Cambly, become a real force over recent years. With the Covid-19 pandemic all but putting a stop to in-person teaching, online learning giants hoovered up much of the shortfall, including italki. However, even before the pandemic, italki could boast of over 3 million eager language learners using their service, along with over 5,000 teachers. 

Encouraging numbers for the Hong Kongese platform, and matriculation has only increased. italki teaches a range of languages, including Japanese, Arabic and Hindi. Still, its English offering in particular has offered a route to self-sufficiency for qualified TEFL teachers across the globe.

The kind of career you will have on italki depends on your teaching style, the qualifications you have, and the kind of teaching experience you have on your CV.

Let’s get into what makes italki such a distinct platform, and compare it to its competitors in the ever-growing online teaching market.

italki Overview

Founded in 2006, italki originally began as something of a social media platform. The idea was to meet others online for language exchange - you teach someone in your language, someone teaches you in their language. A worthy cause, sure, but it didn’t take long for italki to read the market trends and become something bigger.

In 2008, italki expanded into an online teaching platform. Still early days, relatively speaking, the idea of paying for language lessons online was still in its ascent. Then, over the following decade, italki was able to find investment globally and acquire other growing language learning platforms, such as Lingbe. 

Now, of course, italki is a very well-established online teaching platform, offering a range of different language lessons for varying degrees of proficiency. If you’re looking for casual work as an italki teacher, providing conversation practice for people learning English, you can absolutely do that. If you’re a qualified teacher with some experience on your CV, and you’re looking to expand your career through online media, italki also functions well for that purpose. 

TEFL teachers on italki can work as a ‘Community Tutor’ or a ‘Professional Teacher’, which is a key difference for qualified TEFL teachers. A Professional Teacher will meet different requirements from that of a Community Tutor, the latter of which generally provide conversational practice as opposed to using a curriculum. To be a Professional Teacher, you’ll need to meet a different set of requirements. This includes holding a degree, a TEFL certificate and some teaching experience. You’ll be paid more as a Professional Teacher, and the demands from students will be higher. A Community Tutor doesn’t have to meet those kinds of requirements, which we’ll go on to cover, but still has a valuable role in helping English learners use conversational English and grow in confidence.

So, what do you need to get started with italki? Let’s explore!

What are the requirements to teach with italki? 

The requirements you need to start tutoring on italki depend on what kind of experience you want to have on the platform, and your teaching style.

For the purposes of this section, we’ll first clear up what you need to be either a Community Tutor or Professional italki Teacher. You must be over the age of 18, either native-level or equivalent to C2 level at your teaching language - in this case, English. Like other platforms, you’ll need to record a 1-3 minute long video covering what you’re going to be teaching, and what your approach to language learning is.

If you want to teach at the Community Tutor level, this is all you’ll need. Your profile should be approved within 10 days, and you’ll be ready to help guide conversations in English. For Professional Teachers, it’s very different, as we’ll discuss.

Degree

To join the ranks of online Professional Teachers on italki, you’ll need a degree. It can be in any subject. This said italki are likely to prioritise those who have degrees in relevant fields, such as linguistics, English, culture or study relating to language learning, specifically.

This separates italki’s Professional Teacher category from other online teaching platforms like Cambly or Preply, where anyone - qualified or otherwise - can teach English.

If you want to teach English online without a degree, you can be a Community Tutor on italki.

TEFL certification

For Professional Teachers on italki, a teaching qualification is a must. This includes a TEFL certification, or teaching license of some kind. In fact, a TEFL certificate is one of the preferred teaching qualifications. Your TEFL certification should come from a highly-accredited course provider, and consist of at least 120 hours of training. Other teaching certificates might be accepted.

Experience

Here’s another area where Community Tutors and Professional Teachers on italki differ. You do not need teaching experience to work online as a Community Tutor for italki. However, to help with your application as a Professional Teacher on the platform, you might need to have some demonstrable proof of teaching experience. 

That said, online platforms are a great way to build experience and language skills. In time, a Community Tutor can build the skills and CV to become a fully-fledged teacher. Plenty of English teachers have started working online before gaining a degree and becoming professionally certified.

Can non-natives teach English with italki?

Strictly speaking, yes, non-native English speakers can teach on italki. However, you will need to hold a C2 qualification, which proves “you can communicate with the fluency and sophistication of a highly competent English speaker”. An IELTS or TOEFL certificate would meet italki’s requirements.

Additional requirements

To teach on italki, you’ll need to be computer literate - your students certainly will be. To complete your italki application, you have to upload a picture of yourself, and a 1-3 minute long video explaining your teaching background, the kind of lessons you want to do, and your speciality areas.

Equipment is crucial: to become a tutor on italki you’ll need a reliable computer that’s updated with the latest software, headphones, a microphone (these are often included on headphone/earphone sets), a stable internet connection and - obviously - a webcam. Your students need to see you, after all! Make sure your home office or alternative teaching environment isn’t noisy or distracting; language learners will find other options if your lessons are too chaotic! 

Your time is also a major requirement. The more available you are for lessons with language learners, the better. Students appreciate reliability, and of course, the financial incentives are obvious. The more you can teach, the better your income will be.

Communication skills are a huge plus. Much of the work on platforms like italki is liaising with clients, articulating yourself well, and ensuring you’re maintaining positive relationships, both with support staff (when required) and the clients themselves.

italki Job Description

What do you actually do on italki, then, once the application process has been completed? Whether you’re a Community Tutor or a Professional Teacher, the basic premise is simple: 1-on-1 lessons with eager students, either practising conversation or working to a curriculum.

Lessons are typically up to an hour in duration and conducted through italki’s app, or supported software

If you’re a Community Tutor, again, it’s really all about the conversation. It’s best to have some topics in mind so that you can monitor progression even without a curriculum. For Professional Teachers, it’s a little different. Your profile should be set up with subject tags and lesson categories. This way, lessons are tailored exactly to your strengths, and to what the student wants to learn. These materials are provided in advance, which is a major timesaver! 

Download our teaching English online guide

How much can you earn teaching English with italki?

There isn’t a straight answer to this question, because, with italki, you can set your own rates!

If you’re a Community Tutor, you’re best offering lessons at the lower end of the pay scale. The minimum is $5/£4, and students expecting conversation practice probably won’t expect to be charged over $25/£20. Professional Teachers can charge anything they want above a minimum of $8/£6.40, but the top end - according to our research - tends to be around $80/£63.

There are a number of factors which dictate how much a tutor or teacher should charge on italki. Qualifications and experience are the most important; students will understand being charged more if they’re learning from a highly qualified and experienced language teacher. There’s high demand for teachers on italki, but also, a lot of competition for anyone setting up a profile to teach, so that’s something to bear in mind, too. The balance to strike here is being competitive, while not under-selling your talents.

The number of students you have, and the frequency of lessons, are also significant contributing factors in how much you should charge, and in how much income you can make. If you’re available on a weekly basis, and have a deep roster of students, you can expect to make a decent living. 

Some italki teachers speak of earning thousands per month. It takes time to do this, so don’t expect to rake in four figures right away. Theoretically, though, as you build up more experience and positive feedback on the platform, the easier it’ll be to make a comfortable living just from teaching online.

In terms of a commission, italki takes a 15% commission. Unlike competitors, such as Preply, there’s no commission on free trial lessons. Payment is conducted twice a month - if you request to withdraw your earnings between the 1st and 15th of a month, you’ll receive payment between the 16th and 26th. If you request later than the 15th, you’ll receive your funds the following month.

The Application Process for italki

The process of applying to teach online through italki is as easy as setting up a profile. How exactly does an ESL teacher negotiate this first hurdle?

Firstly, find the Teacher Application portal, set up a log-in and password, and hey presto! You’ve registered. Next up, take a read of all the information that italki provides; this can help you decide what kind of teacher you want to be, and how truly available you are for teaching. Once you’ve done this, you’ve got to provide some basic information about yourself - name, languages you want to teach and other languages you speak - and decide whether you’re a Professional Teacher or Community Tutor.

After that, it couldn’t be more simple. Upload a profile picture (taking note of the guidelines set by italki), supporting documents (degree certificate, TEFL certificate), and then it’s time for a written introduction to students.

In this written introduction, you’ll explain the kind of teaching you’re looking to do, explain your career thus far, and your teaching method. This is followed by the aforementioned 1-3 minute video, in which you’ll cover the same topics as your written introduction, but also making the case as to why students should pick you. Here’s a great example of an italki introduction video.

Once italki staff have approved your profile, you can get started teaching English online to all kinds of students!

Interview Process

With italki, there’s no interview process. All you need to do is set up your profile, shoot a great introduction video and follow all the guidelines for making your italki presence welcoming and encouraging.

What to Consider Before You Start

What are the other important factors someone needs to consider before getting started on italki? Let’s have a look:

Do I have the right tech?

To successfully teach on italki, you’ll need all the right technology. Again, that means a reliable computer, a trustworthy internet connection, headphones, a microphone (these are sometimes included on headphones) and all the latest software updates. It might be prudent to invest in some more memory for your computer, through a USB external memory unit. This way, your computer should run faster, helping to avoid any lag or issues while teaching.

Do I have enough time to tutor?

A career teaching English online is a commitment, so it pays to be absolutely certain you have all the time you need. An English teacher can set their own hours on italki, and can take vacation periods when needed, so the website will block out spaces for you when you’re taking a break. Equally, new students won't be able to get in touch with you if you've booked time off.

italki: pros and cons

No matter the online teaching platform, there are always pros and cons. In italki’s case, there are some very obvious advantages over other competitors, but there are also areas where it could fall short, in the eyes of teachers.

Let’s discuss what’s good, and what needs work, in the case of italki.

Pros

  • if you’re not sure you want to commit to language teaching, italki’s Community Tutor function means you can help language learners practice chatting. That’s ideal - and it could spark a career in TEFL, or simply satisfy curiosity.
  • italki, unlike some competitors, will help with learning materials and has subsections and tags so that new students can find exactly the right teacher for them. That’s great for teachers as it means they can teach in their areas of expertise, while students are - theoretically - getting great value for money.
  • italki takes a considerably lower commission from lessons, compared to some competitors. Also, payment is frequent and well-organised, so teachers should expect to be compensated fairly and on time.
  • You can set your own fees, meaning you can honestly evaluate your expertise and teaching ability, and set a price accordingly.
  • The teaching experience is bolstered by an excellent support staff, that is noted for punctuality and a comprehensive level of assistance.
  • Flexibility. While all online platforms offer flexibility to some degree, italki allows you to set your own hours and block book time off when needed. Whether you want to work part-time or full-time, the italki platform allows you to set your schedule.

Cons

  • Although the income is regular, it’s not always guaranteed. Obviously, if a student cancels a class, you’re not going to get the fee from that class. Students might take learning breaks, which means your income isn’t always guaranteed to be the same.
  • The amount of competition on italki is also a factor. The fact is, if you're a teacher on italki, you’re going to have to really stand out. With so many teachers and Community Tutors drawn to the platform, you’ll have to work hard on your profile and introduction video, and it can take time to build a solid base of clients as teacher on italki.

Italki reviews

In terms of industry reviews, italki ranks considerably well. On Trustpilot, the platform has a fantastic 4.7/5 rating, with students talking kindly of the easy-to-use interface and functionality, while teachers are happy with the flexibility, and teachers delighted about the opportunity to build positive relationships with students.

On Indeed, the praise is similar. One teacher says you can block students that “you don’t vibe with”, a feature which means that particularly difficult students can be removed from your service, while the flexibility and regularly scheduled pay means it has the edge over competitors. An overall score of 4.2 reflects the high esteem italki is held in by language teaching professionals.

Glassdoor also rates italki 4.2 out of 5, with respondents stating that flexibility was the platform’s biggest plus, but competition between teachers is a significant drawback.

Frequently Asked Questions

    FAQs

  • Q. How much does italki pay teachers?

    On italki, teachers can set their own rates. The platform takes a 15% commission, with the minimum fee being around $5/£4 for Community Tutors and $8/£6.40 for Professional Teachers. Teachers will likely earn more than this, but these are the minimums.

  • Q. How do I start teaching in italki?

    To start teaching on italki, all you have to do is sign up. You then decide whether you want to be a Community Tutor or Professional Teacher, based on your qualifications and experience. From there, you just need to provide some basic information, your qualifications and a 1-3 minute long introduction video. After approval, you’ll be ready to go!

  • Q. Can you make a living off italki?

    Yes, you can make a living off italki, provided your rates are high enough and you have enough clients on a regular basis to keep generating income.

  • Q. What are the requirements to teach on italki?

    For Community Tutors on italki, the minimum requirements are that you need to be over 18 and either a native English speaker, or hold a C2 qualification in English. To be a professional tutor, you need to meet both of those criteria plus a degree and a teaching certificate, such as a TEFL qualification.

  • Q. How long does it take to get approved on italki?

    Approval on italki takes up to 10 business days. There's no application form, just get yourself on the platform and set up a profile!