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In a digitally-connected world where there are more than 1.5 billion people looking to improve their English by connecting with native-speaking instructors around the world, there’s never been a better opportunity to dip a toe into teaching English online.

This field is growing rapidly – in fact, the market for online language learning is predicted to be worth more than $10.5 billion by 2025, and you can do it from anywhere in the world so long as you have a strong internet connection.

The demand for English teachers online

Picture it: the ultimate side gig that allows you to make money from anywhere in the world. A sustainable income that gives you the freedom to choose whether to work on the road or from the safety of your home, but still fulfills the need for human connection and the satisfaction of work that makes a difference.

This dream job probably sounds like we’re venturing into fairytale territory, but it’s a unicorn that’s been on many minds since the onset of COVID-19. Luckily, it’s a dream that online education makes possible. In early 2019, the online course industry was forecast to be worth more than $300B by 2025, but the pandemic has rapidly accelerated this timeline, with many entrepreneurs and educators pivoting their talents online where they can build a business that the pandemic can’t touch.

More than that, however, students are turning to online learning to grow their own skill set – resulting in a 200% increase in student enrollment on Thinkific’s platform during the height of lockdown. Online English instruction has grown exponentially, and with its low barriers to entry, it’s easy to see why.

In the guide below, we’ve gathered up everything you need to know about teaching English online.

How does teaching English online work?

Teaching English online is teaching English to a non-native speaker via the internet using a range of virtual platforms and tools. Students can learn in groups or through one-on-one lessons, and the spectrum ranges from beginners grammar and pronunciation, all the way to business language and interview coaching. The format allows for schedule flexibility, and the cost is often much lower than traditional in-person instruction, making it an attractive option for students around the world looking to boost their English proficiency.

Teaching online offers instructors great benefits like flexible hours, the ability to teach from anywhere, and making work/life balance more attainable, it’s not without its challenges. Lesson planning, student engagement, and technology needs are all different from a traditional in-person classroom environment, so online educators have to be creative and quick on their feet. Luckily, there are loads of online resources to smooth the transition – from YouTube to blogs, from gamification to online communities, you can customize your online English school to your own unique style.

Jennifer Gardner of The English Classroom knows this first-hand: “digital teaching resources are attractive for teachers because they are available at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks, meaning more students than ever before can have access to an English education. They are also most interactive, engaging and can be updated in real-time. This improves the quality of education on offer.”

Jennifer chose to build The English Classroom on Thinkific because “it was flexible to use and had a very simple interface. This was an important factor for me because our teachers come from different parts of the world, different educational backgrounds and different experiences of technology. Therefore it should be quick to get started and easy to understand. Moreover, I uploaded my lessons quickly and effortlessly, organised in a way that works for The English Classroom and teachers can sign up themselves – making it an effective way to scale our courses.”

Can I make money teaching English online?

Absolutely! Pay for online English instructors varies, but even if you’re new to the game, you can expect a starting salary of somewhere in the range of USD$10-$20 per hour. Depending on your schedule, you could teach English online as a part-time side hustle and pull in USD100+ per week, or commit full-time and make monthly salaries closer to USD$2000 and more.

Of course, the benefit of creating your own course online instead of working through an agency is that you can set your own prices and schedule, without handing over a cut to the middle man. You have the potential to have more control over your time, your content, and your profit margin, but you’ll also bear the responsibility of running your own marketing, promotion strategy, and customer service.

What qualifications do I need?

    1. You need to speak English fluently. No great surprise here – ideally, you need to be native English speaker, but as a bare minimum baseline, you need to be seamlessly fluent.
    2. You need a qualification. Ideally, you need a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) or TESOL qualification. Additionally, some recommend online English teachers should be CELTA or DELTA qualified. Have a look at all of the options, and decide which one would be best for you.
    3. You need a degree. Truthfully, this is more of an optional extra. While there are some opportunities that won’t require a degree, in general you’ll need a bachelor’s in any subject if you want to work with some of the larger English teaching companies. It might lead to higher income in the long run, but you can get by without it.

We know what you might be thinking – “I speak English every day, I don’t need a qualification!” or “I tutored my classmates in high school English, I’m primed and ready to go!” Well…not quite.

  • Teaching English as a second language is not the same as high school English. They have some overlapping content, but they’re as different as teaching History and Geography. High school English is aimed at first-language learners, and it’s more focused on communication skills, figurative language, and literature analysis, while teaching English as a second language is more focused on technical language mastery. So it doesn’t matter if you know your way around Macbeth from front to back – it won’t necessarily help you teach someone grasp the confusing labyrinth of English verbs!
  • Teaching English to non-native speakers is totally different to teaching native speakers. It requires a different approach, a different teaching style, and a particular skill set. If you really want to learn how to teach English online and make a living out of it, a TEFL qualification will give you a solid foundation on the methodology behind teaching English as a foreign language.

What equipment do I need?

If you’re looking to launch your own online English school, your shopping list is short. Generally speaking, all you need is a laptop computer, a good-quality webcam, headset, microphone, and a stable, high-speed internet connection. If you’ve got those things ready to go, all you need is the teaching material and a quiet, comfortable space – be it your home office, or a hammock on a beach.

teach english online

How do I format online English lessons?

The beauty of using an online platform like Thinkific is that you can combine various content types for maximum educational value. Many online schools use a mix of slides, video, and voice-over audio to deliver online lessons that cover both theory and pronunciation.

The team at Learn YOUR English uses a range of methods for their teacher education and language learning courses. “We use a combination of talking head videos, reflection tasks, video commentary on tasks, quizzes, audio feedback, and collaborative discussions with participants in our courses. We also try to incorporate a “pause-and-reflect” protocol, where course participants are encouraged to pause the video, take notes and reflect, and put what they have learned into practice by designing an activity or lesson (teachers) or using the target language (students/learners).”

Alex Melia from Swoosh English recommends Zoom for online lessons. “It’s great because all classes are recorded so students can watch them back any time and we can quickly and easily upload them on Thinkific. I’d also recommend Brillium which is integrated with Thinkific. This allows students to answer a wide variety of questions types to improve their learning.”

How do I market my online school?

There are a number of ways to promote your online course!

    • Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even LinkedIn are great ways to establish your online presence.
    • Ads: paid ads and sponsored posts are another great way to bring visibility to your course.
    • Webinars: hosting a webinar or podcast gives you the chance to give students a taste of the online classroom experience, while teaching them a specific short lesson or skill.
    • Free Content: provide sample teaching resources to give potential students a taste of your teaching style! Harry Cassidy of English Lesson Via Skype uses this approach: “I provide a lot of free material on my web page, I post podcasts weekly, and I am constantly updating my content. It is full on!”
    • Word of Mouth: as your business picks up steam, you’ll find the word will spread! Alex Melia from Swoosh English says “we get a lot of friend referrals from students too, which is great and shows that our students love our service!”

Related: 55 Ways To Market Your Online Course & Increase Sales

Creating an interactive online teaching experience

You can leverage online communities, membership sites, and Facebook groups to create an interactive experience for your students and supplement their education. Students can share successes with one another, support each other with questions and roadblocks, and build relationships with their fellow students – and with you! 

Shereen Jaff of An English Nerd has used Facebook and Telegram groups to encourage students to interact in English. “This gives them an element of immersion that really increases their progress. Within the groups, I post activities for them to do together. One activity that is very beneficial is a speaking challenge. I post a question for the group and they reply in video. This gives them the opportunity to speak and observe their own speaking as well as encourages them to connect with one another.”

Alex Melia from Swoosh English finds that online communities even help with marketing, as they’re a great way to introduce new students to their paid courses. “We use Facebook groups, which are a great way of nurturing relationships with students. Once we have given students some value, invariably they decide to sign up to one of our courses to help them pass their exam.”

Can I really make an impact teaching online?

With a course so agile, so adaptable, and so in-demand, can you really make a difference? We certainly think so, but we’ll leave you with words of wisdom and inspiration from some successful English educators who chose Thinkific for their online teaching platform:

I have had students who have never before taken an online course in a group setting. It has completely transformed their fear of speaking English in front of others. Never underestimate the power of community! – Shereen Jaff, An English Nerd

I am only sorry I did not change my career many years ago. It gives me great satisfaction to help someone clinch the job because their English is better or help them improve their conversational English to help them participate in company meetings. I have met and taught some wonderful people. I can honestly say I have had no bad experiences. – Harry Cassidy, English Lesson Via Skype

We teach students from over 150 countries worldwide now and we have nurses, doctors, and university students tell us every day about how we’ve positively impacted them in helping them to pass their exam, and changed their lives for the better! When you have doctors and nurses ringing you up and telling you that your business has changed their lives, you know you’re doing something worthwhile. I had an Iraqi doctor from Baghdad ring me up who had passed a while ago. I asked him ‘What did you do when you passed your exam?’ He said ‘I cried’ and then I said ‘what did your wife do?’ and he replied ‘she cried too’. I never forgot this and it hit home at that point how their life had changed forever. It was their hard work that did it but I like to think that we had a small part to play! – Alex Melia, Swoosh English

Are you ready to launch your online English school? Sign up for your free Thinkific account now, and you can start building your first course today.

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