Global online ESL market size in 2024?

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  • The total online education market is predicted to reach $10 Trillion by 2030.
  • The global online English-as-a-second language learning market in 2022 was worth up to $10 Billion (22% of the total ESL market).
  • 2021 changes in policy banning online English teaching to Chinese children impacted the industry significantly, with a potential reduction of the global online ESL market from its peak by ≈20%, but the market is still growing.
global online ESL market
(c) J'son and Partners: "English Language Learning Market, 2021 ESL for Kids: Online-Schools and Trends".

First Published: December 2021 / Last Updated: December 2023. Figures in USD.

What happened to the online ESL teaching market in China in 2021?

In the latter half of 2021, changes in Chinese government regulations relating to the provision of after-school tutoring services was big news in the online English community.  Many online English teachers watched in dismay as a significant section of the online English tuition industry all but disappeared overnight.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) issued legislation known as the “double reduction/720 policy” in July of 2021, which banned teachers based overseas from conducting any training activity in China to children. This lead to a large amount of online English teacher layoffs. One company – VIPKID – hired 70,000+ teachers.

This was followed by similar announcements by almost all the online English tuition providers/Edtech companies based on the Chinese mainland in the following months. The last major player in the Chinese youth market to concede was DadaABC, announcing that “there will be no more classes scheduled” after December 31st (2021).

These measures have also resulted in overseas-listed EdTech companies such as New Oriental and TAL Education Group losing more than half of their value in 2021 and most of the major online English tutoring companies that serviced the youth market in China either closing completely or quickly trying to pivot to alternate markets.

The Chinese online ESL market - How big was it?

In 2017, according to iResearch, the size of [China’s] online youth English training market [was] around 1.97 billion RMB ($3 billion USD) but there was “frenzied growth” in the following four years, so figures are likely higher. In the same year, China accounted for “61% of all revenues for Digital English Language Learning products in Asia Pacific”, with the Asia-Pacific digital language learning market estimated to be worth $2.45 billion in 2018.

The online ESL market for children in China grew at a feverish rate (c) GETChina Insights, 2017. Note, 2017-2019 figures were estimates.

Using these figures, China likely represented ~15% ($1.47 billion) or more of the global industry size (if measured by the $10 billion valuation in 2021) by revenue in 2017. This includes both the adult and youth markets. 

This figure is likely higher though, due to rapid investment into the industry between 2018 and early 2021. $10 billion of venture capital had been invested into Chinese EdTech in 2020 alone. Some reports claim that the total Chinese market takes up about 49% of the global Digital English Language Learning market, potentially making it worth ≈$5 billion. 

It is very difficult to find exact numbers as most of the studies done in this area are very costly to access. My estimation based on the available data is that the recent CCP policy changes have possibly reduced the global online ESL market by ~20%.

Yet, the adult market in China is also very large and not likely to be affected directly by recent policy changes relating to after-school tuition. ESL for Chinese adults (online and offline) had a reported value of 37 billion RMB ($5.5 billion) in 2019.

Research by J’son and Partners (2021) indicated that online ESL comprises 22% of the total market and globally, adult online ESL makes up 68% of the total market. Using these figures, we can estimate that the Chinese adult online ESL sector is potentially worth $1.21 billion+ (22% of the $5.5B estimation above). 

Should freelance teachers teach Chinese adults?

If the J’son and Partners’ global figures are used, the Chinese adult online ESL market is extremely significant in size. Yet, it is unlikely that this will scale in the same way that has been done with children in the past decade. Whereas Chinese parents have been willing to invest heavily in years of tutoring, only 14% of adults stick with English learning products for more than one year, with a majority losing interest after 1-3 months. For teachers, this means an opportunity in this market, just note the higher turnover of students. 

A new black market emerges.

Unsurprisingly, almost immediately after the Chinese Government announcements, teachers began to attempt to make contact with their former students and parents sought to find alternate ways to access the tuition that has become so integral to student success in a high stakes exam culture. 

A large number of Facebook groups suddenly popped up overnight with newly freelance teachers quickly trying ways to set up websites that processed Chinese payment methods and to negotiate the sometimes tricky world of social media apps ‘behind the great firewall’.  For freelance teachers wanting to take the risk of navigating this new void in the market, ‘going underground‘ was “skyrocketing private tutor rates“. 

Understandably, there is a reluctance from many teachers to approach students and families in the face of uncertain legality and potential repercussions, especially for Chinese citizens. For those in this camp, it is worth looking at the global picture and the size of markets elsewhere. 

Photo by zhang kaiyv from Pexels

The global online ESL market in 2024 (without China) - What does it look like?

Despite China, it's growing.

With more than 1.5 billion English learners (up to 1.7 billion by some estimates) increasingly ‘going digital’ – in addition to the traditional English language market – the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has greatly changed the face of the online ESL sector. 

It was estimated the global online English-as-a-second language learning market in 2021 is now worth $10 billion (22% of the total ESL market)*, with ESL for children estimated at $3 billion (32% of online ESL in 2021).  The Educational Tests (such as IELTS, PTE and TOEFL) and Businesses segment accounted for 46.29% and 35.51% of this number respectively in 2018.

(c) J'son and Partners, 2021.

Broadly (online and offline), the global education market is set to reach $10 trillion or more by 2030, driven by population growth in developing markets and expansion, as technology “drives unprecedented re-skilling and up-skilling in developed economies. Asia and Africa are the driving force behind the expansion”.

There are currently an estimated 12 million English teachers worldwide, yet The British Council states that “the world needs to add 1.5 million teachers per year on average, approaching 100 million in total in order to keep pace with the unprecedented changes ahead in education around the world”. 

Europe is the second largest market after China.

Europe followed China (with 16%) as the second biggest market for digital English language learning. In 2018, 96% of pupils in upper secondary education in the EU-27 learnt English as a foreign language. The largest ESL markets in Europe are Germany, France and Russia.

Maxim Azarov (founder of Novakid, a US-based teaching platform that caters to the European market) said in a recent interview that “The popularity of online English language training for children has increased significantly since the pandemic began.  A year later, it is still growing, and is poised to continue to grow exponentially. We believe this is a consequence of the wider availability of quality online English learning platforms for children, the expansion of career opportunities for those with a good command of the English language, and an increase in remote working”. 

Growth in the demand from India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil and Mexico (among many others) is increasing offline and so may be reflected in the online space in the coming years.

(c) J'son and Partners (2021)


China was, until 2021, likely the largest segment of the digital English learning market, followed by Europe. Changes in Chinese policy regarding online ESL tutoring for children possibly reduced the global online ESL market by ~20%. 

The major difficulty is accurately separating the true size and demand of the now restricted youth segment from investment and profit figures and therefore this is an educated guess

Yet, while there are indications that this will be significant in the short term; there is still increasing global growth and if the $10 billion estimation is correct, the current online ESL market is still worth ≈$8 billion dollars and counting. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of online education and if trends continue, digital learning will likely increase from the current minority share of the ESL industry. With the potential growth of online English language learning platforms and peer-to-peer learning, the landscape is great for independent, freelance English teachers.

The announcements by some of the major Chinese companies that they intend to pivot to other non-China markets indicates that they too believe in this growing global potential. There is still a notable Chinese market for adult language learning, irrespective of CCP policy. Teachers who decide to continue working in the (now more challenging) youth Chinese market, despite the legalities, are likely to find significant demand. Those who look more widely may be surprised by how many students are really out there.

From the figures that we can access, the online global English language learning market is growing and set to continue such growth into the foreseeable future, with or without China.

How do you think the online ESL market will change because of China’s policy changes? Comment below. 

Importantly, while global trends can help paint a ‘big picture’ for teachers, having good relationships with and an intimate knowledge of the needs of your students will ultimately result in much greater dividends. Whether online or face-to-face, students are seeking high quality tuition from passionate educators. If you’re interested in starting your own online independent, freelance teaching business, please express your interest in coaching from a teacher with 10+ years in the industry and extensive experience in attracting and retaining private students at up to $100AUD/hr. 

Teaching English online for introverts – is it a good choice?

Is teaching English online for introverts? It might be for many who prefer more solitary, quiet time. Online teaching, done from the comfort of my own home, has allowed me to connect while also having the privacy and space critical to my well being. 

Photo by MIXU from Pexels

Teaching ESL online; my introverted experiences.

Firstly, what exactly is introversion?

It might be helpful to quickly define ‘Introversion’ as there is often a bit of confusion about what is (and what it isn’t). Often confused with shyness, “Introversion is a preference, while shyness stems from distress. Introverts prefer solitary to social activities, but do not necessarily fear social encounters like shy people do“. 

Introverts are “easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement, introversion having even been defined by some in terms of a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating external environment“. So, it’s easy to see how the noisy, chaotic environment of the brick and mortar classroom is a major challenge for those who identify as high in introversion.

According to this Psychology Today article, between half and two-thirds of the population are ‘ambiverted’, that is, they exhibit a mix of introverted and extroverted traits. So, it is statistically likely that most of you reading this article are also this combination. Maybe you have some introverted traits but you are likely able to balance them with a healthy dose of opposing people-centric skills.

The thing is, for most of my life, I have been VERY HIGHLY introverted. To the point of collapsing into my bed at the end of each teaching day, drained of every ounce of energy, never wanting to see another human being ever again. Yet, I simultaneously found teaching deeply satisfying, so I struggled through these duelling forces for many years before discovering online teaching and a balance that allowed me the best of both worlds.

If you are still teaching face-to-face or wish to continue doing so in tandem with online work, here is some fantastic advice about how to thrive as an introverted teacher.

Why teaching English online works for me:

What first excited me about online English teaching was the ability to put myself in a teaching/people space for the duration of my lessons, then to turn off my computer and return to my safe, solitary environment. This allows me to begin to ‘recharge’ and reclaim the feeling of lost energy from the lesson. In a traditional classroom, after the lesson was over – I would then have to navigate the staff room, students in the hallways and a million other personal interactions – leaving me feeling drained for the next lesson and without sufficient time to myself. Over the course of a day, it would frequently take me to the point of physical and mental exhaustion.

The second benefit to online teaching is the ability to schedule classes earlier in the day, so that I have enough time between the last class of the day and bedtime. I often feel tired yet also strangely ‘wired’ from many hours of back-to-back lessons and I try and wrap up by early evening, followed by a walk and some reading to ground and calm me before sleep.

I have also used my introversion as a part of my brand as an independent teacher. Many students are also highly introverted and appreciate and respond really well to a teacher that respects and accommodates their needs. I freely admit to being an introvert and have worked extensively with both introverted and shy/anxious students who I believe opened up more readily and admitted to their difficulties in public and group speaking knowing that I empathised and did not judge.

I believe that Introverted teachers bring a lot to the table and that we have great insight into many of the difficulties that our students face. We are often thoughtful and passionate educators who too often ‘burn out’ due to work environments that do not support or accommodate our personalities. Online teaching is not for everyone but if you are an introvert who wants more space, privacy and flexibility – it might just be for you.

Digital security for online ESL teachers, is it necessary?

Online English teaching can leave you vulnerable to a range of different dangers than the average user. We’ll cover some easy tips that you can use to keep yourself safe – including using a VPN, avoiding remote access software and maximising your device protection.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

This post is part of our “Ultimate teach English online guide“. Go check it out. 

Why is digital security for online English teachers important?

The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s (ACSC) online reporting tool (ReportCyber), which “assists members of the community to report different types of cybercrime” receives a report every 10 minutes. It is incredibly common and can lead you to be at risk of identity theft or fraud. Online English teaching can incur some additional risks and working for a company based overseas means that you are potentially at risk from data breaches and hackers outside of Australian jurisdiction, so it’s worth spending a bit of time securing your system as best you can.

Note: We are NOT cyber security specialists, just online English teachers. These tips are based on our own personal experiences and research. If you want more information, consult a professional or visit the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) website.


Do not include personal information on your resume

I recently found a copy of a resume that I had sent to an international company almost two years ago online. Luckily it did not contain anything too personal. It’s worth remembering though that once it’s on the internet, it’s hard to remove. 


Home address;
Passport/Driver’s License/Birth Certificate/Social Security Number;
Phone number.

Use a VPN.

We personally always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when connected to the internet but feel that is particularly important to do so when teaching online. A VPN is a secure tunnel between two or more devices (such as between your computer, Internet Service Provider (ISP) and your teaching platform) and is used to “protect private web traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship” by encrypting your data and making it more difficult to intercept or steal at it travels through this tunnel. This is even more important when using public wi-fi, as this is more vulnerable than your ‘private’ home connection.

We’ve been using ExpressVPN for a few years now and find it easy to use, doesn’t slow down our internet speed and is consistently well reviewed. Click on the link for 30 days FREE.

Use Antivirus software.

You’re likely already using some form of antivirus program but if not, it will help protect you from malware, ransomware, spyware and adware. We use Avast, which have both excellent free and paid versions.

Avoid remote access software.

Many online English teaching companies ask you to download remote access software such as TeamViewer so that they can access your computer and troubleshoot any IT problems that you might be having. While this might be integral in certain situations, there are obvious risks in letting a staff member in a foreign IT department access your personal device via this type of software, so we recommend that you proceed with caution before downloading this software and particularly before opening it and sharing your connection. Other common remote access software includes: Remote PC, Zoho Assist, Splashtop, LogMeIn, ConnectWise Control and Remote Desktop Manager (among others).

Maximise your device protection.

There are many small things that you can do to increase your device security, depending on whether you are using a computer, laptop or mobile device (phone/tablet) to teach classes, including (but not limited to!):

  • Cover your webcam when not in use. You can do a ‘Zuckerberg’ and use a piece of tape or post it note but you will end up with sticky residue on your cam after a while. You can buy an inexpensive webcam cover slide for only a few dollars.
  • Choose a strong password, change it regularly and use a different password for your online teaching platform than you do for other sites as online teaching platfoms from overseas companies are not always well secured.
  • If you teach over Zoom, set a password for students to enter and/or use a waiting room to avoid Zoombombing.
  • Many Chinese companies use apps such as WeChat and DingTalk to communicate between staff and teachers but there are security concerns so be cautious and avoid sharing identity documents through these channels.

Be careful.

In summary – if you follow the above tips, you are less likely to encounter some the dangerous elements that teaching online can expose you to – but caution and carefulness are always the best approach to security. If your company asks you to download software, do a quick google search first and look for online reviews. China, in particular, has their own version of many common programs used in other countries so it helps to do your homework before downloading and ask your company if an alternative is available. In the world of digital security, a little bit of prevention is better than a possible lifetime of cure.

Do you have any tips for keeping safe while teaching English online? Comment below…

This post is part of our “Ultimate teach English online guide“. Go check it out. 

10 steps to make more money teaching English online

Teaching online is a fun and flexible way to make money online but salaries can be low, especially for new teachers. Here are 10 easy things you can do pre- and post-interview to make more money teaching English online.

This post is written for Australian and New Zealanders but all of our information can be used by teachers worldwide. We are not financial experts, so please consult a professional for financial advice. We use affiliates links, which earn us a a small commission (at no cost to you) but always aim to give you the best quality advice that we can provide.

This post is part of our “Ultimate teach English online guide“. Go check it out. 


Do your research

There are hundreds of online English teaching companies, with salaries ranging from less than $5 to over $55 (AUD) per hour. Only a few run ads on Australasian jobs sites. As these companies hire 75-80% of their teachers from the US, Canada and the UK, they do not spend their recruitment budgets ‘down under’.

If you want to find out more information about smaller companies, you will need to either spend hours of research or you can buy our list of online English teaching jobs here

Hourly rates can be confusing to calculate, often being a ‘base’ rate + bonuses. Once you decide on a company, we recommend following a few steps:

  1. Search for the name of the company and look for teacher reviews and information. Some companies have a good FAQ page and are quite transparent while others are not. Take negative reviews with a grain of salt and focus on information posted about salaries.
  2. Search for facebook groups for current teachers at your chosen company. Teachers are generally a friendly bunch and other than bombarding you with referral links, will often help you with salary information. Remember to search the group to see if there are recent answers around salary before asking. It’s a common question.
  3. Ask your recruiter/interviewer before the interview. If you have an email address, send your question there but remember they are some of the busiest people in the company and cannot always answer. Ask about salary at the end of the interview and definitely make sure you understand the rates before signing a contract. Read it carefully and confirm anything you don’t understand. Bonuses are often much harder to achieve than they seem, so estimate an average amount (around 50%).
  4. This is an optional step and slightly dishonest, so take this as a suggestion only. If you are an Australian/NZ citizen or resident based at home your salary will be higher than if you are located overseas in SE Asia, for example. In order to circumvent this, you might be able to use a VPN (like Express VPN) to make it seem as if you are in Australasia. While we have not done this ourselves, we have heard people have.

A high hourly salary may seem like the only consideration when selecting a company …but see if you can get a sense of the booking rate before signing a contract using the above methods. If there are no students, 40 hours a week x $0 is still $0.

The longer that you work for a company, you may be offered a pay increase for your loyalty, although this is the exception, not the rule. Check for bonuses such as being a substitute teacher for cancelling teachers, working unusual or off-peak hours and to recruit other teachers. Being flexible and carefully researching potential benefits before starting makes you ready to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Submit an A+ resume

A clear and concise resume will show your skills, attributes and why you deserve the highest salary in the range that the company offers. Remember, they make money from you so show them how you can be of benefit to the company. For our complete and detailed post on writing the perfect resume, click here.

Just remember, the person reading your resume is likely NOT a native English speaker and keep this in mind when writing it. Keep language simple and sentences shorter than usual. You don’t need a professional headshot but a clear, smiling photo is key (if you add one).

Make a short introduction video

This differs from company to company, with some asking for a short video and others not. This is a way to show off your personality and on-camera performance skills. Those new to speaking to a camera might feel shy and awkward…. that’s ok! It takes practice.

Our top tips: write a script, have good lighting and do some basic editing. Oh… and look AT the camera, not at yourself.

Read our full blog post on how to make the ultimate online English teaching introduction video here.

Get a TESOL certificate

A TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate takes between a few days and a few months and will make you a better teacher from the interview to your first day on the job. Read our full post here.

Why? With knowledge and experience comes confidence and someone who gets the basics of teaching and a ‘classroom’ will act more confidently in the interview. Premier offer a 250 hour certificate in which you can practice teach over Zoom with some peers before your interview.

There are also lots of FREE courses
that you can study before you begin – check some out, they’re free!

Set up your teaching space

A professional (and higher paid!) teacher will have a clean, appropriate teaching space. You might be sitting at your kitchen table with your laptop sitting on a shoebox, with your pyjama pants and slippers on…. just don’t let THEM see that.

A few basic items of technology, good lighting, a quality headset and a well-decorated (or plain) background will likely earn you a higher rate and the respect of your students (and their parents).

Practice, practice, practice

Just like an ”in-person” interview, being prepared makes it much more likely that you will succeed and be able to negotiate a higher hourly salary. Check YouTube for anyone who explains the interview before hand.

The interview will likely consist of a Q&A session followed by a ‘mock/demo/demonstration’ class for real students or staff posing as them in lieu of that. Find out beforehand what is required, if possible. Record yourself teaching a class for a few minutes and watch it back beforehand. Or, practice in front of the mirror. They both seem very cringe , we know… but it will show and will likely affect your offered salary. For new teachers or teachers who have moved online for the first time, it is worth that extra effort in the beginning and can pay off financially over your teaching career with the company in the form of cold, hard cash.


Negotiate your salary

This can be scary and many teachers are intimidated to negotiate a higher salary but please, if you only take one piece of our advice today…. negotiate. They can only say no. Our experience from talking to hundreds of teachers is that online English teaching companies rarely offer the highest rate upfront. The more qualified/experienced you are and the better you performed in the interview the higher your offered rate will be but you can ask for more. Be firm, state your reasons and do it in email if it makes you feel more comfortable. There are 100’s of companies out there. DON’T TAKE THE LOWEST OFFER!

Self-promotion and social media

Many companies have some form of ‘in-house’ social media, a section where you can customise a profile or the ability to connect with students in some way. Take full advantage of these if you can. Some companies do not permit direct contact while others do. Do note any company policies regarding this as many consider this ‘poaching’. If you can add extra slides to a .ppt, make up one with your name, education and working hours (see image).

Promote yourself and your classes! Ask for feedback and reviews, sell yourself and your skills. Teachers with a loyal following have more power and are in a better position to negotiate with a company. If you can promote your classes on other outside social media sites, do so. Just like the resume, keep promotional language simple and short.

Payment options

You can lose A LOT of your salary due to the fees and charges involved in International payments. Ask about your payment options and research the best one for your situation.


Often, as an online English teacher, you are employed as a contractor. As a contractor, there is more involved regarding your taxes. There are also some things you can now claim on your annual tax return (see sites for more information). Check out the Inland Revenue or ATO website for more info about saving money when the tax man (or woman) comes collectin’.

Finally, you will always be limited to a certain salary if you work for a company. To truly earn the ‘big bucks’, you are going to have to go out and find students yourself. It takes a lot of time, energy and marketing to cut out the middle man but teachers can make $100 (AUD)+ per hour when they go freelance. If you want more information about how to break out on your own, please book a coaching session with an experienced freelance teacher.

We hope that these ten tips help you to make more money online, by getting you the highest salary to start, earning you bonuses and saving you in fees and tax. It takes a few hours upfront but can earn you a lot of money over the course of any given financial year. Be prepared, have fun and do your research and you’ll make more money than those who don’t – guaranteed. Do you have other tips and tricks? Leave them in the comments below.

Good luck and happy teaching!

Do you have any money maximising tips for teaching online? Comment below.

This post is part of our “Ultimate teach English online guide“. Go check it out.

What is the essential equipment to teach online?

Internet, a computer or laptop with a webcam, a headset and good lighting is all the essential equipment to teach online that you’ll need. There are a few more items, though, that can really make you stand out. Let’s find out more.

My first online English teaching setup was too basic! (c) Kate Zarb

5 years ago, when I first began teaching online, I bought a cheap pair of ‘call centre’ headphones with a microphone, a clip-on ring light and little else. While the classes were OK, it soon became apparent to me that a few pieces of better quality equipment would also increase the quality of the classes. 

If you want to stand out amongst a sea of grainy-looking classes with bad audio, I’ll answer the question “What is the ESSENTIAL equipment to teach English online?”.

The basics

In this post, we will cover all the basics, with budget, mid-tier and high-end options (plus, tips and tricks).


To teach English online, you need the internet. English teaching companies may require that you have a minimum internet connection speed (which can vary greatly).

Freelance and marketplace teachers will also benefit from a fast, steady connection. 

A GENERAL guide is 10Mbps Download/10 Mbps Upload or higher. Australia has slow internet overall, so “the faster, the better”… but it’s normal for your upload speed to be slower. If your connection cuts out regularly or is patchy on a Skype/Zoom/Video call with friends and family, it might not quite be enough.

You can check your internet speed at

Here is an example of my connection (top) via wifi and Ethernet cable (below).

One of the easiest ways to increase your internet speed is by purchasing an inexpensive ‘Ethernet Network LAN Patch Cable’ (from ≈$5AUD on eBay Australia). 

By plugging your computer directly into your router/modem via Ethernet cable, you can increase your speed significantly. Modern laptops lack Ethernet ports, so you may need a USB (or Micro) to Ethernet (RJ45) adapter (≈$20AUD on eBay Australia). 

I have been teaching for almost two years with the above speeds and have not had any issues, except for a few nights with stormy weather, but the faster the better.

Even moving closer to your router/modem will help improve your speed. You may have luck with a wi-fi extender that can dramatically increase the wi-fi speeds in hard-to-reach areas of your house (from ≈$50AUD on eBay Australia).

Also, if you use a VPN, you may wish to turn it off before class and back on again after; I’ve found that they really slow down your connection.

It’s also good to have a back-up connection via wi-fi hotspot (on your phone).

I’ve relied on this a few times and it has been a lifesaver. It looks slightly different on every phone. On Apple phones, it’s ‘Personal Hotspot’ (see image). 

If you don’t have unlimited data on your plan, it can be expensive, so best for emergencies.


Like internet speeds, some companies will require that your computer has minimum operating specifications.  A Windows 7 (or above) laptop/desktop or Mac with 4GB+ RAM and Intel 5i+ (AMD10) are generally required, but please check out the technical requirements of each company as they are all different

Teachers have reported issues with Chromebooks and Linux systems on some teaching platforms. Some companies run their software on Google Chrome, so you may need to download this browser. Some companies allow you to teach from a tablet (like an iPad) or phone, but the majority require a new-ish laptop or desktop.

If you’re using a laptop, a stand (≈$50AUD on eBay Australia) that elevates your webcam to eye level is really helpful if you can’t adjust your chair, although a stack of books or a shoebox will also do in a pinch. Remember, try and get the webcam to as close to your eye level as possible, as you don’t want your students staring up into your nostrils or feel like you are looking down on them from a great height.


If you have a less than 5 year old laptop, you should have a integrated webcam that will be sufficient. If you are working on a desktop computer, you may need to purchase one. Aim for 1080p (at 30fps) for best video quality. 

Note: if the webcam you want is compatible with your operating system (Windows or iOS) before buying as many released this year are only compatible with the newest version of major operating systems.

After good lighting and a quality microphone, a good webcam will set you apart in the job interview and make your classes much higher high quality, so it’s worth the extra expense if you can afford it.

Our recommendations:
Budget webcam: (≈$70AUD on eBay Australia) Creative brand 1080p webcam.
Mid-range webcam: (≈$120AUD on eBay Australia) Logitech brand 1080p webcam.
Hid-end webcam: (
≈$300AUD on eBay Australia) Logitech brand HD Pro webcam.

Photo by tyler hendy from Pexels


The fastest way to improve the quality of your appearance online is to set up some basic lighting. In my first budget setup, I used a $6 LED lamp from Kmart (which is sadly no longer available), so a cheap desk lamp or two is a perfect way to start.

Cinematographer Greg Middleton recommends that you bounce the light from a desk lamp off a wall instead of pointing it at yourself directly, if possible. He also says that “cinematographers favour tungsten bulbs or energy-efficient LEDs, which generate steadier light than fluorescents”, so be mindful of the bulb in the lamp too. 

I’ve seen a few that are quite yellow and make people look a bit jaundiced. There is something called the Kelvin Scale which ranks lights from blue to yellow. 

It is a bit complicated, but basically, you want to aim for light in the middle of the spectrum – that is – closest to ‘Cool White’. Keep an eye out for white bulbs if you are using a lamp, but my experience has been that most LED lights are near to this goal white area. 

This article suggests that “The optimum points when adding lights around your face are at 10 and 2 pm if you’re sitting at, and facing, high noon. You’ll also want a slight light behind you – again from an angle”.

Ring lights used to be only in the purview of Instagram models and YouTubers, but they are also indispensable for those educating online. You especially want the students to see your face (and mouth) to help them imitate your movements and to help elicit communication. Ring lights are great at focusing light right onto your face, but you may want to turn on your overhead bulb, a desk lamp and maybe even a light or two behind you. Turn on your webcam and play around with different arrangements until you find the best setup for your situation.

Our recommendations:

Budget Ring Light: (≈$10AUD on eBay Australia). The ‘clip on’ selfie ring light can clip on the top of your laptop over your webcam and usually comes with three settings – low, medium and high. It’s a great option if you are on a budget and/or just getting started. You can use it to make yourself look good in selfies too, which is a bonus. 

The main ‘con’ is that looking into it for long periods of time is not great, so I actually recommend a larger ring light that sits behind your laptop or on your desk that can you look through the middle of. Trust me, your eyes will thank you.

Mid-tier Ring Light: (≈$40AUD on eBay Australia). This well-reviewed ring light is 10″ and sits on your desk (for the smaller sizes) and the floor (for the larger lights). It is adjustable, with many different light/brightness settings. 

High-End Ring Light: (≈$65AUD on eBay Australia). The next step up is to invest in professional ‘soft box’ 


Although you might get away without having a headset, we don’t recommend that you skip this purchase. After being able to see you clearly, students need to be able to hear you clearly too. You also need to be able to hear them too! 

Communication with a non-native English speaker is not always easy, so make your life easier and buy the best headset that you can afford. We recommend headsets with a built-in microphone, like the ones that you see in call centres, as they provide the best sound quality.

A few considerations before buying a headset:

  • Noise-cancellation. If you are working from a noisy space, having a noise-cancelling microphone is a must.
  • Mute button. If you think you may be interrupted frequently by young children in your home, for example, you may want a headset with a quick and easy mute function.
  • Wireless headset. If you are a very animated person and especially if you plan on teaching young children, being wireless will help you tremendously.

Do your research and read a few reviews before buying a headset. If you plan on teaching full-time a lightweight and comfortable headset will be worth its weight in gold, but an inexpensive headset from Logitech (see below) was our choice when we first started and is still a reliable backup after a year of daily use. 

Note: Depending on your laptop/computer, you may need an adapter for some headsets. Be mindful when looking and buy a USB or wireless headset for maximum compatibility.

Our recommendations:

Budget Headset: (≈$25AUD on Amazon). Basic and with none of the aforementioned features, this is the cheapest well-reviewed headset on the market. You may need an adapter (≈$7AUD on Amazon).
Mid-tier Headset: (≈$50AUD on Amazon). With a noise-cancelling microphone, a mute button, and a USB connection – this ticks most of the boxes for the price.
High-end Headset: (≈$99AUD on Amazon). All of the above features, but wireless.


This is an often overlooked item for teaching but we think it is one of the things that can really increase the quality of your class. By tablet, we don’t mean a device like an iPad, but a drawing tablet that is common among graphic designers. It usually consists of a small drawing surface and digital pen, known as a stylus (see above).

Depending on the platform that you use when teaching, you can draw on the presentation to underline words, draw pictures and bring focus to certain elements of the class. In classes where you can write on a whiteboard-esque white screen, you can write ‘on the board’ just like in a real-life classroom.

Our recommendations:

Budget tablet: (≈$50AUD on Amazon). Simple, cheap and easy to use.
Mid-tier tablet: (≈$69AUD on Amazon). Comes highly recommended, slightly larger.
High-end tablet: (≈$90AUD on Amazon). We use a Wacom tablet personally and find them the easiest devices to plug-and-play. 

Here’s a great example of the sort of thing you can do with a tablet:

So, that’s all for the tech. Just remember that a few items will greatly increase the quality of your face and voice. Online English teaching companies often offer you an hourly rate based on your demo(nstration) class, so if you are in a quiet, well lit room with a clear, high quality image and sound (plus, give an enthusiastic class) you’ll likely receive the upper rate. The small amount that you pay will be recouped in a few hours work at a better hourly rate.


What you have behind you while you are teaching is really important. The students have only a small ‘window’ on their screen in which to view you and just like when you watch a video online, a messy bedroom in a background is really distracting.

Some companies ask that you have a plain, white background, while others encourage you to decorate your background with colourful signs, posters and child-friendly decorations.

For plain backgrounds: You can purchase a photography backdrop (above) that includes both white and green screen fabrics, but as you can see in the photo – the cheap fabric that comes with it is unable to be ironed and leaves creases. We recommend that you buy a frame (≈$45AUD on Amazon) and a decent muslin fabric (≈$40AUD on Amazon), or you can use any plain fabric like a sheet, for example. Using a green screen gives you the potential to use virtual backgrounds through programs like ManyCam. This can be really spectacularly used for young learners with animations and fun filters. Using a program like ManyCam is quite RAM-heavy so works best with new systems. You can also purchase a small portable green screen that you affix to the wall (≈$68AUD on Amazon).

For decorated backgrounds: You can get really crafty and make yourself a personalised background with cardboard, your name, and an Australian/New Zealand-themed collage – you are only limited by your imagination! Lots of people have a World Map (≈$30AUD on Amazon). Some companies require you to display the company logo on your screen and you can do this by printing it out on paper or using a program like ManyCam to add it digitally.

If you have a lovely, tidy home or office – you might not need a backdrop. Again, it depends on your situation but I’ve found that if you travel a lot, a backdrop can provide a consistent background for your lessons. 


You might want to buy a small ‘mini’ whiteboard ($10AUD on Amazon) to write on and can be especially helpful when explaining a vocabulary word, by drawing an image or breaking it down letter by letter.


What props you use will depend on the age of the students that you are teaching and your own comfort level with using them. The list really is endless. You might want to have a puppet, prop food, costumes etc.

Remember, you can use use props for adult learners as well. Use a phone to ‘call’ your students, or put on a paper moustache to role play a discussion with an angry boss etc. Surprisingly, adults often respond to the same, fun activities that children do – just take your cue from how your students respond. Not all cultures are as comfortable with the notion of play and fun, so start conservatively and get ‘sillier’ if and when appropriate. 

Online English teaching setup
This is the author's 2021 setup. (c) Kate Zarb


You can go ‘all out’ when teaching online and you are only limited by your wallet, but in order to be a great teacher, focus on WHAT you’re teaching and let the technology and props support you. If you are on a tight budget, we suggest that you buy the best headset that you can afford and spend the most you can on good lighting and a webcam (if you can). This will really help the student to see and hear you. A tablet, a program like ManyCam, a few props and a fun background are useful extras.

Good luck and happy teaching!

This post is part of our “Ultimate teach English online guide“. Go check it out.