How To Teach English Online
THE BASICS & FAQ
Quickly, it’s helpful to know that there are many English language teaching acronyms.
For newbies, there are two major ones: TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and (T)EFL – (Teaching) English as a Foreign Language. Although technically different, TESOL is an Australasian acronym while TEFL is more commonly used internationally.
Is online English teaching in demand?
The demand for online English teachers has never been greater. The pandemic has “led to a dramatic increase in online education users”, according to studies. Up to 2 billion people now speak some English, with the many wanting to improve.
Many students (to 1.7 billion) who do not speak English-as-a-first-language fluently are looking to increase their skills by learning from someone like you. Adults want to learn for study, work, travel and business purposes, while parents are often hoping to give their children the best educational and future career opportunities.
Who can teach online?
Anyone can teach online, although there are many things you can do to improve your chances of success.
When we say ‘teach’, do you need to be a school teacher (with a 4 year Education degree)? The answer is “No”.
While qualified teachers make up a portion of the online English teaching community, those from other fields can also be excellent educators. We use the word ‘teach’ as a catch-all term. You need to speak English confidently, and any previous training that you have in mentoring, training, tutoring etc. will benefit you, but you’ll learn a lot ‘on the job’ and through a certification (we’ll discuss this below).
Who will my online teaching students be?
You can teach 1:1, in small groups or to entire villages; but the two main groups are school-aged children and adult professionals, with the two largest markets being Asian and European students.
If you work for a company, you’ll likely teach 1-to-1 or to a small group of 2-6 students. If you work for a marketplace platform or freelance, you can teach as many students at one time as you want but small groups are easier to manage and to give equal time to.
Some students have little to no language ability, while others are near-fluent. The ‘average’ adult students speak some English but want to improve, while young children might need to start with the ABCs.
What does an online class look like?
You’ll most likely be guiding a student or group through a lesson based on a theme, perhaps something like ‘meetings’ for adults or ‘food’ for children. You will then make corrections, encourage responses, and promote equal participation. You don’t need to learn another language as your classes will usually be conducted completely in English.
The average size of an online class is 4 students. Classes are usually between 25min to an hour (but can be up to 90min, for adults). You might be ‘beamed’ into a classroom of 30 students on a large screen in the front of the class but this is less common (and usually reserved for qualified K-12 teachers). More commonly, each student will be sitting in front of his/her own device.
While most classes occur via video calling software like Zoom or Skype, there are also classes conducted via your phone (or even, occasionally, email). You’ll need a laptop or desktop with a camera (built-in webcam or external device) and headphones (with microphone).
You will also be required to complete some administration work outside of lesson times, such as writing a summary of the material covered, sending corrections/suggestions and assigning homework. You may need to write reports for parents or company on your student’s progress.
Is teaching English online flexible?
The exact amount of flexibility you will have in your schedule will depend on how you choose to teach but is generally far more flexible than in a “traditional” job. Just like any job, you need to be reliable and consistent but you can control your time much more than in many other positions. There are often ‘peak hours’ – the times that most students want to learn – usually before and after work for adults and before and after school for children (in their time zone). So, if you want to work in the morning, look for students in a corresponding time zone and vice versa for your evenings. Our job list provides peak hours and time zones for easy conversion.
How many hours/week can I work?
Theoretically, there is no limit to the amount of hours that you can work, but the majority (80%) of paid jobs are casual or part time (<20 hours/wk), although these numbers are just a guide. The reason being that most TESOL learning occurs outside of classroom hours, so is limited to mornings and evenings. Adult learners are limited by their working hours. Although, if you can juggle multiple time zones and/or build a freelance/marketplace business with regular students and/or groups of students, you can build a full-time income.
What are the main online teaching responsibilities?
- Helping students improve their reading, writing and speaking skills.
- Using materials and curriculum aimed at particular learning objectives.
- Delivering individualised teaching to meet your students’ needs.
- Monitoring and reporting on your students’ progress.
- Creating and developing tools to assist students (worksheets, quizzes etc).
- Managing interpersonal dynamics; among many other things.
This is only a short summary of the responsibilities that a teacher has. You may, on any given day, also find yourself in the role of therapist, disciplinarian, coach and best friend!
What are the requirements to teach online?
- 18 years or older
- A fluent English speaker.
- Can pass a background check (if teaching students under 18) issued from your country of origin.
- We also advise that you study an accredited TEFL/TESOL certificate of 120 hours or more.
If you want to work for a company:
- An Australian or New Zealand citizen or permanent resident. If you are from another country, please see our International page.
- A Bachelor’s degree is required to work for 75%+ companies, although 25% of companies we have on our International Job List are for online English teaching without a degree.
Marketplace and freelance teaching don’t usually require a university degree, but will be helpful if tutoring university students.
You’ll likely need a scanned copy of your passport, drivers license and qualifications (sometimes requiring notarisation or an apostille) or a high-quality photo of. Please be careful when sending documentation online and do not pay money to a third party recruiter overseas who promises you a job before doing some research.
Can I teach online with no experience?
Yes, you can teach online with no experience but you will likely need to start with an entry-level position in a company and work your way up in the field. If you are confident with sales and marketing, you can advertise yourself independently. We recommend that you study a TESOL/TEFL certificate with a practicum (practice teaching) included if you’re a beginner so that you start with confidence.
Study a TEFL certificate with Premier and join their teacher studio for 10 hours of practice teaching via Zoom as part of your course. You can also search for online volunteering options to ‘get your foot on the ladder’. See our post “How to volunteer to teach English online“.
What’s the best online TESOL course?
Each TESOL/TESL/TEFL/CELTA/DELTA course will focus on slightly different things, but some of the main elements are:
- English grammar and linguistics – think verbs, adjectives and nouns etc;
- Teaching basics such as: how to plan and deliver a successful lesson, manage a classroom and student behaviour, activities and games etc;
- Observation of a classroom and/or practice teaching (actually teaching classes to your fellow students or with real ESL learners).
Some courses show you how to find an English teaching job/private students, provide video support from an experienced teacher, ebooks and even a pre-arranged job interview. Others allow you to take additional elective units to specialise in an area such as Business English, language testing (IELTS etc.) and many others.
TESOL courses take from 120 hours to 2 years to complete, with a basic 120 hour TEFL course able to be completed in about three weeks. Each course has different entry requirements, such as age, educational background and English language level, so check carefully before applying and/or ask your course provider.
If you want to compare all the major online TESOL courses, please visit our post on Online TESOL courses.
Are there free TESOL/TEFL certificates?
While there are no free accredited TESOL or TEFL certificates, we’ve also put together a list of free courses that you can do to help you learn as much about online English teaching as you can (in addition to your accredited certification).
Is a TESOL/TEFL certificate worth it?
Yes, a TEFL (or TESOL) certificate is worth it – as it gives you the foundation of English teaching, grammar and classroom management. This ensures that you’ll be ready to teach from day one. You’ll be more confident and in control if you study for an accredited qualification.
How much money can I make teaching English online?
Online English teachers make an average hourly rate of $25AUD/$26NZD per hour, with skilled and qualified roles paying up to $50AUD/$52NZD (or more, in some cases). Those who teach privately (or independently ‘freelance’, without a company) can charge $100AUD/$104NZD/hr or more.
As the industry is so large, there are jobs from $10-$100/hr; teaching toddlers, children, teenagers and adults of every shape and size. If you work for a marketplace, profile site/platform or independently, you are only limited by what your students (or their parents) are willing to pay.
As most companies are not physically located in Australasia, they are not required to provide the same benefits and protections. You won’t be receiving Superannuation or benefits, so it’s best to save extra in case of emergencies/retirement. Companies tend to offer part-time hours (10-20 hrs/week, on average), during the peak times for their students (before and after work and/or school in their time zone).
A full-time workload can be achieved but you must be organised and potentially teach for multiple companies. Companies also pay differently depending on your country of residency, so Australasians living in SE Asia will receive less than if they were living at home. This is difficult to accurately predict – generally – the higher the cost of living in a country, the higher the hourly rate.
It’s worth noting that often companies offer a complex rate based on how many classes you teach, weekends, trial classes etc. There is a common equation: “Hourly Rate = Base Hourly Rate + Bonus – Penalties”. Note what penalties occur (such as being late) and how much they are. There is also often a low and high range, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Make sure that you understand the rate clearly before signing a contract. See our complete International Job List for 50+ companies that hire Australasians. It was designed to help cut through the complexity of an enormous unregulated industry and to provide you with clear, transparent information.
How do I receive payment from teaching online?
Companies can pay monthly, fortnightly and even weekly usually via an online EFT, International Money Transfer (like PayPal or Wise) or direct bank transfer. Fees can be significant, so prepare for these in your budget. Marketplace or freelance teaching may involve negotiating payment options with your students.
The range of online payment options and bank account fees is complex, so see our post “International payments for online English teachers (Australia & New Zealand)” for a comprehensive guide to finding the best way to save yourself some serious $$! You can also build your own website and receive payments through it, although this is more complicated.
How do I pay my taxes from my online teaching income?
What equipment do you need for online teaching?
- Reliable internet – 10Mbps (or more) is best.
- In-built (or plug-in) webcam.
- Headset or microphone.
- Good lighting (like a ring light).
- A comfortable chair.
- Props for children (puppets, cut-outs etc).
- Drawing tablet (optional).
The start-up costs to teach English online are incredibly low and you can improvise with many of the items above. When you first consider teaching online, it can seem like you’ll need an overwhelming amount of equipment. The reality is that you can start very simply and build up over time. For our full guide, see our “Essential equipment to teach online” post for comprehensive information.
Here are the basics:
Each English teaching company will require that you have a minimum internet connection speed (which can vary greatly from company to company) and includes both Upload and Download speeds. Freelance/marketplace teachers will benefit from a fast, steady connection. Test your speeds here.
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.
Some companies and apps allow you to teach from your phone or tablet device, though this is still a minority case. Although more difficult, it is much easier for an informal conversation-type of lesson or those where there is minimal need for a lesson plan to follow or interaction with the screen. The online English teaching landscape is always changing and we will not be surprised if this type of teaching becomes more common in the next few years.
In-built (or plug-in) webcam
If you have a less than 5 year old laptop, you should have an integrated webcam that will be sufficient. If you are working on a desktop computer, you may need to purchase one. We recommend that you aim for 1080p (at 30fps) for best video quality.
Headset or microphone
We recommend headsets with a built in microphone, like the ones that you see in call centres, as they provide the best sound quality. 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 is still our reliable backup after a year of daily use. You can also try a lapel microphone in combination with air-pod style earphones, although this won’t be as good quality.
Good lighting (like a ring light)
The fastest way to improve the quality of your appearance online is to set up some basic lighting, a cheap covered desk lamp or two is a perfect way to start. Two lights at 10 and 2 on a clock in front of you is recommended by professionals.
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 as well. Turn on your webcam and play around with different arrangements until you find the best setup for your situation.
A comfortable chair
After sitting for multiple back-to-back classes, you’ll be extremely grateful that you purchased a good office chair. We prefer a high backed one with neck support and adjustable angles, like this one.
You may want to buy a small ‘mini’ whiteboard to write on and can be especially helpful when explaining a vocabulary word, by drawing an image or breaking it down letter by letter.
Props for children (puppets, cut-outs etc)
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. Search for “online ESL teaching props” for lots of fantastic ideas.
Drawing tablet (optional)
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 and is great for increasing interactivity.
Read our post “Essential equipment to teach online” for all the items you’ll need to succeed teaching English online and really stand out among the competition to either nail your interview or attract private students for your freelance business. Go check it out.
Do I need social media to teach English online?
We recommend an online profile such as a Facebook page, LinkedIn profile or a website specifically created for teaching English online, yes. This is, of course, optional. Especially if you want to teach independently, it’s best to have an internet presence. This can be incredibly useful in your marketing as well.
Where can I teach online?
A company provides the students (and, often, lesson plan material) with a set schedule at an hourly rate. On a marketplace or profile platform, you advertise your services to students who are looking and pay a fee for the transaction. As a freelance or independent private teacher, it’s all DIY. There are multiple options, depending on your experience, needs and preferences.
We’ll talk about a few pros and cons of each one:
TEACH FOR A COMPANY
- Students are provided.
- Lesson plans are provided.
- Good for new teachers and beginners.
- Limited creativity/repetition in the materials that you will teach.
- Lack of control over hours, students and schedule.
- Bookings may be unreliable/low.
- Peak hours are based on company location (usually before and after work and/or school hours).
- You need to work with the time zone of your company.
There are more than 400 companies globally, on every continent. If you’ve never taught English online before, this is likely the idea you had of a teaching job – you work for a company, they provide the students and materials and you just sit down to teach. This is what a large number of teachers do, yet each company and job is incredibly varied.
Some require you to make your own materials to teach a group of professional businesspeople how to chair a meeting for an hour each month via Zoom, while others require you to teach 8-10 year olds basic English for 20 hours each week on an in-house teaching platform. You might need to leave short, written feedback for each student (and/or their parent/s) after each class and provide some assessment of how they went and what they learned.
We won’t go into the details of any particular company here but each will offer you something slightly different. All this information (and more) is provided for you in our International Job List for Australians & New Zealanders.
A general rule of thumb is that completely new teachers will likely start in companies in entry level positions and work up. This is where a lot is already provided, you need to do minimal preparation and to simply follow the guides that you have been given. This, in turn, will pay the least of these three options.
Applications can take time so don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear back immediately. Apply for multiple companies at once, if you want to get started ASAP. Remember, if you want to apply for a company, you’ll need a good resume/CV.
How do I write a good resume/CV for teaching English online?
- Write a short (1-2 page), proofread resume.
- Only include teaching (or related) experience.
- Include contact info (including time zone, country dialling code (+61 etc)).
- Add a neat, professional-looking headshot photo (optional).
- Keep language simple, focused and highlighting your positives.
- Include a link to your self-introduction video (see below).
Grammar and spelling is best if “on point”. Download a free app like Grammarly and/or ask a friend to review your resume before you send it. Find a clean, simple template (a free template from Microsoft Office is more than sufficient) and keep it to 1-2 pages. Keep language simple and clear so it can be understood by a non-native interviewer/HR. Many staff members speak excellent English but don’t assume this to be the case. Are you using any colloquial English that someone from another country wouldn’t understand?
If you are a new teacher, consider how your previous work experience can directly help you teach (good organisation, people skills etc.) or how you may be able to teach English. Try and keep it related to teaching-adjacent skills as much as possible. Probably best to keep that job at McDonalds back in high school off your resume. If you need to record an audio .mp3 file for your application, see our post here.
In order to attract the highest salary, you must be able to quickly and succinctly tell a company that you are worth the amount that you are asking for by highlighting your strengths. Do not consider anything a negative. You must sell and market yourself to the company. Bi-lingualism is a positive asset, as is international travel, study and exam taking. You can read our comprehensive guide to online English teaching resumes/CVs here.
Please also avoid putting personally identifying information such as your home address, phone number or Passport/Driver’s License/Birth Certificate/Social Security Number on your resume. Please read “Digital security for online ESL teachers, is it necessary?” before applying.
How do I prepare for an online teaching company interview?
- Prepare your technology. See “What equipment do you need for online teaching?” below. Have a webcam, headset and stable internet at a minimum.
- Have props and research TPR (Total Physical Response) if teaching children.
- Search for videos from other teachers applying for your chosen company online and get any tips and tricks that you can.
- Research the company and the demographics of your potential students (if possible).
- Read this article on The Must-Know Online ESL Teacher Interview Questions & Answers.
You are likely to be asked to teach a demonstration or ‘demo’ class before you are hired. This shows the interviewer your teaching style and how well you follow any guidelines that you have been given. If you are new, don’t panic – just smile and give it your best shot.
It’s worth mentioning referral links, recruiters and mentors. These are all VERY common in the industry and mean that teachers are paid a small bonus to help train and recruit other teachers for their company. It is completely up to you if you want to go down this path and new teachers or those who lack confidence might be assured by this process and having someone to guide them through the interview process.
If you want, join any TESOL/TEFL/ESL facebook or other social media group, say that you are looking for a job at a company and a handful of ‘recruiters’ will message you within minutes. Just remember, they are being paid to recruit you and it is in their best interest for you to be hired so they may not always be 100% transparent about the company or the working conditions.
If you want current and impartial information, see our International Job List for Australians & New Zealanders.
How long are online English teaching contracts?
Not all companies ask you to sign a contract, instead opting for an open ended agreement. Contracts usually last from 6 months to one year and you will most likely be hired as an independent and individual part-time contractor, not as an employee. Read our post “How long are online English teaching contracts?” for more info.
TEACH FOR A MARKETPLACE/PROFILE SITE OR PLATFORM
- Set your own schedule.
- Set your own price.
- Flexible cancellation policy.
- You can select students or sites based on time-zone/s.
- Lots of competition.
- Individualised lesson plan preparation takes time.
- Strict rules.
- You need to spend time attracting and retaining students.
- Fees (generally 10-30% of your lesson profit).
Unlike a traditional English teaching job where a company attracts a student base and then pays you an hourly rate to teach them, an English marketplace facilitates lessons between the student and teacher directly, with the marketplace taking a fee for connecting the two. Either the student will post a ‘teacher wanted’ ad that you can respond to or you can advertise your services and students can respond to you.
An English marketplace/profile site or platform means that there will be some foot traffic passing your services and you can look around and see what all the other teachers are doing, what services they are offering and how much they are charging. There is still no guarantee that anyone will stop and buy but it means that you have some context when starting and you will receive immediate feedback. If you get students straight away, you’re probably selling the right services. If not, you’ll need to consider your prices and/or how you can differentiate your services in a crowded market.
You must often abide by strict rules around contacting students directly (so as not to ‘poach’ them) and cancellation/refund policies are those of the marketplace. You can usually charge more than you would earn at a company but you’ll need to look around the particular one that you choose to see the rates that teachers there are charging.
You may need to start low and increase slowly over time as you receive bookings and good reviews. Pricing is a complex issue and there is no simple answer to “How much should I charge?” – this depends on multiple factors, including your skills and the income of your student.
How do I make an online teacher profile that stands out?
- Present yourself as professional, yet friendly.
- Dress appropriately for the context – business, young children etc.
- Have a plain background or add a bright colour/effects in a photo editing program.
- Take a photo with your face well-lit.
In the digital world, there isn’t much time to make an impression. Unlike a face-to-face meeting, in an online English teaching marketplace, the student will only have a photo (and/or a video) in which to judge your character and who you are. Therefore, it is critical that it represents you in the best way possible.
While it might be a nice opportunity to release your inner ‘cover god/dess’, a good profile photo only really needs to clear, well-lit and free from background distractions.There are many people who have recently been promoting a solid, bright colour in their background but a photo in front of (clean!) white tiles in the bathroom or in front of a white wall in the brightest room in the house will suffice.
Also consider what kind of teacher you are and who you are marketing yourself to. If you are targeting professional adults, a suit is an obvious no-brainer, with young-learner teachers free to wear bright colours and ‘clown around’ in front of the camera. Have a look around at other teachers on the marketplace of your choice, see how they are presenting themselves and emulate them, if needed.
Or, throw the rule book out the window and take a photo of yourself hanging upside down from the monkey bars, if you want! Be creative; what matters is that you are representing yourself as best you can and in a way that makes you a desirable teacher.
- Most flexible schedule.
- Highest rates of pay.
- Opportunity for creativity.
- Best for experienced teachers.
- Marketing can be difficult.
- Student retention is challenging.
- It’s A LOT of work.
Teaching independently is, by far, the most challenging of the three options but also the most flexible and profitable. You can charge up to $100AUD/hr or more. It involves selecting an area of specialisation to teach in (or a “niche”), finding students who are interested, marketing and selling your services to them, planning lessons, receiving payment and providing assessment on their progress. You might want to build a website, advertise on social media or create materials (like ebooks) that will encourage students to want to learn with you.
This option is usually best for those who are confident with sales and marketing, have experience and/or are a well-qualified teaching professional. We can’t cover all the possibilities of starting an independent online English teaching business here but If you are interested in teaching independently, building your own website and attracting private students, click here.
If you’d like the read bout the 3 biggest freelance mistakes that I made (and how to overcome them), read my “Freelance teacher 101: BASICS TO BREAKTHROUGH” post.
What do I teach the students?
If you work for a company, the lesson plan materials are usually provided so you simply need to follow along. If you need to create your own lesson plans, read our post “10+ FREE online English lesson plan templates Australia” for a good place to start. We also recommend Teachers Pay Teachers, where you can buy lesson plans for any age and on any topic (created by other more experienced teachers) or British Council.
For the sake of transparency, teaching English online is definitely not for everyone. Very young learners can be easily distracted and need to be entertained as much as educated. If you’ve never worked with kids before, you’ll have to find fun and engaging ways to explain simple ideas in an even simpler way.
Time zones in other countries can mean unusual working hours and some companies only offer part-time roles, which may lead to needing to work for more than one company in order to earn the equivalent of a 40-hour salary.
Those with university degrees (especially in Education/related areas) and experience will have the most choice of what roles they can apply for and the ages of the students that they teach.
As a private contractor, you will need to stay on top of your own taxes and read your contract carefully to make sure you fully understand the length of commitment to the company, penalties for lateness or absenteeism etc. You won’t be receiving superannuation or other benefits like you would in a traditional job, so it helps to put away some of your salary to cover emergencies. The initial learning curve can be steep as you work out exactly how to be the best possible teacher you can be.
Just remember, you’ll never know until you get in there and ‘give it a go’ and may be surprised at the skills you’ve used in another area and how well they work in the digital classroom. We cannot recommend it enough for those looking for flexibility, the potential for travel and a rewardingly meaningful job. Not everyone is cut out for online English teaching but in this new and emerging field, you might just find the career for you. After being in TESOL for over a decade, I can’t recommend it enough as a legitimate, meaningful online role.
Good luck and happy teaching!