Teach English online to Chinese students: Secrets to success.

With ≈400 million Chinese ESL learners, it seems natural to teach English online to Chinese students. Here is what you need to consider to be successful, including the 2021 law that could land you in hot water. What was the 720/double reduction policy and can you still be successful teaching English online despite it?

This post is written for Australians and New Zealanders but all of our information can be used by teachers worldwide. We use affiliate links, which earn us a small commission (at no cost to you, see our Disclaimer) but always give you the best impartial advice based on first-hand experience.

teach english online to chinese students
In my experience, Chinese students are generally respectful and dedicated. Photo by 绵 绵

Why teach English online to Chinese students?

With a population of 1.4 billion (and growing), China has been home to the largest number of ESL (English as a Second Language) students for the last two decades. Chinese students made up the largest section of the International Student cohort in Australia in 2019, with over 250,000 enrolments. Demand for online English lessons grew exponentially at the start of the pandemic, as Chinese students faced school closures and travel restrictions.

From my experience, Chinese students are highly dedicated and diligent, with a respectful attitude towards teachers. Parents are willing to spend large amounts of money to help their children succeed in a very competitive domestic education system and place great value on international education, especially that provided by “Western” “native English speakers”. Adult professionals from China often reap large professional (and therefore financial) benefits from becoming proficient in English and pay well for quality tuition.

“So how do I sign up?”, you might be asking…

An important consideration before you teach English online to Chinese students...

A few years ago, the Chinese online ESL market was booming. Between 2013 -2017, the ‘Online Youth English Training Market‘ grew from 7.1 to an estimated 50.7 billion dollars annually. Hundreds of Chinese ed-tech companies jumped on board, in turn hiring thousands of online English teachers to supply the growing demand. 

That was, until mid 2021. In a complex set of legislation referred to as the “double reduction/720 policy” [Chinese], the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) banned the hiring of foreign teachers located outside China to teach English online to Chinese youth under the age of 18 (among many other reforms). The idea was to reduce the financial burden of educational tuition on parents in order to encourage them to add more children to an ageing population.

I won’t go into the details of this legislation here (read more about the impact on the industry in my post “Without China, how big is the global online ESL market in 2022“), but the big takeaway message is this: At the time of writing, it is illegal for a Chinese company to hire non-Chinese teachers to teach English online to children in China.

Almost all of the companies in the Chinese Youth ESL Market closed or moved to markets in other countries during the second half of 2021. You can still theoretically teach freelance or on a marketplace to Chinese children but it’s worth remembering that if you choose to teach English to children in China online you (and your students) are operating in a legal grey area.

I do still see ads occasionally popping up from Chinese companies hiring for online English teachers for children in a covert fashion (i.e not disclosing where the students are located), as there is profit to be made in this grey market, but I don’t personally include these in the job list or weekly newsletter due to the legal ambiguity. I’m not a lawyer so can’t advise on the consequences (if any) of going against this policy but it’s definitely worth considering as it could potentially land you in hot water.

If you’ve read a blog post written before 2022 that lists Chinese companies that hire children, they were likely written before the CCP policy change. I see this regularly as these posts were hastily written at the height of the industry. Companies that stopped operating:
 

GOGOKID – “As of Aug 5th 2021, GOGOKID will suspend the curriculum offered to all Chinese students”. https://www.rappler.com/…/bytedance-close-some-tutoring…

VIPKID – “Starting August 7, 2021, students in China will be unable to purchase new class packages with foreign VIPKid teachers outside of China.” https://www.vipkid.com/…/455ca889d3e3a96b734544b77093d52e

DADAABC – “We regret to inform you that students in the Chinese mainland will not be able to take courses after 31st December”. https://www.reddit.com/…/its_on_the_homepage…/
 
ZEBRA ENGLISH – “We are really sorry to inform you that, being influenced by recent policies, our business will not be developed in the future. Currently, we are not able to recruit any new teachers, and your recruiting process has been terminated.”
 
WHALES ENGLISH – On August 19th, 2021, Whales issued a statement apologising for the fact that teachers had woken up to find their classes removed without warning. https://teachersxchange.com/esl-china-update-the-story…/
 

FIRST FUTURE – Hiring freeze until further notice. Likely no classes for foreign tutors outside China.

QKIDS – “has pledged to continue teaching its existing courses, but from August 10th will not be selling any more classes with teachers outside China”.

LANDI ENGLISH/ABC360 – From August 11th, Landi English suspended recruitment “due to the risks related to the new rules and regulations issued by the Chinese State Council”. On Sep 10, all part-time teacher contracts were suspended.
 
BLINGABC – “Due to recent government policies in China, online classes must be capped at a duration of 30 minutes starting from September 1st.” Likely no classes for foreign tutors outside China.
Shanghai, China. Photo by Nuno Alberto.

How to teach English online to China

The main alternative to teaching English to Chinese children is to teach adults instead. Research by J’son and Partners (2021) indicated that adult online ESL makes up 68% of the total market, potentially worth $1.21 billion or more.

Yet there are relatively few companies in China that offer ‘jobs’ teaching classes to adults online to those located overseas, with only two companies on our complete job list. Whereas parents are 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 learning for ≈1-3 months, making them a less attractive basis for a business model than the youth market in China.

If you really want to teach teaching English to Chinese adults, you may want to consider either applying for roles with companies in neighbouring countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and to a lessor extent South Korea and Japan. There are, anecdotally, many Chinese students taking classes with these operators. 

You can also consider the profile/marketplace platforms in the region where you advertise your teaching profile and students choose to take lessons with you. If you speak Mandarin, Cantonese or have some experience with Chinese culture and language, this will assist you to attract students very quickly on these platforms. If you have an understanding of (or are willing to do some research into) the major Chinese exams (like the gaokao (高考) and/or overseas university entrance exams like SAT, TOEFL and IELTS, this can also be a huge drawcard.

You can offer freelance teaching to students located in China but it is worth considering the Great Firewall of China, which blocks access to many sites to Chinese citizens, including “Western” social media such as Facebook (a traditional method to finding students).

The final option is to market your teaching services to Chinese students located in Australia. There are many International students studying in Australian universities who are looking for ESL tuition as well as students in Primary and Secondary who require additional assistance. Parents located in Australia will pay much higher rates for tuition, with a constant demand. Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese) speaking tutors in Australia are paid a premium ($100 AUD/hr or more), but tutoring roles are available for “native” English speakers as well.

Teaching English online in China

If you are a little more adventurous, you could always consider moving to China itself and teaching English online from inside the country. This circumvents many of the restrictions of the 720/double reduction policy. This could also be done in combination with in-person teaching (being sure to follow any work visa/immigration policies carefully, of course).

Teach English online to Chinese students FAQ

How much can you make teaching English to Chinese students online?

While highly variable, the average hourly rate offered by Chinese online ESL companies is ≈$25 AUD/hr, profile/marketplace platforms (≈$40 AUD/hr) or freelance (Up to $100 AUD/hr). Tutoring Chinese students in Australia will likely net you ≈$40 – $100 AUD/hr.

This depends on multiple factors, such as your TESOL qualifications, experience and sales and marketing skills. Qualified Primary and Secondary teachers usually earn higher rates.

Do you need to know Chinese to teach English online?

No, you do not need to know Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) to teach English online to Chinese students, but even basic Chinese language skills will dramatically increase your ability to attract students and charge a higher rate. 

If you want to attract Chinese students (especially beginners), having your profile professionally translated from English will help a lot, as well as including Chinese subtitles on your introduction video. Just make sure you state that you don’t actually speak Chinese or you will start receiving messages from students that you can’t understand!

Where can I find Chinese students who want to learn English?

The Chinese Firewall makes contacting students challenging, so consider English teaching marketplace platforms or Chinese apps like WeChat. LinkedIn is accessible on the Chinese mainland or you can build your own website. Have a look at our job list for tutoring companies that cater to Chinese students located in Australia.

Despite challenges, teaching English to Chinese students online may be perfect for you. Photo by Javier Quiroga.

Summary

There are millions of Chinese online ESL students, but as you’ve read, teachers encounter challenges to entering the market. If you navigate the policies limiting the teaching of children, CCP Firewall and understand the benefits of basic Chinese language skills and/or translation – you could be very successful teaching English online to Chinese students. It’s not the most straightforward path to teaching online but the rewards can be great for those who try. If you’re looking for well-paying and dedicated students, this might just be for you. 

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