Teaching English Online: The Essential Beginner's Guide

by Diego Navarro | LAST UPDATED June 3, 2021

Teaching English online
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Ask any experienced educator, and they're likely to agree that working at a brick-and-mortar school in the middle of an ongoing pandemic might not be the best entry point for aspiring teachers or business English professionals. 

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of public and private schools that might be hiring right now, but these days the best way to break into the education space is to get a basic certification and start by finding a job teaching English online.

The Beginner’s Guide to Teaching English Online

The beauty of teaching English online is that it's not location-dependent, meaning you can apply to job openings at schools and language centers around the world without worrying about difficult commutes, let alone frustrating covid protocols on the daily. 

Another benefit of teaching English online is that you can live anywhere you want since your work is remote. Choose a place with a cost of living that is best suited to your income level, or stay exactly where you are — it doesn't matter when your workplace is a digital classroom on your computer. 

Without a doubt, this is already an appealing offer for both stay-at-home parents and world-traveling digital nomads alike.

When it comes to compensation, jobs focused on teaching English online pay hourly rates of anything between $10 and $25. That means a full-time position is most likely required to make ends meet for most people.

However, I should mention that these are just the average rates, and certain positions might pay more than the stipulated amount while others might pay less.

Initially, the pay rate might not be too great, but few companies have a maximum hour policy. So, essentially, if the money seems to be running thin each month, most online teaching programs will offer the option to increase work hours.

Requirements for Teaching English Online

Teaching a class of kids

The truth is, there's a wide range of requirements and qualifications for teaching English online. So, if you're new to the ESL game, understand that you won't have enough professional experience to fulfill mandatory job duties in some situations. 

I'm trying to say that you should apply for jobs according to your experience level. If you're a new instructor, focus on teaching English online first and scope out digital platforms designed for newbies. And remember that the qualifications vary from one platform to the next. 

Certain companies want to see a bachelor's degree in languages, while others will be happy to accept pretty much any native English speaker. Naturally, it would be best if you had a firm grasp of English since you'll probably go through a vetting process before teaching English online. 

In general, any TESOL or TEFL course will do, and they range from 2-week online courses to extensive 1-month training packages and up.

Since there's no set standard, I'll go into more detail on the required certifications for each position below as I outline the eight best online teaching platforms for remote education.

Gear for Teaching English Online

Online teaching gear

There are a few pieces of mandatory equipment that you'll need if you intend to pursue a career in teaching English online. The basics would be a quality microphone, a good pair of earphones, a semi-decent laptop with a webcam, and a reliable internet connection.

You can choose to integrate the microphone and the earphones into one item and buy a complete headset with a built-in mic instead, but I'll leave that up to you.

Depending on the job description, you may need to get additional items, but this is the basic level of equipment to get up and running teaching English online. 

Suggested microphones

When it comes to microphones for teaching English online, the best choices for both quality and price are probably the blue yeti or the blue snowball. These relatively inexpensive USB microphones are the preferred choice for most online personalities and influencers because they are easy to set up and use. 

When it comes to earphones, pretty much anything will do, including the ones that came with your phone or any pair you can find for $5. Those will most likely break in a month but will be easy to replace due to the price.

Suggested headphones

If you're looking for something with a bit more quality, or a headset with an integrated mic, then we'd suggest looking through the gaming section of any online shop. The Razer BlackShark or the JBL Quantum 200 provides a quality mic and listening experience for a pretty reasonable price.

Suggested laptops

When it comes to laptops, you won't need a monster of a machine to take care of your lesson planning, so you can go for something that's reasonably priced but still loaded with perks.

Unfortunately, I can't advise the best internet providers since they're all location-based services. What I can say is that you won't be able to get away with just any caliber of wifi, and you'll need to prove that you can hold online classes without lag or frequent crashes. 

Not many companies will mandate an ultra turbocharged service. Still, you'll need a solid connection if your goal is to make money teaching English online.

8 Best Platforms for Teaching English Online

Before I go into the platforms and the companies that provide online English teaching jobs, there's something that we need to make clear.

The platforms on this list are in no particular order, and this is not a definitive rundown by any means. While I believe these are the best platforms for online language learners and teachers, other reputable companies exist.

My goal is that you can find at least one viable option for teaching English online from the eight platforms listed below. 

If you finish this article and decide teaching may not be the best fit, pop over to our 14 Best Jobs for Digital Nomads blog to see if there's any other line of remote work opportunities that better align with your specific needs. Otherwise, take a few moments to pursue content wholly dedicated to alternative lifestyles like van life, off-grid living, digital nomadism, and even the tiny home movement.

1. Cambly

Camby's home page

Hiring process: The only requirement for this teaching gig is fluency in the English language. You don't need any college degrees or teaching certificates, and it doesn't matter if you live in New Zealand or Ireland, as long as you have a firm grasp on your mother tongue. First, send a 2-minute introduction video for application approval. After that, you can create an account.

Gear Requirements: Any laptop, mobile, or tablet with a built-in webcam capable of downloading and running the Camby app. You'll also need a stable internet connection and a headset with a microphone (if your device doesn't already have it as standard equipment.)

General Info: The Cambly platform encourages teaching English online through conversation. The classes are one-on-one conversations between people interested in learning a foreign language from a native English speaker. The class structure is 15-minute, 30-minute, and 1-hour sessions. Remember to speak loud and clear because the school records every session for listening exercises. 

Pay: Depending on the selected package, you can earn $0.17/min ($10.20/hour) on Cambly and $0.20/min ($12.00/hour) teaching English online for Cambly Kids, paid through PayPal.

Hours: There is no minimum daily or weekly lesson requirement, and you don't even need to set a schedule for your sessions. All you need to do is log into the app and check if students are available for a class. You're also free to set a schedule with select students if you want.

2. VIPKid

VipKid's home page

Hiring process: VIPKid exclusively hires native English speakers from Canada or the US and offers 6-month contracts out of the gate. The minimum requirement is a bachelor's degree and at least one year of previous experience as a teacher, a teaching assistant, an ESL teacher, or any position of a similar capacity.

Gear Requirements: The standard combo of headset, mic, and laptop with a built-in webcam. VIPKid also requires a stable internet connection, but there is no restriction on internet speeds or minimal download and upload speeds. You'll also be required to download and use the VIPKid app from their site, which won't be a problem for any semi-decent laptop.

General Info: You will teach 25-minute one-on-one classes to 5-10-year-old Chinese children. A curriculum is already in place, so there's no reason to worry about organizing any lesson plans ahead of time, making this one of the best platforms for teaching English online. 

Pay: Compensation for online English teachers is $7 - $9 per class, based on your credentials and performance during the demo lesson. Bonuses are available for holding a class on short notice and depend on the number of monthly courses and the total number of classes you've taught. As a result, the average hourly pay in this company ranges from $14 - $27.

Hours: The platform doesn't require a minimum number of daily teaching hours. Similarly, there is no maximum, and you're responsible for scheduling your classes by entering your name in the desired time slot.

Peak lesson hours are 2 a.m.–5 a.m. Monday–Friday, and 5 p.m.–6 a.m. Sat/Sun, pacific standard time. You're allowed to cancel up to six classes without penalty during your 6-month contract. If you cancel within 24 hours before the class, you'll need to pay a $2 fine, and if you cancel within two hours before the course, you'll need to pay a $10 fine.

3. Qkids

QKids' home page

Hiring process: The Qkids platform offers a 6-month contract to Canadians and anyone living in the US. The agreement in question stipulates that employees must stay within the US or Canada for six months. You're also required to have at least a bachelor's degree in any subject as well as an ESL, CELTA, or TEFL certification for teaching English online at Qkids.

You'll need to submit all of the required materials, as well as a short one to two-minute introduction video for the application process. Afterward, you'll receive an initial screening and hold a few trial classes to practice teaching English online. If everything checks out, Qkids will offer a contract.

Gear Requirements: To teach at Qkids, you need a laptop with a webcam, a headset with a microphone, and a reliable internet connection — 2Mbps upload speed and a 4Mbps download speed at minimum.

General Info: You'll be teaching young learners in China between 4 and 12. The classes are 30-minutes long, with up to four students at a time. Since you'll have access to animated lesson plans and supplemental teaching materials, there is no need to prepare your coursework independently, aside from choosing in-class activities. 

Pay: You'll earn roughly $16 - $20 an hour teaching English online at Qkids. There are options for an additional $1 per hour incentive based on your in-class reviews, but it's only available to teachers with more than 15 lessons per week. In other words, if your teacher reviews are good, expect to earn an average of $8 per 30-minute English lesson. 

Hours: The site has a minimum weekly requirement of 6 hours or at least 12 standard-length lessons. Lessons take place seven days a week, 6:30–9:00 a.m. EST, while additional hours are available 8:30–11:40 p.m. EST on Fridays and Saturdays.

The company sets your schedule, and there's a 24-hour class cancellation policy for online learning. There is no penalty for sick days or vacation time when teaching English online at Qkids.

4. Italki

Italki's home page

Hiring process: The community tutor positions don't require any qualifications, while the professional teacher positions are only available for those with a bachelor's degree and a teaching certification. After applying online, you'll need to complete a teacher success quiz and get on a video call with Italki's teacher services. Once all of that, look out for a pre-approval email to get started teaching English online with Italki.

Gear Requirements: An internet connection that exceeds 2 MB per second and a laptop with a webcam that has one of the following VOIP software options: Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, or QQ.

General Info: Italki offers conversation classes and ESL teaching in every language, including Spanish and Japanese, meaning you can offer your services in other languages provided you're qualified, of course. The language teaching classes are one-on-one video chats using the software previously mentioned. 

Pay: There is no set pay scheme on Italki – you set the price tag for your lessons on this learning platform. The exact amount should reflect your skill and teaching abilities. Most tutors seem to ask for somewhere between $12 - $15 per class, while professional teachers ask for $20 - $25. Again, this will depend solely on you, but we recommend not overvaluing your skills too much, as you won't be getting many teaching requests otherwise.

Hours: You don't set a schedule on Italki; use the calendar function to mark your availability for teaching English online. Once students send a request to learn during the available time slots, you have 48 hours to confirm before the session expires.

5. PalFish

Palfish's home page

Hiring process: Palfish offers three courses: Palfish Teacher, PalFish Official Course Instructor, and Palfish Philippines. All these positions require a teaching certificate to prove sufficient mastery of the English language. The Teacher and Instructor positions are open for anyone from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Ireland, while the Philippines course is only open for people from the Philippines.

Regardless of the position, you'll need to download the PalFish app, create a profile, and set up an account on Payoneer for payment purposes. Start by recording an introduction clip and wait for an in-app reply for around two days. You'll also need to provide teaching credentials and complete a demo lesson and a quiz before teaching English online with Palfish. 

Gear Requirements: You'll need a laptop that's good enough to run the PalFish app reliably and hold a video call without crashing. There aren't any internet requirements past "reliable connection," but the company does require you to wear a uniform consisting of a blue t-shirt.

They also ask that you organize your background to "look like a standard classroom," though its meaning is a bit unclear. I suggest clarifying this point in the interview beforehand so you know the protocol moving forward. 

General Info: The kids' programs consist of 25-minute one-on-one tutoring sessions where you'll present the pre-prepared PalFish course material. So, not much preparation is required, although you are encouraged to use props to hold the attention of the 3-12-year-old Chinese students.

You entirely dictate the class duration and program of the live stream courses, and you have the freedom to include multiple students in your online classroom. The Philippines course is identical to the kids' program.

Pay: You'll be allowed to set prices for each live stream session, calculated on a minute basis. Other courses pay up to $30 an hour, with the base pay being 50 ¥ (or roughly $8), with a 5 ¥ bonus for logging into the lesson on time. You'll also have the option to enter a better pay rate by accumulating points for each successful class.

Hours: All three Palfish courses require you to log in a minimum of 3.5 hours per week, while the live streams have no such requirement for teaching English online. Peak hours for the live streams are between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. Beijing time, while peak teaching hours for the other courses are from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mon–Fri, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sat/Sun. You'll be able to set your schedule by marking available days and hours on the app calendar.

6. Preply

Preply's home page

Hiring process: Besides being a native English speaker with a firm grasp of grammar and a knack for conversion, no teaching credentials are needed to apply to Preply. Instead, you'll be required to log into the site, create an account, send a headshot photo, and provide a short 2-minute self-introduction video explaining your strengths as a tutor. 

Gear Requirements: You'll need a laptop with a webcam, a stable internet connection, and a headset with a microphone.

General Info: The platform offers English, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, and many other languages. There is no average age range for students, and anyone can use the site to contact native English speakers or tutors in other languages.

The classes themselves are more of a free-range conversation format. Your job is to help students improve by giving them tips, correcting their pronunciation mistakes, and engaging in day-to-day conversation that builds confidence in language skills. 

Pay: You set your hourly rate, but most English tutors tend to charge somewhere between $15 - $25, which is pretty much the industry standard. The platform offers payment through Paypal, Payoneer, Skrill, or Transferwise.

Preply takes a 100% commission fee of your first lesson payment with every new student, with commissions varying between 33% and 18% for subsequent lessons. The total number of completed classes dictates the commission value. Anything below 20 hours will incur a 33% commission from your fees, while 400+ hours will drop you down to the 18% group (you can find more commission value groups are on the site).

Hours: Teachers determine set hours and don't have a minimum weekly quota to fulfill. You can also choose the length of your lessons; remember to collaborate with your students on the duration of the session. After setting up a calendar to detail availability, potential students will request to join the class. It's your job to accept or decline. 

The platform also requires that you give your students at least a 4-hour notice before you decide to cancel your class. Although there are no direct penalties for withdrawing, doing so will hurt your profile rating leading to fewer opportunities for teaching English online.

7. SkimaTalk

SkimaTalk's home page

Hiring: SkimaTalk looks for native English speakers and doesn't require teaching certification or a degree. However, they warmly welcome any prior experience in teaching English online.

To apply, sign up, create an account, and then complete a series of quizzes to prove that you have enough knowledge about English to succeed in the classroom. After passing the application process, your profile is live, meaning you can connect with potential students.

Gear Requirements: All SkimaTalk teachers need a laptop with a webcam, a headset with a built-in mic, and a reliable internet connection.

General Info: You'll primarily teach adults and possibly a few children's classes. Instructors can follow pre-prepared teaching courses from SkimaTalk or prepare lesson plans independently. The classes are one-on-one, and the lesson runtime is 25 minutes each.

Pay: You'll be able to set your hourly rate for this gig teaching English online, though most teachers tend to stick to prices along the lines of $15 - $25.

Hours: Teachers set the time frame of lessons, and there is no minimum hour quota at SkimaTalk. The students check the schedule displayed on your profile page and request a specific free slot. Cancellations aren't prohibited, but canceling within 24 hours will net you an 11 coin penalty, while canceling more than a day in advance will only incur a nine coin penalty. The coins are a teacher grading system that the platform uses, which we won't get into here, but you can find more information about the coin structure on their website.

It's also worth mentioning that the number of cancellations is public, and sure, students may decide not to engage in your services if the number is too high for their liking.

8. DaDa

Dada's home page

Hiring: DaDa hires native English speakers from any nationality, as long as they have a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate. You'll be able to apply online through the site; be prepared to submit the necessary documents and complete an online interview.

After the documents are verified and your network and devices pass the necessary minimum requirements, you'll complete a few probation classes. DaDa may offer either a 6-month or a 12-month contract, depending on your qualifications and abilities.

Gear Requirements: There's a 10 Mbps download speed minimum at DaDa, and all teachers need a headset, microphone, computer, and webcam. You'll also need to provide your props to keep the children interested in the lessons and make your background look "presentable."

General Info: DaDa students are Chinese children between the ages of 4 and 16. Standard sessions last 30 minutes, while trial programs are only 15 minutes long. You won't need to interact with the parents or prepare lesson plans. You might also get exceptional cases where the classes last for 60 minutes, but those are few and far between.

Pay: The standard pay varies between $15 and $25 per hour, based on your qualifications and abilities. While capable teachers may get a 10% raise upon contract renewal, the standard pay during the first contract will likely remain within the $15 - $19 margin. Teachers also receive a $15 bonus for using props and $7 for any students that convert from the trial course to the standard package. 

Hours: The company sets the schedule, and you'll put in a minimum of four teaching hours per week, with a max of 20 hours. Peak hours are 6:00–9:00 p.m. Mon–Fri, and 9:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. Sat/Sun, Beijing time. You'll get two days off per month, as long as you give at least 20 days' notice beforehand. 

Taking more than two days off per month (for sick days or the like) may result in DaDa docking you 10% off your monthly payments — this is undoubtedly the most significant issue that people have when it comes to teaching English online.

Final thoughts about Teaching English Online

teaching english online conclusion

Each platform for teaching English online has its faults and benefits, as well as specific restrictions, payment and commission fees, and so on.

After reading this blog for new teachers, I hope you have enough information to decide about teaching English online to non-native English speakers.

The truth is the ESL market is bursting with legitimate options for aspiring teachers, and there's no shortage of platforms to help you along your journey into the world of education and beyond. 

Suppose you're keen on exploring this alternative lifestyle. In that case, I strongly recommend taking a few moments to visit each company's website and FAQ section to determine the best plan of action on your terms. When in doubt, write down a list of questions and reach out to a representative for more information about teaching English online. Best of luck!

Diego Navarro
Diego became interested in a nomadic lifestyle during a semester abroad during college. He spends most of his time in central Europe and the American southwest (where his family is from). He loves exotic food and playing video games on his Nintendo Switch.

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