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Tips for teaching English online

Tips for teaching English online

There is a great job opportunity out there for freelancers that you may not be aware of and yet you are fully qualified to do, simply by being able to read this article. You can speak English and you obviously have an internet connection (and something to use it with). Teaching English online is becoming more and more popular and in many cases, you don’t even need to be a teacher, although that can help. Ideally, you are a native speaker, but even if not and your level is good, many positions are open to you.

Why teach English online

Flexible remote work is one reason you might be a freelancer. For one, it is fairly easy work to come by as a remote freelancer, especially if your other skills are not wanted in the remote market. There’s a huge variety of websites to choose from and learning English online is becoming increasingly popular, so more and more teachers are wanted.

In some cases, the lessons are “conversation practice”, so you are getting paid to chat online with people from different parts of the world, in order to help them improve their language skills. If you are fairly social and talkative, it can feel unlike work and you have the chance to learn about other cultures and share your own, an aspect many teachers find enjoyable.

Another reason to consider teaching English online, is the saying by Yogi Bhajan, “if you want to master something, teach it”. As you begin to teach and go on to explain words, expressions, grammar rules and pronunciation, you will find yourself approaching English a new way and will develop a deeper understanding, likely becoming more eloquent over time.

Furthermore, seeing someone make progress because of something you’ve done can be extremely rewarding, not to mention the freedom you will have to travel (not needing to take time off work to do so).

How and who to teach

Assuming at this point that you speak English and have a (good) internet connection, you will in most cases need a computer as well. Classes usually take place over a video call, sometimes students are without a camera, but there are a few platforms where you as well can offer just audio. Some websites also permit teaching through a smartphone or tablet.

The next question you should ask yourself is, do you want to teach children or adults? Most websites are catered to one or the other, but a few offer both.

When teaching children (there is a big market for online English teachers in China), most websites will interview you after your application, offer you a contract and put you through training before you begin, and you use their materials. Your schedule can be pretty flexible, at least in creating it, and you will have classes assigned to you, therefore security and steady pay. Usually, the only qualification is being a native English speaker.

For adults, if you have no teaching qualifications but have a good handle on the language, many websites will allow you to create a profile where students can find you and book a class with you, paying you for each one (be prepared for the website’s commission). You have to plan the classes and find materials to use, unless it’s just talking. On some, you even get to set the price and of course the schedule, while getting the chance to promote yourself your own way in order to stand out. The opportunity to market oneself is appealing to some, while to others it can seem daunting. Figure out what is best for you.

If you have teaching qualifications and maybe even specialize in business English, there are many online tutoring jobs with a constant flow of classes, the same students and the reliability of a steady job. Especially if you already are an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, there are many opportunities for professionals and your experience will be valued. And you thought you have to teach in a classroom.

Personally, I have been teaching some classes as a “community tutor” on italki on and off, to both adults and children. I created my profile and I have the freedom to decide when to be active as a teacher. I list the hours I am available for classes and my price.

I can write about myself and my classes to appeal to particular students I may rather teach, as well as create a video introducing myself. However, all the freedom this job gives comes with the price of insecurity. It can take a while to get your first student, and there are many who don’t have more than one class with one teacher.

On the other hand, I found that once you become active your number of students continues to increase. The control over how you do it and when is a great way to dip your toes in and see if teaching English is something you want to pursue.

Following are the tips I’ve gathered through my experience so far.

Tips when teaching English online

When doing conversation practice with adults or teenagers, remember that you are a teacher and they want to learn from you and improve, it’s not just a casual talk with a stranger.

  • Have some topics at the ready
    Give the conversation a chance to flow naturally and see if there is a certain topic the student wishes to talk about. Some students are shy though or have difficulty steering the topic in English, so a list of topics and/or questions will help get out of silences and wasted time fast.
  • Speak slowly and clearly
    As someone proficient in English, you may speak too quickly for your students without realizing it. Make it as easy as possible for them to understand you.
  • Don’t do all the talking
    It can be easy to get carried away, especially if you have a lot to say on the topic. You talking for the most part, can be good when the student wants to practice comprehension and you maybe follow up with some questions to see if they understood. But remember, they want to practice their speaking too, and it’s trickier and maybe uncomfortable for them to interrupt you. Make sure to extend the conversation to them.
  • Don’t be shy to correct them
    Many find it hard to correct someone when they are making a mistake, in fear of being rude. Keep in mind that it is a class and that is your job. Do your best to explain why it is a mistake and why the correct way is so. Of course, be polite and encouraging. Your biggest mistake would be to let the student unknowingly continue theirs.
  • Encourage them to ask questions
    Take pauses, make sure they are on track with what you are saying. Personally, I tell them to interrupt me, because it’s easier for me to resume my train of thought than it is for them to remember and explain what they didn’t grasp. This can also be an expression they haven’t heard before or a familiar word used in an unfamiliar way
  • Mind your manners
    You may be teaching people from all over the world, and most will come from a different background and have a different culture than you. It’s a good rule to avoid eating and drinking anything but water in class, never use foul language, be patient, don’t ask personal questions, don’t talk about taboo topics, do not point certain hand signals. Here’s a guide that can help you be respectful.
  • Keep them interested
    This applies mostly to children who tend to get distracted easily, especially when learning from a computer. You have to make up for the lack of your physical presence by adapting your class around the child at every moment. Making your background fun and colorful will grab their attention, you can use hand puppets, play games, learn songs, tell stories and remember to give them praise when earned.

Where to teach

There are so many websites available for teaching English online, that one of them must be right for you. Teach adults or children or both? Are you a professional teacher or just an English speaker? How much do you want to work? What hours can you work?

Some of the most popular sites seem to be Qkids, VIPKid, Cambly, italki, SayABC, eBerlitz and here is a great article comparing even more.

Final Thoughts


Teaching English online may not be for everyone, but if you’re able to do it and you’re looking for work, it’s a fairly easy path to go down. If you enjoy teaching, being a remote ESL tutor is a great opportunity, and it gives flexibility and freedom. It may even come naturally to you and many people find it fun and rewarding.


About The Author

Charlene Ioanidis

Charlene is a Greek-American currently living in Europe, travelling, writing, making films, and teaching English online. She enjoys the freedom freelancing is affording her, in both time and the work she chooses to do.

1 Comment

  1. daniella

    I have a problem speaking slowly and clearly as well as keeping the learner interested but these tips are super helpful for boosting my confidence when teaching online with others. Thanks!


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