Quick spoiler alert: I have never done this job myself. I honestly get frustrated every time I read a blog post where someone is banging on about having done XY and Z and made a massive living from it. Come on, we can all see you’re making it up….
However, what I do do is spend a ridiculous amount of time researching the jobs market, and one opportunity that comes up again and again when looking for freelance opportunities is this: Teaching English online.
I speak a lot about how the continuous improvement in technology has put remote working in reach of the majority of workers in the UK. Having your own equipment and a reliable internet connection makes being your own boss an entirely reasonable proposition. However, there seems to be another upside emerging from the continuous improvement in technology. And that’s China.
How do China come into it?
We’re used to hearing about China as an exporter aren’t we. In China the cost of living is cheaper, therefore they’re a net exporter. They make loads of cheap goods and sell them on to us lazy westerners with more money than sense. However, we’ve got one thing they’re desperate for, and money can’t buy. Language.
Native English speakers have a precious commodity that non-English speakers are desperate for, and they’re happy to pay to gain your knowledge and improve their own English skills. Like it or not, English is the go-to language of the world, and in super competitive China, they understand this. They want to get ahead, and they want to learn.
I’ve previously worked for English language schools and although many learners want to learn English for cultural reasons, to immerse themselves in the history of the language and to better understand Beatles songs, the truth of it is they want to get ahead in the jobs market. Loads of middle class families from the far east now pack their kids off in the summer to England to study with the hope it will stand them in good stead in their future careers.
And that’s where we come in. If you’ve got the confidence, enthusiasm and qualifications to make a go of it the opportunities are seemingly endless.
So what do I need to do to teach English online?
Well, being able to speak English is a help. Assuming you do, there are a couple of other things to consider. One thing not everybody knows about language teaching is that you don’t need to know the other language. Sounds strange doesn’t it, but it’s true. English can be taught entirely in English, with no translation whatsoever. It’s called Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and whilst there are obviously challenges there are strategies and techniques.
So you don’t need to concern yourself with which nationality you’ll be teaching to, only what you’ll need yourself. The idea is just to help your student learn English, using only the English language, via an online app – usually Skype or similar.
A Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification is called TEFL, and there are various places you can get one. You could find a course running locally or even complete one online. I found one here on offer at just £159, which isn’t bad in the grand scheme of things.
Although gaining a TEFL certificate is relatively easy, employers may have stricter requirements. Some will insist on a degree, others may also insist on a PGCE or formal teaching qualification. From what I can gather there’s a large amount of variation in the online teaching market, but there are certainly plenty of openings for less experienced and recently qualified teachers.
One of the things I noticied, particularly from the opportunities out in China, are they they often expect you to teach multiple, younger children at a time. Obviously, they’re keep to keep costs low, but I can imagine this presents its own difficulties as opposed to teaching one-on-one, with an adult learner.
I did a job search and there are pages and pages of opportunities, so you don’t need me to walk you through them all. I’m sure you know how to Google by now.
The other option of course is to go freelance. Once qualified, you can build yourself a portfolio and market yourself on a freelance tutor website, such as Tutorful. Then clients and learners can pick you out directly, and you can build up a reputation. The pros and cons of this are like any other self employment. The income will be more hit and miss, but the freedom and earning potentials will be much greater. Most English teachers tend to start off in an empoloyed position, then when they feel confident go freelance and charge a higher rate. Sounds a solid plan
Anyway, I’m just here to give you a push in the right direction, not give you a precise career plan. The fact of the matter is, online English teaching is an enormous market right now. With the right qualifications, and a bit of something about you, it could be an absolutely wonderful career move.
The savvy amongst you will also have noticed that the nature of online teaching is absolutely suited to the digital-nomad lifestyle. If you want to whizz off to Spain for a week or two, but continue to put in a few hours teaching online – there’s really nothing stopping you. But that bit it optional, and I suppose most people simply teach from home, which is appealing in itself.
Imagine getting up in the morning and not having to commute anywhere, instead firing up your webcam and spending a few hours chatting to Chinese kids about the Oxford comma. Sounds a shrewd move to me.