Teaching ESL Online — An Exciting Way to Work at Home!

ESL student in a cafe

Hello folks, I imagine you’ve come here to discover more about this idea of teaching ESL online — and may even wonder if you can turn it into a career.

To help you with that, I’m going to provide a quick overview of some terminology and acronyms used in this business. Then, I’ll go over the various ways you can teach English as a second language.

In fact, you can do it in the comfort of your own home, or travel to beautiful exotic places and teach around the globe!

Due to advances in technology, that choice is now yours to make. When I started in this business back in 2007, online teaching really wasn’t a viable option. Now, it’s becoming more and more mainstream, giving us even more options.

After we discuss that, I’ll talk what employers are looking for, what kind of credentials and certifications you may need. Last,but not least, the kind of money you can make doing this.

Interested? Let’s have a look! First, let’s get some basic terminology out of the way; you’ll need to know these to move forward.

Introduction video: terminology

Terminology and Acronyms

ESL — English as a Second Language

EFL — English as a Foreign Language

ESOL: English to / for Speakers of Other Languages.

ESL and EFL aren’t any different in practice, but what’s happened over the years is that some folks called it one and others preferred the other acronym. ESOL is a little different because it involves identifying and teaching the kind of English used with less than proficient ESL students.

  • TEFL — Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • TESL — Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TESOL — Teaching English to Speakers of Other LanguagesHere, ‘teaching’ is added into the mix of acronyms. The above are nearly equivalent as a job description and are commonly interchangeable.
  • Fluency — the ability to speak or write a foreign language.

Speaking and Writing are two of the main skills involved in language, the others being listening and reading. Additional necessary knowledge consists of Grammar and relevant Vocabulary.

Students are often more concerned with learning how to speak English but will and need to realize that can’t be done without being able to listen, too!

Other Acronyms

  • VLE — Virtual Learning Environment

This is a software platform used to teach English online (among other fields). Normally I just call this ‘the xxxxxxx platform,’ where ‘xxxxxxx’ is it’s name; e.g., the Learnship platform or the UUabc platform.

Many schools have their own proprietary systems you’ll need to learn, but don’t worry, they all have similar characteristics.

In early days, a lot of schools and teachers used Skype for teaching ESL online, and some still do. But Skype is far from ideal and I’d be wary of schools who only use that means of communication.

  • Skype: A software program using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).Can be used to teach English online but is awkward to use as a teaching platform.
  • CELTA — Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. From the University of Cambridge
  • TESOL Certificate — From Trinity College, London (similar in prestige as CELTA)
  • TEFL Certificate — A less prestigious teaching certificate that will help you land many jobs

The first two certifications were very important in getting the most lucrative ground-school teaching jobs in the ‘old’ days (i.e. before online schools became significant players).

They are still useful for online certification requirements, but usually not necessary, because normally a regular TEFL Certificate is adequate (if your degree is not in teaching English).

  • DELTA: Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults (from Cambridge).

This is the most advanced certification you can only get after some experience in the field of teaching ESL online (or on the ground). It’s still not the equivalent of an actual teaching degree in English from a University, but it is an accomplishment, indeed, showing commitment to a career in teaching ESL.

If you are interested in more terminology related to Teaching ESL, please go here: Terminology

Ways of Teaching ESL Online — Go on the Road…

online-english-studentOne of the lovely things about teaching ESL online is the ability to move and work in exotic locations on the basis of your Education and native English abilities. Have degree, will travel is just not something you can say with every opportunity in life!

For example, I was able to get a TEFL certification online in a matter of weeks. Coupled with my 20-year-old Master’s Degree in Business, I was able to land three interesting jobs within a month — two of them in Turkey and another in South Korea.

I eventually chose the job in Istanbul, one of the magnificent cities of the world. There, our English classroom lounge had a magnificent view of the scenic Maria Sophia museum across the waters into the western part of the city.

…Or, On the Net!

Time warp a decade later — to the present!

Now, I’m teaching English in the comfort of my own home to students all over Europe, the Americas and Asia, interacting with different cultures and peoples who need English for their careers.

The beauty of all this is that, should you want to, you could actually move to one country and teach ground school, while doing part-time work teaching online, making extra money, too! Imagine living in a lovely and luxurious apartment in Vietnam and hopping online later in the evening for a few more classes if things are a little slow that season. It’s entirely possible!

There are absolutely amazing and wonderful opportunities teaching ESL!

Credentials and Education — the Necessities

You’re going to need two things and probably a third thing to get this career rolling.

  • First, having a 4-year college diploma from an accredited university will demonstrate you have the intelligence to learn and therefore (probably) to teach.
  • Secondly, you’ll need a TEFL certification if your degree is in something not related to teaching English. My bachelor#s degree in Engineering would still be acceptable in many cases.
  • Thirdly, you’ll want to be a native speaker of English. You can get by without that birthright, but many of these schools will have that as a job requirement.

Get the TEFL Certificate!

There are many ways to get the TEFL certificate so you can start teaching ESL online. I chose an online method to start, and got the job in Turkey with that.

Later, I enrolled in a ground school to get my CELTA here in England. Why did I do that? Because in England they want all their ground school teachers to have a CELTA. A regular, less prestigious TEFL cert wouldn’t easily do to teach at the schools here.

The funny thing is, while i was getting my CELTA, I looked for and was offered an online ESL teaching job, that didn’t need proof of the CELTA, just the TEFL! As it turned out, I never did work in a ground school in England, although I’m not unhappy about having a CELTA, it’s a useful thing to have to boost opportunities.

Finally, of course, you will need to pass some kind of interview showing you know how to teach kids, and/or know how to use their platform for the online school you’ve chosen. Although in some cases, the interview is just a formality for entry level teaching jobs overseas.

Also, be aware that teaching children has different skill requirements than teaching adults, which I’ll go into in another article.

Making Money — Cash Flow!

So the big question that looms is — how much money is there for this job!?

And it’s a great question.

In fact, you’ll be able to make a reasonable living at this business, but don’t plan on getting rich unless you really apply yourself in creating a personalized unique business.

I Love Teaching English

The main rewards are in the experience and the fun of teaching and meeting new students all the time, helping them achieve their objectives.

VERY importantly, most teaching jobs carry a great deal of autonomy as long as the students are learning and are happy with your efforts. That makes the job very enjoyable, especially if you are like me, someone who doesn’t like reporting to someone else!

Online, you can expect to make anywhere from $8 to $30 per hour working for a school. Yes, that’s quite a range, I know! Expect to make less if you work for an online program using Skype as the main teaching method and only for conversational English. These kinds of jobs often only require that you are a native speaker, with no education credentials necessary.

At the upper end, highly qualified and experienced teachers can make $30 per hour teaching children in China online, working for a school.

What about money Teaching on the Ground?

Ground school salaries are similar, but usually start higher in the $15-20 per hour range. Normal teaching hours are 20-25 per week. Usually, the ground school will throw in plane fares to the country and back, along with and completion bonuses for satisfaction of contract requirements.

Once you are situated in the country, you’ll find yourself in a position to make some decent money — on the side — doing private tutoring. If you play this right and make the right contacts, making $100 per hour is not out of the question. But watch out not to violate your contract with your employing school if you do that!

Also, there are advanced career opportunities within schools for Head Teachers and other managers, teacher trainers, and so on. If you’re a wheeler dealer, start your own school or buy an existing one.

Yes, You Can Do This!

But don’t do it if you don’t like teaching!

Seriously, don’t do anything you don’t like to do if you can avoid it – that’s always a good rule of thumb for life.

If you like helping motivated students learn, then teaching ESL online is a great job.

Is it hard to teach English? Yes and No. (Isn’t that an annoying answer? but it’s true).

It’s hard to learn the grammar as a native speaker because we grew up with it. Grammar is actually very logical to understand and teach, but you’ll have to take the time to learn the structures they way your students will have to learn them.

After that, it’s easy. Mostly. There are easier things, and harder things, for sure.

But, if you have teaching in your heart and find yourself a helping person who likes to impart knowledge, you’ll be fine.

I wish you all the best in your decision.

Thanks for visiting and by all means feel free to leave a comment or question below…

Tell me what you think of a job or even a career of teaching ESL online.


Leave a Comment