Teaching English Online: The Beginner’s Guide, Part One

It’s estimated that roughly 1.5 billion people are learning English as a second language (for everyday use) or as a foreign language (to use for pleasure, holidays or work). An increasing number of people are learning and practising their English online rather than in a traditional classroom. As a TEFL teacher, teaching online is a great resource to be tapped into, and it’s not uncommon for language teachers to continue teaching English through online channels after they’ve finished a stint of teaching abroad. In this article, we’ll take a look at the benefits (and pitfalls) of learning and teaching English online, and find out how you can become a part of this expanding network.

Why learn and teach language online?

  • One of the greatest reasons that students choose to learn online is that they have access to teachers who they would not otherwise be able to make contact with. People who live in small, rural areas might not have access to a native speaker in their hometown. This is also useful for people who want to learn obscure languages, who might be limited if they want to learn an unusual language like Twi, Catalan or Xhosa. Finding a tutor online gives you much more choice. Similarly, a teacher is not bound by their geographical location when trying to find students
  • Learning a language online is usually much more flexible than traditional methods. Language schools local to you might not be open on the days and times when students want to learn or offer classes at times to suit them. Learning online gives students unlimited opportunities to pick something that suits
  • Unlike traditional classrooms, teaching and learning online enables you to take the lesson with you. If you’re off on holiday or a business trip, you don’t necessarily have to cancel your class – as long as you have an internet connection, you’re good to go
  • If you want to teach English part-time, you might struggle to find a school that will hire you for the hours you like. However, if you teach online you can often manage your own timetable. If you only want to teach English for an hour a week, that’s up to you!
  • For students, learning online is often an attractive choice because costs can be much lower than in traditional classrooms. Without a room to rent or too many physical materials, it keeps costs down for the teacher too

Downsides of online teaching and learning

  • The internet, the computer, technology… the arch-enemies of the online English teacher. Technological failures are part and parcel of teaching online. Really, if you don’t have a decent internet connection and a reliable device, think again – even with the best technology, things can still go wrong and, trust me, it’ll drive you nuts
  • The vast quantity of teachers online gives many choices to students but can make it hard for newbie tutors to get off the ground. Also, some students will just want the cheapest – this means they’ll plump for non-native speakers who offer super low prices, without reflecting that the teaching quality will probably be reflected in the price
  • Good things cost money!’ as my online student used to say – she understood that, for her goals, only a native teacher would do. It can be difficult for online teachers to set a good price for their lessons. A good piece of advice is to start low – but only so low that it’s still worth your time. Once you’ve had a few good lessons (and, depending on the platform you use, a few good reviews and ratings) hike up your price. You can also charge more depending on your experience and qualifications.

How to teach English online

Each student will be different regarding what they want from their class, but there are a few general methods that you’ll become familiar with. A Conversation Class will be relaxed, probably without much prep work, and the student will be at least B1 level, probably higher. Conversation students just want to have a chat. Sometimes you can go with the flow, sometimes you’ll have to prepare some ideas for conversation starters.

Grammar Focus lessons will focus on a particular grammar point that the student is struggling with. Perhaps you’ll send them some reading or questions to do before the class, and then during the lesson, you can go through the answers together.

A Review Class student might have other English lessons in a traditional classroom, but want a bit of one-to-one tuition on the side. They might want to review work from their classroom textbook or go over material that they couldn’t keep up with in class.

Coursebook students will want to follow a structured program, often with a physical book that they have in front of them. There are countless textbooks available worldwide from Amazon etc, and the student might even recommend the one they want to follow.

Most likely, your students will be a combination of these things – a bit of conversation, some grammar, help with particular questions… you never know what you’re going to get!

Summary

For details on the three different choices when it comes to teaching English online, a list of platforms to consider working on, and some handy links for online class materials, continue on to part two of this guide to teaching English online. Or you can check this out.

Want to improve your teaching? Check out our Teaching Tips blog. Or get a job teaching abroad with Saxoncourt Recruitment.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL-trained English teacher who spent five years teaching in Asia. She specialises in travel writing and writing for children, and has a penchant for knitting. Celia is the author of Knitted Sushi (easy knitting patterns for beginners) and Ben and Maki – Let’s be Friends (an English/Japanese bilingual picture book). To contact Celia about freelancing work, check out her Upwork profile or contact Celia through her website.


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