Online ESL Education: A Fast Growing Industry with Huge Upside
Online ESL education has taken root in the lives of ESL learners around the world, with China leading the path as the largest online ESL market. As with any industry, online ESL has had its fair share of growing pains. But the trajectory for growth is huge, and despite the massive growth in online ESL learning over the past several years, the industry is still in its early days.
Prior to online ESL education becoming mainstream, most ESL lessons took place primarily in school classrooms, language centers, and cafes. ESL learners were both limited in terms of their study options as well as their access to a fluent English speaker. Online ESL learning changes all of that. Students and teachers can connect online, regardless of their location. And because there are more ESL learners than there are ESL teachers at this moment, the opportunity to earn an income as an online ESL teacher can be lucrative. With a university degree and a TEFL certification, there is a world of opportunities to teach ESL online, for both native and non-native speakers of English.
What is the Online ESL Teaching Opportunity?
If you have the time, money, and skills to market and recruit your own students, you could set up your own private online ESL tutoring business. Running your own online ESL tutoring business can be quite lucrative, and allows you to establish your own teaching hours, rates, and course content. Experienced ESL teachers who have ready access to students would be in the best position to make this work.
For most people though, it may not be worth the investment of time and money to manage this business, particularly if you already have other work commitments. This brings us to the more immediately available online ESL teaching opportunity: teaching English with one or more online ESL education companies.
Online ESL education companies exist in many countries where ESL learning is in huge demand, but nowhere is it as prevalent as it is in China. If you are new to ESL and are considering working as an online ESL teacher, you could potentially fill up your teaching schedule with just Chinese ESL students. That’s how big the market is in China.
ESL learners come in all ages, but most students are school students between the ages of 6 – 18. Students attend school on weekdays during their daytime, so most of the online ESL classes are scheduled in the evenings and weekends. If you live in the USA or Canada, for example, most of your teaching hours will be in the early morning.
To be eligible for most online ESL teaching opportunities, you will need to have the following:
- Native English speaker or fluent English speaker with native accent
- University degree
- TEFL Certification
Though working with online ESL companies means you would potentially earn less than teaching students privately, the immediate advantages are:
- You don’t have to spend any money on marketing or recruiting students
- You don’t have to spend much time or money on developing content, as most companies provide the content to you
- You don’t have to manage scheduling classes; online ESL companies have a scheduler inside their portals for teachers to open and close time slots, and classes will be scheduled according to your availability
- You don’t have to worry about invoicing and collecting payments since the companies will pay you directly to your bank account, via PayPal or other payment methods, depending on the company’s payment policies
You can learn more about the necessary qualifications and requirements in our extensive guide about teaching ESL online.
Is Online ESL a Good Option for Freelancers?
Some online ESL teachers have capitalized on this opportunity and turned online ESL teaching into a thriving full-time income. Others have relocated to teach ESL online in warmer, lower cost countries. But not everyone is in a position (or wants) to become a full-time online ESL teacher. Indeed, many online ESL teachers have full-time jobs or other commitments.
A significant number of online ESL teachers are certainly full-time freelancers who have fit online ESL teaching into their routines. As a freelancer, online ESL can be an ideal addition to your daily mix. Getting in a few hours per day of online ESL teaching can help build up a savings buffer, as well as fill in those gaps during the year when freelance income is tight. Freelancers who also teach ESL online are a mixed bag. You’ll get to know people who are:
- IT Consultants
- Web Designers
- Artists / Musicians
- Bloggers / Vloggers
The list goes on.
Meet Annette Nagle: Professional Musician and Online ESL Teacher
Annette Nagle is an excellent example of someone who came into online ESL teaching as a freelancer. Annette is from Altoona, Pennsylvania, a smaller city where job opportunities are not as vast as in bigger cities. After graduating from college, Annette had to face some hard choices. She could leave home for a bigger city where more job opportunities were available, or she could take a chance and focus on building a career as an independent musician. Annette is a professionally trained pianist who is deeply passionate about composing and performing, and she is well-known locally for her musical gift. Unfortunately, growing a career as a freelance musician is hard, and bills still need to be paid.
When Annette encountered the opportunity to teach ESL online, she had no idea how it would literally change her life. Annette is now a well-established online ESL teacher. A newly discovered passion, teaching online ESL learners is something she has gained a genuine appreciation for, as she connects with her ESL students in China early mornings between 5am – 9am Eastern time (6pm – 9pm China time). This frees up the rest of her day to focus on her music career.
How much has online ESL teaching impacted her life? In 2019, Annette received the Teacher of the Year award from ALO7, the online ESL company she teaches online ESL with. ALO7 invited her to Shanghai, all expenses paid, where she got first-hand experience what life is like in China’s most cosmopolitan city, connected with the ALO7 team in the company’s Shanghai office, and went on a tour to meet many of the students she teaches online. She was also invited to speak in front of more than 3,000 people at China’s National Education Association’s Online Learning Conference in November 2019. From small town American musician to recognition in China’s online learning industry. If that isn’t life altering, we don’t know what is. In fact, Annette was featured in Altoona’s local newspaper for her online ESL teaching success.
We were lucky enough to connect with Annette ourselves, where she talks about how significantly online ESL teaching has impacted her on a personal and professional level. Annette believes online ESL teaching is an excellent opportunity for anyone who works as a freelancer, and more so those who live in smaller cities and towns where jobs may be limited. Check out our interview with Annette below.
Who is a good fit for teaching ESL online?
Although online ESL is not for everyone, it is something most people who are native English speakers can do. Not only is teaching ESL online not difficult, it is fun and fulfilling. You don’t need incredible skills and qualifications to get started and succeed as an online ESL teacher, and while you probably won’t become a millionaire teaching English online , you can use online teaching to supplement a freelance income. Depending on your availability and commitment, as well as choosing reputable companies to work with, the income can be enough to cover your basic living expenses.
Online ESL teaching is ideal for people who:
- Are citizens from recognized native English speaking countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland). Some employers will also hire citizens of South Africa and non-native English speakers with near-native accents.
- Have a university degree
Can You Earn a Full-time income Teaching ESL Online?
While there are online ESL teachers earning what can be considered a full-time income through online ESL, it is not the case for the majority. We also don’t recommend you place all of your eggs in one basket. Online ESL teaching is freelance work, and like any freelance work, the amount of work and income can fluctuate throughout the year, so it’s important to keep this in mind. As with any career and financial decision, it is important to plan responsibly.
We mentioned that many online ESL teachers live and work in locations where the cost of living is much lower than in most native English speaking countries. Many of these are freelancing as writers, bloggers, or web designers, while some double up as ESL teachers at school during the day and teach ESL online during the evening. It is entirely possible to make a respectable income and save significantly due to the relatively low cost of living. If you are able and prepared to make such a move, this can be a glorious opportunity to experience life abroad and accomplish your financial goals.
It’s also important to understand your tax obligations before moving abroad, and keep your taxes in order while living abroad.
What are some final tips about considering teaching ESL online as a freelancer?
Teaching English online can be an excellent option for freelancers looking to supplement their regular freelance income. Since online ESL is freelance work, you should view it as temporary income. We don’t recommend anyone quit their full-time jobs or freelance careers to replace with online teaching.
If you think teaching English online might be a good fit for you, you can have a look at this article for more information. We suggest you take anything you read or watch online with a grain of salt. The best test is to get started with a basic number of hours, and evaluate the options as you go forward. Be cautious about people claiming to make $3,000 or more each month just from teaching English online. While some of these may be true, you can never be sure, so don’t make any big decisions without testing the waters yourself. Finally, we suggest you view online ESL teaching income as a means to grow your primary freelancing income, and not the other way around.