12 Common Myths About Teaching English Online

By
August 21, 2021
Woman teaching English Online

Have you been having second thoughts about breaking into online English teaching because of some concerning notions you’ve heard or read about the TEFL/TESOL field? If you’re nodding yes, then you’ll be interested to know that a lot of these beliefs are false. Let’s debunk the most common myths about teaching English online!

1. You have to be tech-savvy to teach English online.

Most new online English teachers work with an established company, which will likely have its own teaching platform and will train new tutors in how to use it. Most of these teaching platforms are user-friendly and intuitive, making it easier for both you and your students to use them.

As a freelance online English teacher, on the other hand, you may be required to have certain technical equipment and download apps like Zoom and Skype, but you don’t need to be a tech genius. It’s not difficult to learn the functions of the most common programs — like Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Drive — for presenting or sharing your content, either.

2. You need a lot of props to teach English online.

Some people think it’s necessary to have a plethora of realia or teaching props in order to engage online English students, especially kids. Sure, showing a variety of objects in front of the screen sparks students’ excitement, but the truth is that you can make a virtual class fun in many other ways, such as:

3. You can’t build rapport with students online.

Teaching in front of a screen may not allow you to give your students a high five or a hug, but who says you still can’t connect with them in a virtual classroom? In reality, there are a variety of ways to build a relationship with your online learners, whether you’re teaching for a company or as a freelancer:

  • Get to know your students.
  • Tailor your online lessons to your learners’ interests.
  • Praise your students for their achievements and give positive feedback throughout the class.
  • Smile and be energetic while teaching!
Teacher with her online student

Teacher Anzhela with her online student

Teacher Anzhela Karamysheva, a digital nomad from Russia, says that she feels quite close with her virtual students. She remarks, “My plush rabbit Lily helps me a lot, and all my pupils have their friends to bring to our lessons. It breaks the ice. I prefer to be their friend — they have a lot of strict teachers at school, why would they need another one? We become close very fast. I speak with the parents quite often, which makes them want to keep their kids with me, and my pupils eventually share with me very personal things, which I adore.”

Get more ideas on how to build rapport when teaching English online.

4. You need experience to get a job teaching online.

Newbie teachers can certainly get a virtual ESL teaching job! Many ESL companies, like Landi English and QKids, don’t require applicants to have prior teaching experience.

And, oftentimes, things like coaching, training, or even babysitting can count and help you get your foot in the door of a company that does ask for experience. You can also easily get ESL teaching experience by taking a Practicum in Teaching English Online, which will give you hands-on experience teaching real students. You’ll finish the course with a portfolio of recorded classes you can show employers to demonstrate your teaching skills in action!

Find out more about teaching English online without experience.

5. The quality of English teaching is lower in an online classroom than in a physical classroom.

Just because you’re not teaching in-person or using physical books doesn’t mean that your classes are not as good as when delivering lessons in a traditional setting.

  • Online English courses follow a curriculum and make use of recognized standards for measuring a language learner’s progress, such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), just like in-person classes.
  • If you work for an established online ESL company, the curriculum will likely be developed by a team of specialists and provided to you in advance. You’ll be expected to review all lessons ahead of time and prepare any related props, extension activities, etc. to ensure high-quality lessons.
  • Additionally, you can still assign homework or offline tasks to students in a virtual setting.
  • ESL companies will also often review teachers’ classes (either live or recorded) from time to time to make sure that the company’s standards are being met. They’ll likely offer periodic feedback, training opportunities, and other support for teachers.
  • You utilize books and worksheets, show audiovisual materials, and use interactive activities in online ESL lessons. Even though materials are in a digital format, students are still learning and practicing English effectively while having fun. You can see an example of using a digital book in the video below:

6. You have to have a degree to get an online teaching job.

Even if you don’t have a degree, you can still teach online. For example, ESL class providers like Voxy, Lingoda, and PalFish don’t require teachers to have degrees.

For some companies, like Magic Ears, that do require you to have one, just being currently enrolled in a university program will suffice. In other words, as long as you’re working toward a degree, you can apply for the job. And, for just about any company that does ask you to hold a degree, your diploma can usually be in any field — it doesn’t necessarily have to be in education, English, or a related industry.

If you don’t have a degree, just be sure to highlight your relevant experience, TEFL/TESOL certifications, and professional development so you still stand out from other applicants!

Get other ideas for setting yourself apart as an English teacher.

7. You can’t make a living or make a lot of money teaching English online.

This is one of the most common myths about teaching English online. Yet, whether you teach for a company or as a freelancer, your work as an online English tutor can be done as a side hustle or you can make it a full-time career. While your TEFL/TESOL salary depends on the online school you’re working for or the rates you set, it’s not impossible to maximize your earnings or charge more by doing the following:

  • Add a specialization to your TEFL/TESOL certification to help you carve out a teaching niche as a freelancer. This could be a Specialized Certificate in Teaching Business English or Teaching Young Learners.
  • If you work with a company, teach during their peak hours, which are the times of the day when student bookings are at their highest.
  • Build more online English teaching experience. While you can teach English online with no experience, you can earn more money if you have previously taught online.
  • As a freelancer, it’s recommended to increase your rates every one or two years.

In fact, many ESL tutors have successfully made a career out of teaching online. Check out the stories of Allie, a PalFish teacher from the U.S., and Carla, an independent online English teacher from Brazil.

PalFish teacher Allie, from the U.S., works from an island in Nicaragua

PalFish teacher Allie, from the U.S., works from an island in Nicaragua.

8. You have to be a native English speaker to teach ESL virtually.

Similar to other common myths about teaching English online, many people think you need to be a native English speaker. Although being a native English speaker is required to qualify for a lot of job opportunities for teaching English online, it’s not impossible to find online companies or schools that welcome non-native English speakers. Here are some of them:

Check out more options for teaching English online as a non-native speaker.

9. If you already teach English in a classroom, you’ll use the same skills to teach online.

Having the know-how to give face-to-face classes is a great start if you’re shifting to teaching English online, but it’s also essential to equip yourself with other skills to deliver top-notch virtual lessons.

Aside from learning to use online teaching platforms and troubleshoot technological issues, you may need to come up with engaging and creative games and activities that work well with online classes and various age groups.

  • Pro Tip: Get a wealth of ideas for making your online classes more interactive and fun by taking short Micro-credential courses in developing digital and realia-based games and activities for young learners, teenagers, and adults.

10. You have to teach kids.

When you search for online ESL teaching jobs, the majority of the opportunities that turn up are with companies or schools that only cater to young learners. But, are there any that teach adults? Definitely!

Vanessa Riquelme, from Chile, teaches both teens and adults online. She notes, “Adults know that English is important; many of them need it for their professional careers, so they are more willing to participate, talk, and practice. Adult learners are not forced to learn, so they usually want to practice and they have lots of questions.”

If you feel that teaching kids is not your forte and you want to get a job teaching English to adults, no problem! Here are some companies where you can teach English online to adults:

Alternatively, you can also target adult students as a freelancer or when you use an online ESL marketplace, which is essentially a platform that connects teachers with students. You create a profile that highlights your teaching skills, and students can choose to take classes with you if they are interested in what you offer. In exchange for handling financial transactions and letting you market yourself to students, the company takes a cut of your earnings.

Find out how you can attract and retain students as a freelance online English teacher.

11. You need to speak the language of your students.

If you teach English virtually to students from Chile, is it necessary for you to speak or learn Spanish? Certainly not.

Although being bilingual or knowing other languages helps you understand your learners’ culture or their language struggles better, you’re not required to speak your students’ local language when you teach them. As a matter of fact, many online ESL schools have a stringent English-only policy to maximize students’ learning and immerse them in English.

12. You have to work odd hours when you teach online since students are in Asia.

If you’re hoping to teach English with companies based in Asia, like PalFish or GOGOKID, but you’re not living in the same region, you may be worried about having to work early or late hours because of the time differences between you and your students. This is not always true, however, as it usually depends on where you’re currently located and the company or school’s class schedule.

  • Pro Tip #1: In order to avoid teaching at strange hours, determine the hours of the day you’re most comfortable working, and find out if you can open slots for student bookings at the times you’ve selected.
  • Pro Tip #2: Aside from Asia, you can also find work in other regions in a similar time zone. For instance, if you’re currently in the U.S., you can check out online teaching opportunities in Central or South America.

Cheryl Evans, a teacher from Jamaica, works with students in Chile. She notes, “I have students that are with Ernst and Young (EY), Komatsu, and privately-owned construction companies. I had several students that are with the mining industry, which is a big industry in Chile and the main contributor to their GDP. It has been a really exciting and interesting experience to be able to work with all of these really interesting people.”

Here are tips for creating your ideal online English teaching schedule.

Now that we’ve dispelled the most common myths about teaching English online, you can get started in this field. Get certified to teach English online, acquire the skills necessary to teach in front of a screen, and most importantly, don’t let false notions stop you from building a successful career as a virtual ESL teacher.

Ready to start your career or already teaching English online? Read this next: How to Make the Most Money as an Online English Teacher.