If you're a language lover (and I assume you are if you're reading this), it's only natural to start thinking about ways to give this passion more time and attention once you realize it's not a passing phase. You may find yourself daydreaming about taking your hobby to the next level and looking for a career that allows you to interact with languages all day. There are so many ways to incorporate a love of language and culture into your life and your career, but if you're considering a career pivot into the world of online language teaching, you've come to the right place.
I work primarily as a paramedic, but I decided to get my foot in the door as a language tutor after completing my TEFL certificate by teaching on Italki. This decision was the right one for me and has totally changed my life. It's so rewarding to help students from all over the world improve their English and take on new opportunities. Thanks to my experience teaching online, I just got my first job teaching English in a classroom!
However, being a language tutor is not without its challenges, and there are several things to consider before making the leap.
1. Screen Time and Sitting Galore
Teaching online is a sedentary profession. This was initially a draw for me since I come from a physically demanding job, and I relished the idea of sitting at a desk for once. Since I had never had a desk job before, I was shocked at how exhausted I was in the beginning merely from sitting at my computer all day! It's important to remember, particularly if you have synchronous lessons, that you are a human being with human needs. Make sure you schedule in time to rest your eyes, as well as time for meals, stretching, and bathroom breaks.
2. Are you a good listener?
When I first started teaching online, I thought I would spend a good portion of lessons explaining concepts, describing grammatical constructions, etc. Once I actually started doing the work, I discovered that being a good listener was infinitely more important than rattling off English language trivia at my students. People come to my classes for a low-pressure environment to learn, but more importantly, to practice their English. Listening carefully is the best way to discover your student's interests, allowing you to find relevant and exciting materials for them.
3. Are you happy to go above and beyond?
The scheduled lesson is what the student is paying you for, but what about the work that goes into making it great? Teaching or tutoring online requires preparation just like classroom learning does. There are corrections to make, materials to find, and research to do on topics the student is interested in to be an interesting conversational partner. If you're not able to do some work outside of your face to face time together, you're going to struggle to keep lessons going long term
4. Are you able to hold a conversation?
I have met some wonderful students that have become friends. The conversations just flow, and we never seem to run out of things to talk about. Unfortunately, not every lesson will flow so easily. As a tutor, you have to be able to keep the student engaged and keep the conversation going. I have had some lessons in the past where the student was new to tutoring and was extremely shy or embarrassed to make mistakes. You have to find a way to break the ice and make them feel comfortable.
5. Do you really want to combine your hobby and your work?
This one is tricky. If I had read this before I began teaching, I would have thought it was a silly question. Now that I've been teaching for a few years, I see the validity. Doing something for work can sometimes suck the joy out of something you love. I still love tutoring and independent language learning, but learning languages is an escape from daily work and tasks for many people, and that's completely fine! Sometimes it's good to keep work-life and hobbies separate.
I hope these five points of consideration help you decide whether to take the plunge into teaching languages online. The most important thing to consider if you're planning on teaching online is to be physically and mentally present for each student. They all expect and deserve that you'll show up on time, prepared, and able to give them your full attention.