On-line Tutoring - the Future of ESL?

There has been a lot of talk on ESL websites, forums and blogs about teaching English on the internet, but very little has been written to help teachers get started. Toby Ung runs Online Tutoring World.com, a site which provides a wealth of advice for teachers thinking of setting up an on-line tutoring service. Check out the site and you’ll find not only an extended version of this article, but also advice on technology and hardware, lesson plans for on-line use, and a section where you can advertise your services and find work.

The International Market for Teaching English Online

Learning English on the internet is becoming a popular option for many EFL/ESL students around the world. According to the British Council, over one billion people throughout the world now study English as a Second Language, and as internet communication tools such as VOIP continue to develop, more and more foreign students are turning to on-line English classes. Europe alone accounts for 32.6% of students studying English as a second language, and a high number of online ESL learners are located in France, Germany other neighboring countries. In Asia, the highest number of online ESL Learners are based in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Perhaps one reason for this trend is because of the growing influence of the English language in the region, and also because Asian countries are progressing much faster in building a high-bandwidth broadband internet infrastructure than other countries - including the United States. Another big market is China, which is seen as the largest potential market of English learners.

Setting Up

Online English teachers usually work directly from home, using little more than an instant messaging program, a headset with a microphone and a computer hooked up to the internet. You can download
free VOIP software (voice over the internet protocol) and make free overseas calls using software such as SKYPE, Gizmo or Yahoo Messenger. If you have access to cable or broadband connection, you can also include web-conferencing as a part of your online tutorial package.


To publicise your services and allow students to sign up, you can easily create your own website using free website building software such as Yahoo Page builder. Additionally, you can find work through sites such as ESLTeachersBoard, findateacher, and Europa. You can also advertise your services as an online EFL/ESL tutor or post your services on my own site, Online Tutoring World.com, for free. EFL/ESL students regularly scan these postings for an online tutor

How much can you charge?

Fees vary greatly by the hour. The minimum fee for teaching English online starts at US$25.00 (individual) or between $15-20 (per person in group classes).

How is on-line teaching different to classroom teaching?

To be effective in teaching English on the internet, it is important to spend about 30 minutes to 1 hour before class reviewing what the learning needs of your students are. Think about your students interests and language learning goals, and how you can adapt what you have towards meeting these needs.

It is also important to incorporate materials that target the four language skills - reading, writing, listening and speaking. While in an actual classroom setting it is easy to simultaneously combine the four language skills, it is more difficult to do so when teaching online. Teaching English in an online learning environment stimulates the students visual and auditory senses, making learning and retention a more efficient and productive process. Writing tends to disrupt this process. Listening, reading and speaking on the other hand can be easily integrated into an online classes. Unless you hold special classes that are solely devoted to teaching English writing and grammar, you can usually set written exercises and long reading passages for homework. At the next online session, you can than review your students homework and go through any questions that your students may have.

Setting High Expectations

Your students may have families to support, they may have an already demanding work schedule or a very busy lifestyle, but language acquisition does not happen naturally and effortlessly. Many students will express a great desire to improve every aspect of their English, so setting high expectations is not an ideal but a must. It may mean that your students need to set aside 20-30 minutes of their time each day to complete their homework; it is difficult, but not impossible. Parallel to providing higher expectations, you should also set aside sufficient guidance and support for your students. This may mean setting aside about 10-15 minutes of your class time to review and talk about any problems that might may have risen.
Online learning can be a productive and rewarding experience both for the tutor and learner. But unlike teaching in a classroom, teaching English online requires that you adapt your lessons, and set high goals and expectations in order to bring out the best in your students.


Photo provided under Creative Commons Licence by niallkennedy via flickr

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