Anyone can become an online language tutor today. While historically only professionally trained teachers could teach languages either at language schools or academic institutions, those rules don’t apply anymore. Thanks to the internet and language tutor marketplaces, it turned out that there are millions of language learners who are not seeking formal learning but simply want to practice speaking with native speakers to gain confidence or fluency if you will. This means that you as well can become a language tutor and in this step-by-step guide I outline everything you need to know to get started.
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for you if you want to become a private language tutor online. Specifically if you want to teach on platforms like iTalki, Preply, Tutor.id, Chatterbug, and others compared to starting your own tutoring business.
While the selection process of each platform slightly differs, the guide provides strategies that apply to most. The tips collected here will help you meet their core selection requirements and start teaching (and making money) in no time.
Why join a tutor marketplace?
What these platforms take care of for you is sourcing students, managing lesson scheduling, and getting paid for your lessons. Given the fact that students nowadays come from all corners of our planet, managing payments is a big value proposition. They act as marketing machines that get you students internationally and equip you with the basic tools to start teaching vs. searching for students. With their help, you can start teaching real paying students within a week. That’s hard to beat if you are on your own.
There are also downsides, of course. Some marketplaces charge a hefty fee for using their platform. It can reach up to 30% of the revenue. Also, some platforms are quite strict and you might not be able to qualify as a tutor despite spending time on your application. Follow this guide to boost your chances of being accepted.
Before we go on, here is a recommendation from a successful tutor from iTalki:
The first step is to decide for one of the big market places ( Preply, Italki...) and create a good video of yourself introducing you as a tutor. I believe a good video is very helpful to get your clients. Then starting with offering conversation practice (if no experience) is the best for the beginning. And before starting, I would collect a couple of materials for the lessons. Texts for beginners, articles and speaking topics. But no need to plan too much. Just starting from there and everything will become more clear step by step.
Christian W, German Language Tutor on iTalki
Step 1. What kind of language tutor can you be?
There are 2 types of language tutors that most platforms accept:
- Community tutors
- Professional teachers
The difference between these two groups is in credentials and qualifications. To qualify as a professional teacher, you need to provide proof of being trained as one. To qualify for a community tutor you don’t need any credentials.
The core difference lies in the types of students that you attract. Professional tutors normally attract “harder” cases. Students who are not very confident about their skills and consider themselves as beginners tend to go to professional teachers who are trained to use a formal curriculum and also teach grammar rules.
Community tutors normally attract more proficient students who want to improve their speaking skills or pronunciation. Preparation for tests is another big category and both professional and community teachers can focus on that.
Professional teachers normally command a higher hourly rate. My quick analysis of iTalki and Preply showed that professional teachers usually charge twice as much as community tutors.
By the way, you don’t have to study for many years to become a professional teacher. For example, if you want to teach English, you could take a TESOL or TEFL course that also awards you with a completion certificate that qualifies you as a professional teacher as per the requirements of iTalki or Preply. There are comparable certifications for other major languages as well. Prices range from less than $100 up to $1000 bucks for a certificate depending on what school or certifying organization you pick.
A good strategy, if you don’t have any qualifications yet, is to start as a community tutor and then upgrade to a professional teacher once you get your certificate.
Step 2. Choosing a tutoring platform
There are numerous marketplaces and online language schools that you can pick from. Each of them has its own pros and cons.
You need to pay close attention to:
- Selection process
- Student reviews (reddit, facebook, google)
- Tutor reviews (reddit, facebook, google)
- If your language is offered
Here is a summary comparison overview:
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tutor marketplaces. There are more. Feel free to do your research, but the list covers the biggest platforms and schools across various regions.
Step 3. Application Process
Most platforms require you to fill out a form. It’s a simple form with basic questions:
- Language(s) you want to teach
- Languages that you speak
- Community tutor or professional teacher?
- Credentials to prove the latter
- Your introduction
- Your profile picture
Some platforms require you to upload an intro video as well, for example, Preply or AmazingTalker. This video is something like an one-way interview. Real people review it before approving your application.
The same video would appear on your profile once it’s published, although you’ll be able to upload another one of course. That said, I’d recommend recording a good quality video to make sure you make it through the selection process.
You don’t need to use professional equipment to record it. Just shooting with your phone in a bright room is more than enough. It’s more about what you say in it.
To figure out what to say, go sign up on iTalki and Preply, search for super popular teachers and then watch a few intro videos to get a feel for what they say and how they sell their services. Don’t say what they say word to word, but rather use their approach and personalize it to your experience. Tell your story.
The basic elements that you must include:
- Your name
- The language that you teach
- Your teaching approach
- Who should book a lesson with you
Step 4. Review & approval process
Once you submit your application, the tutor recruitment teams of those online schools or platforms will review your application and get back to you. You should expect a reply within 5 days and very often they get back to you within a few days.
Once your application is approved, some platforms let you go through the onboarding videos and immediately publish your profile.
Some platforms such as iTalki or Chatterbug are stricter and arrange a personal interview with you. It’s usually a 30-minute web call to discuss your motivations, maybe tell you a bit more about the platform and make sure that you are a legit and reasonable person.
Step 5. Platform onboarding process
Each platform has a slightly different onboarding flow, but they all share a common thread - you will either get a bunch of PDFs, links to some FAQ pages with instructions or get invited to go through a course made of a combination of videos and articles.
Some platforms won’t let you publish your profile unless you go through the onboarding process.
The goal here is to, on the one hand, get you comfortable with the interface and features of the platform, and on the other hand, equip you with everything needed to get started on the right foot.
You usually also get access to a tutor community. For example, Preply has a Facebook group exclusively for tutors. iTalki has its own forum.
The required part of the onboarding process shouldn’t take you more than an hour.
Step 6. Availability
Availability is one of the 2 factors that help you compete with others and get a steady stream of new students. When it comes to availability, there is a simple rule - higher availability gets you more students.
I strongly recommend opening up as many slots as possible. Tutoring platforms attract students from all over the world and given their diverse locations and time zones, the more availability you have, the easier it makes it for your potential students to book a lesson with you. The more students you attract early on, the more public endorsements you will collect. This is important because without public student reviews and rankings, it makes it harder to win new students reliably enough. So your availability is directly tied to your ability to get more students from the get-go and getting more students early is directly tied to getting reviews and rankings which, in turn, impact how fast you get new students. Virtuous cycle!
Step 7. Pricing
Pricing is the second variable that plays a huge role in what kind of students you attract, how fast you get them, your growth, profit margins and more.
I have one recommendation - as a temporary strategy, start as low as you can afford. The cheaper your lessons are, the more interest you will garner.
That said, where you start is not where you end up. Pricing is one lever that you can use to kickstart your teaching career and price dumping should only be your temporary strategy - to test drive your teaching methods, materials, as well as, collect public endorsements and ratings.
Once you reach a point where you are getting more students than you can handle, you should increase your prices.
Step 8. Measure your effectiveness
Repeat lessons is a metric to measure how effective your current approach to winning loyal students is. Every time a new student books a follow-up lesson after a trial session, it’s a win. Anytime that doesn’t happen, it’s a loss. The best tutors convert over 50% of the trial sessions into repeat lessons. The higher the conversion rate from the trial session to follow-up lessons, the more effective your approach to understanding your students’ goals and running your trial sessions is.
To achieve that, you need to optimize your trial sessions for activation and onboarding. Do your best to deeply understand what new students want and show them how you are the right tutor to get them there.
That said, don’t beat yourself down if you are below 50% in the beginning. That’s totally normal and expected. Commit to changing your strategies, how you present yourself, how you survey students’ goals and interests and how you describe your teaching method. After every tweak, measure the impact of those changes on the conversion. Also, don’t shy away from asking the students who return about why they chose you. That will give you tons of insights.
High conversion doesn’t come instantly - it’s the product of experimentation and changes.
Tutoring online is a fulfilling and motivating activity. It’s not just about making money. You’ll meet amazing, motivated, interesting people from all around the world! You will help them achieve their goals, travel places, access better education, build careers and make friends. The guide above will help you get started, but there is much more to it than meets the eye. Take it one step at a time and enjoy the ride!