Teaching English Online: Do You Need A TEFL Or Degree?

If you don’t have a degree or a TEFL, you can still teach English online!

You don’t need either to get started, no matter what you’ve heard. With a strong internet connection and a decent webcam (and, of course, fluency in English), you could potentially start teaching English online today!  A degree or TEFL, however, will be a big asset to your applications to online English teaching companies, and a TEFL in particular will give you confidence in your English teaching ability before you embark on your new career.  Importantly, a TEFL or a degree will seriously boost your earning potential.  However, you can absolutely work online as an English teacher without a degree or a TEFL, so it can’t hurt to get started right away to find out if online English teaching is the perfect job for you!

What Is TEFL?

TEFL is an acronym that stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and “getting your TEFL” is the process of getting certified to teach English as a foreign language.  There is no single regulating body for TEFL, so certifications are also known as TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or ESL (English as a Second Language).  Generally, TEFL is used in the UK, and TESOL is more commonly used in the US, Canada, and Australia.

Do You Need A Degree To Get A TEFL

You do not need a degree to get a TEFL, which is why it is such a popular option for online English teachers!  Getting your TEFL doesn’t take long, and if you are a native English speaker with a solid understanding of English grammar, you should find the certification process easy and straightforward.

A few online English teaching jobs will accept a bachelor’s degree in lieu of a TEFL, so in fact prospective English teachers who don’t already have a degree actually have a lot more to gain by becoming TEFL certified.

The main requirements for a TEFL are that you are proficient in English (which will be verified if you do not come from an English-speaking country), and usually that you are over 18.  Some programs will require a high school diploma, but plenty do not.

Is TEFL Or A Degree An Advantage

For some companies yes, for others no.

A TEFL or a degree will usually give you an advantage in the application process, but for some companies, an engaging, enthusiastic personality that shines through will carry a lot more weight than your official qualifications.  Many of the companies that don’t require a TEFL certification are used by students who want an English conversational partner that will iron out the kinks in their speaking ability.  However, even on platforms that advertise themselves as focused on “conversational” English, you will occasionally run into students that have zero English ability.  A degree won’t necessarily help you here, but a TEFL will.  The ability to effectively and efficiently educate students in the English language will always be a huge bonus, since students will see their English improving in real time and will want to continue working with you.

Do You Need A TEFL To Teach English

You don’t need a TEFL to get started teaching English!  As long as you have an excellent command of spoken English, there are a number of online English teaching companies that do not require a TEFL (or a degree) in order to get started.  I’ll describe a few of these companies in depth later.

You will need excellent English skills, a reliable internet connection, and a computer or tablet that can capture audio and video.  If you don’t have a TEFL, I would strongly advise that you learn to market yourself effectively, cultivate an enthusiastic and engaging teaching personality, and find resources for successful English teaching strategies and curricula.

We talk about in in-depth in the You’re Hired online teaching program and show you how to create your own “teaching persona”.

Teaching English Online Without A TEFL

A TEFL isn’t just a qualification, it’s a set of valuable tools and skills that will enable you to be a more effective English teacher.  Without one, I’d really recommend brushing up on your English grammar, pronunciation rules, public speaking skills, and elocution.  Practice speaking slowly and clearly without heavy emphasis on slang or idioms.  If you are a native speaker, remember that while English grammar is intuitive for you, you’ll still need to be able to explain the rules of English grammar in depth to your students, and I know that a lot of people haven’t given English grammar a single thought in years!

Online English teaching is a real job that requires skill, knowledge, and dedication.  If you are prepared to take it seriously and devote time to self-study in order to prepare yourself, then the lack of a TEFL shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals.

How To Get Started Teaching English Online Without Qualifications

We regularly post job listings in our Facebook community to help you find companies that are hiring online English teachers without any qualifications.  Ensure that you have a reliable, strong internet connection and a device that is capable of downloading and using VOIP software such as Skype.  I’d strongly recommend investing in a decent webcam and headset if you can since these will make you stand out from the crowd to students.

When applying to a job or creating a profile, try to emphasize your own personal specialties and strengths.  American and English dialects are usually the most in-demand, but many Asian students who are looking to study in Australia or New Zealand will benefit more from those accents.  Students have a wide variety of goals, so an Irish accent can help a businessman who has a lot of dealings with Dublin, and a Scottish accent can specifically assist a person who is looking to emigrate to Edinburgh.  If you have specific knowledge of a particular industry or field of study, be sure to let your students know about it!

What Companies Can You Teach Online Without TEFL / Degree

iTalki, Skimatalk, Cambly, Preply, and CafeTalk are five of the biggest and most lucrative platforms for online English teachers without a degree or TEFL.

iTalki

iTalki is a language learning platform that connects students from all over the world with native speakers or language speakers with an advanced (C2) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. 

You can be a Professional Tutor or a Community Tutor.  Professional Tutors have official qualifications such as a degree or TEFL, AND/OR substantial professional teaching experience.  So, if you don’t have a degree or TEFL but have some prior teaching experience, you could apply to become a professional tutor.

Anyone with a native or advanced proficiency in a language (advanced being defined as a ranking of C2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) can become a community tutor on iTalki.

While iTalki lets tutors set their own prices, professional tutors earn a minimum of $8 per hour, whereas community tutors start at $4 per hour.  You can set your own prices, and if you are popular with students, you could potentially earn quite a bit more than the minimum, but competition is fierce.  iTalki takes a 15% commission on all teacher earnings.

Skimatalk

Skimatalk is an online English learning platform that mostly caters to Japanese students.  Only native speakers over the age of 18 with dialects from the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand may apply.  If your application is accepted, you must teach 3 free lessons in order to “build up your initial reputation”, after which your price will be set to $8 per 25-minute session.  You are free to change this price if you wish, and Skimatalk will take a 20% commission.

Once you start teaching, you MUST maintain a student rating of 4.5 or higher, with a cancellation rate of less than 10% AND a no-show rate of less than 5%, in order to continue working with SkimaTalk.

Preply

Preply is a platform focused on student satisfaction and teacher-student rapport.  After you set up your profile and start advertising to students, Preply will take 100% of your first lesson price with any student.  Your objective is to get the student to prepay for a bundle of between 5 and 20 lessons with you.  For this platform, a high degree of self-marketing ability is required.  The platform’s own website emphasizes how important your ranking in the search results is to your teaching success.

Teachers can set their own prices, which tend to hover around the $20 an hour mark, although teachers with a TEFL, a degree, or professional teaching experience can charge even more.  Preply takes a commission of between 33% and 18% of your set lesson price, with a lower commission rate for more active teachers.

CafeTalk

CafeTalk is an online learning platform that connects students with tutors for a wide range of skills, from music to yoga to Japanese.  ESL, however, is by far the biggest earner for the site.  All you need to do to become a tutor is to register with the site and download Skype.  Of course, neither a degree nor a TEFL is required.  The website notes that some knowledge of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean and/ or experience living in an East Asian country will be especially helpful for a tutor.

As with the previous platforms, tutors can set their own price.  CafeTalk takes a commission of between 40% and 15% of your set lesson price with, similar to Preply, a lower rate for teachers with more lessons logged.

Cambly

Cambly differs from these other online English learning platforms by guaranteeing teachers a flat rate of $0.17 per minute or $10.20 per hour.  A strong Internet connection is required.  The focus is mostly on conversational English, so many (but not all!) students will have some English ability and simply want some experience chatting.  Cambly is particularly flexible, since it pays by the minute, so conversations can vary widely in length.  The flip side of this is that you could sign up for an hour-long slot, while only talking for less than five minutes or not at all.  Cambly tempers this with a guaranteed minimum of $2.55 per hour.

Most of these platforms will certainly not make you rich, but if you are just starting out in English teaching without a degree or a TEFL, they can provide you with much-needed teaching experience and the opportunity for you to find out if a career in online English teaching is right for you.

What Do You Need To Teach English Online

Physical requirements for teaching English online are simple: a strong Internet connection, and a device capable of capturing video and audio.  That’s it.

Most professional online English teachers invest in a quality webcam and headset, and such a setup will set you above and beyond the amateurs in your application.  Many companies use Skype to connect you with students, so it helps to have Skype already downloaded.  There are a number of other VOIP services in use, however, such as Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and QQ.

Of course, there are a number of personal qualities that are absolutely essential for teaching English online.

If you have never taught before, you should be aware that patience is one of the greatest virtues for educators.  Especially if you are a native speaker who has never struggled with English, you may find it difficult at first to understand certain problems your students might be having.  Never express frustration with a student’s progress or ability.  Everyone learns at their own pace, and in my experience, the hardest stretches of a student’s English language journey usually come just before a breakthrough!

Many of your students will come from countries with much stricter educational and family dynamics than those found in most English-speaking countries.  Children in particular can be very shy and are often afraid to make even the smallest mistake, which leads them to avoid speaking English entirely.  As an educator, you must work patiently to establish a rapport with them that builds their confidence and encourages them to get comfortable with speaking English out loud.  Don’t penalise mistakes, and if you can, try to make your students laugh, which will put them at ease very quickly.

In short, you will need excellent English ability, a strong (and reliable!) internet connection, a device with audio-visual capability, patience, and understanding.

What Standard Of English Is Required

Just as a TEFL is not required, but certainly helps, the language ability of a native English speaker will go a long way with your online teaching applications, but is by no means a requirement.  Many online learners of English regard the phrase “native speaker” with a peculiar sort of reverence.  For many students, to completely comprehend and use English fluently is not enough.  They want to sound (usually) American or English, with no betraying accent to speak of.  This is, of course, easier said than done, but that doesn’t change the fact that the phrase “native speaker” has an almost magical quality in the world of English teaching.

However, to reiterate, being a native speaker is not essential.  Fluency in English will open plenty of online English teaching doors for you.  It’s best to have evidence of a qualification in English if you are not from an English-speaking country.  A ranking of C1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or a IELTS score of 6 could be considered absolute minimum levels for work as an ESL teacher.

You may not be able to charge as much as a native speaker, but often teachers who have learned English as a second language themselves will better understand the problems faced by students, and may actually be better educators than native speakers who understand the language innately but who have not been adequately trained to share that understanding with students.  Again, the pay might not be as good, but particularly on platforms where you can set your own rates, highlight your teaching skill and experience, and once you get the hang of the platform and a base of returning students, you might find yourself able to charge as much or even more than a native speaker.

How to get a TEFL certificate

If you are intimidated by the idea of investing in a teacher certification, especially if you don’t have any teaching experience, let me put your mind at ease.  Getting your TEFL is easy, affordable, and surprisingly quick.  Usually, online TEFL courses can be completed in much less time than in-person TEFL courses.

A four-year degree is out of reach for many people due to limitations of time and financial constraints.  However, for those simply looking to earn some extra money teaching English online, a TEFL will prove a huge advantage.  Prospective tutors or teachers with a TEFL will be able to work for a much wider range of companies and will be able to command a higher pay rate on platforms that don’t require a TEFL, and the process is far, far easier and more affordable than getting a four-year degree.

My recommendation is a company called TEFL UK, which offers a range of TEFL courses that can all be completed online, sometimes in less than three weeks, which is not too shabby considering that those three weeks can qualify you for a rewarding teaching career. 

Use the code 17332144 for an extra discount!

Conclusion

Lack of a TEFL or degree is absolutely not an insurmountable barrier to teaching online.  If you want to teach online without a TEFL, your earning potential will be largely determined by your ability to market yourself and build a base of returning students.  Many teachers enjoy this model and find success in online English teaching without ever getting a degree or TEFL. 

My advice to you is that if you have neither a degree or a TEFL, and aren’t sure if teaching is for you then check out my three-part interview series where I talk about how I became an online English teacher without a TEFL and without any teaching experience. In less than a year I was able to secure a job at a top paying company and I now earn well over $20 per hour (excluding bonuses)

In short, no, you don’t need a degree or a TEFL certification to get started teaching English online, and there are some great companies that can get you started right away.

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