You are passionate about teaching and working with languages but you never studied linguistics or translation or another language-related subject at university. Perhaps you work as a nurse, a lawyer, a secretary or a supermarket cashier. Perhaps you’re not that young anymore and are wondering whether a career change is an option. And whether teaching online without formal qualifications is possible at all.

Comparing yourself with others

Perhaps you already had a look at some of the well-known online teaching platforms such as italki and considered registering as a teacher. But then you take a closer look at some teacher profiles and suddenly you start hesitating.  You feel intimidated because all of them display a huge list of formal qualifications. How can you compete with them?

Your mindset matters

In this article, I won’t go into detail but I’d like to show you that becoming a successful teacher with happy students has more to do with your mindset, your goals and your willingness to learn new things and expand your knowledge constantly than with formal qualifications as you can acquire them at a university.

I’ve been through all these doubts (and continue questioning myself). There were people who told me how mad I was quitting my secure job in Germany at the age of 45 and head towards an insecure future as a self-employed online teacher.

I don’t have a professional language background

I know that quite a few people are in the same position and reading a lot of articles or even buying courses about how to teach online doesn’t help them because they constantly feel they lack the foundation. They didn’t study a language-related subject at university or perhaps they didn’t attend university at all and it makes them feel insecure and inferior.

I studied sociology at the beginning of the 90’s but never worked in that field. Later on, I worked as a nurse at a psychiatric clinic for several years. I’m not a language teacher with an academic degree but I love what I’m doing and I’m willing to learn new things every day. If this describes you, too, then you will most likely benefit from my article, so just continue reading.

Focus on your personality

There are people who will first have a look at your qualifications and when you don’t have any, they’re gone. It’s as easy as that. However, when you’re someone like me who regards learning and teaching languages rather as a passion than a job, would you really want to work with people who have such a strictly academic approach? Probably not.

Tell people who you are, connect with them

So when you start teaching, tell people that you’re passionate about languages. Talk a bit about yourself on your profile page and also in your video. Not exclusively, of course. I normally don’t ask students why they chose me but some mention it.

What they usually say is that they liked the description of my courses and felt they’d get along well with me when watching my video (which is not really professional but it shows me the way I am, not some kind of image I want to show to the world).

That’s exactly the way I choose my teachers, too and those are the kind of students I like to work with.

Teachers with a lot of qualifications and a university in Teaching XXX as a Foreign Language normally attract a different kind of student. That’s fine. You don’t have to compete with them.

But these websites require a formal qualification

That’s correct. If you want to be accepted as a professional teacher on italki, for example, you need to prove that you’re qualified.

Being German, I first searched for opportunities to get a qualification as a German teacher without having to study lots of theory and unnecessary stuff at university. I didn’t find anything.

Get an ESL qualification even if you want to teach another language

So I searched for ESL courses and finally invested about € 200 in an online course. There are various options, I chose this i-to-i course.

To be honest, it was the most boring course I’ve ever done and I would never teach the way they suggest it. Apart from it, it was aimed at teaching groups at language schools abroad, not 1:1 tuition online.

But it served its purpose. Once you’re accepted as a professional English teacher on italki, you can offer professional lessons for your native language, too. Problem solved.

Will I be able to earn enough money to pay my bills?

I know someone who is absolutely passionate about languages but works in a completely different field and earns more than a decent salary. She nevertheless wanted to give it a try as an online teacher. It didn’t last long. She realised that she’d be better off working in her current job and spending her salary to do things she loved in her free time.

What’s your starting position?

Your starting position matters. I mentioned above that I had a secure job in Germany. However, I didn’t earn a fortune and, much more important, I was extremely unhappy. During my last year at the hospital, I dreaded to go to work, was totally unmotivated and often in a bad mood.

A boring job with a good salary might be acceptable. A job where you feel constantly under pressure and unhappy is not acceptable and will make you sick.

Age also matters

When you’re 20 or 25, you still have your whole life in front of you. When you’re 40 or 50 and stuck in a job which doesn’t give you satisfaction, things suddenly look different. However, most people in the 40’s or 50’s are less free with their decisions than people in their 20’s. They often have a family, regular bills to pay, perhaps a mortgage to repay etc.

Start teaching without quitting your job

Set a few hours aside each week and offer your services on italki, for example. That will give you an idea how easy it will be to find students and you will find how if you really like teaching online.

Don’t quit your job at once and don’t think about the money you make or could make at this point. See it as a time to test yourself and gain new experiences. Perhaps you will come to the same conclusion as the woman I mentioned above. That’s fine and is likely to make you feel happier with your current job.

And to answer the question if you will be able to pay your bills: This depends much more on your lifestyle and on where you live than on what you charge for your lessons. So there’s no quick and easy answer.

I hope this article was helpful if you’re currently wondering if teaching online might be an option for you. Please don’t hesitate to write in the comments if you have any questions.

Author: Daniela

Hi! I'm Daniela - a native German who's living as a digital nomad in Latin America. Besides making a living teaching German, I'm constantly trying to improve my Spanish and Portuguese. On my blog, I write articles for (aspiring) language teachers to help them get started and for people who want to travel the world and make some extra cash teaching offering quality language lesson.

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