Let's Teach English

Independent ESL Teaching: How To Get Your Own English Students

This article was written by an ESL teacher, Tien Le, from our Online ESL Reviews community. She has successfully found her own students and taught several independent English classes while traveling in Vietnam. Read on to find out how!

Are you a fan of the flexibility and opportunity to travel that ESL teaching jobs give? There are many options available such as teaching English abroad or teaching English online.

I had studied abroad and worked in the United States for over 8 years before returning to my home country, Vietnam, thus my English accent sounds quite native. Yet being non-native, I find myself disqualified for several companies that only hire native English teachers or offered a lower rate, unfortunately.

I decided to open an independent Conversational English class for adults. Getting my own students was challenging, but I’ve taught 5 courses now and would love to share my experience with you.

What You Need To Start Your Own ESL Class

Since you’re your own boss, you basically can set your requirements for the job. However, just like selling any other products or services, you should convince your potential students that you’re the subject expert and will be awesome at teaching them ESL.

To be an ESL teacher, it’s important that you have a native or near-native English accent. And your grammar must be solid. While a degree and teaching certificate may not be necessary, it would help you gain reputation and get a good grasp of effective teaching methods for different age groups from different countries.

Even if you’re a native, it doesn’t mean that you know how to teach others how to learn English. Since my college degree was in Communications, I could help the students speak and write in various ways and situations.

I also had experience tutoring private students before I started teaching a class. All these training and experiences would help improve your ESL teaching ability over time. I’ve found myself wanting to take the TEFL/TESOL after a while of teaching, even though it’s optional, to reflect on the methods I’ve used and come up with new ideas.

It’s also necessary that you can identify your strengths in teaching English. Then, see whether there’s a demand for that in the market. For example, you can focus on teaching Conversational English (speaking and listening skills), English Writing, Grammars, Test Preparation (IELTS/TOEFL/SAT/GMAT/GRE/TOEIC/etc.), College Application (test prep, school research, college essay writing, and so on), or Business English. What’s the age group that you’re best with or prefer to teach? Kids? Adults? It takes some time to figure out your true fit, but you must narrow down your specialization and stick to what’s most interesting.

Recruiting Students For Your English Class

This is the question that I get asked the most: How do I find my own students for my English class? To find your own customers can be quite challenging at first. I was lucky to be born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam. Thus I’ve already had a local networking circle that brought me many leads initially. I used word-of-mouth, referrals, and organic Facebook advertising only to recruit my students. I posted on Facebook groups and online forums for English. Many friends also helped re-share my post.

If you’re a stranger to the country, you can still find these groups online by digging Facebook and Google or asking those you know. Start a conversation with the locals. Ask them to suggest you local Facebook groups or online forums that English learners or your targeted students “hang out”. You can also do the traditional marketing method of putting up posters and flyers around schools and cafes. Though I haven’t tried, it may be worth it to put up a Facebook paid ads for example. Using paid ads and social media, you can target students of your preferred age group and location.

Finding Or Creating ESL Teaching Materials

Unlike teaching at a school or for an online ESL company, you’ll have to design your own teaching curriculum for your independent ESL class. But there’s so much information out there to aid you – online and in the bookstore or the library. You’ll find tons of helpful sample curriculums, teaching lesson plans and activities online. You could write your own curriculum and preparing your own teaching materials as well. But that would take more time and specialized knowledge in ESL teaching.

For my Conversational English class, it’s essential that I encourage the students to interact and speak a lot in class. Thus, I employed many games, quizzes, interviews, presentations, and other interactive activities. I found them by just typing “ESL games for adults” in Google search. The listening and reading materials don’t have to be from a test prep or standard English book. They could be interesting news articles, Ted Talks, documentaries, or your favorite books and TV shows as well. Be creative! If your students have fun and enjoy learning, they’ll master the English language in no time.

Some Advice For New ESL Teachers

Tip #1

There’s one advice for all ESL teachers, not just those starting their independent classes: be patient! Everyone learns differently and responds differently to your teaching method because not all are wired the same way. Embrace their uniqueness and be ready to adjust your approach anytime.

Tip #2

One of the key things is to make your students see their own progress and feel like they’ve learned something from you. To do that, you must help them set out their own quantifiable goals in the beginning. They could be: learn xxx vocabularies, get xyz score in a test, be able to perform a 10-minute public speech or a 30-minute long presentation, etc. Then throughout the course, make them write reflective essays or journals to see if they’ve met their goals or how they plan to do so. Ask them what methods worked for them and what didn’t and what else more could they do. The constant stream of feedback would help not only your students to improve their English, but also you to make your teaching more effective.

Tip #3

It’s nice starting your own ESL class as you have the freedom to be different. You don’t have to follow any set curriculum if you think such a method isn’t the best for your students.

For example in Vietnam, many schools and English teachers solely focus on grammars and evaluate their students based on test scores. While this helps with the test-taking skill, and maybe a little bit of reading and writing skills, many Vietnamese ESL students are horrible at communicating in English. They freeze when they see foreigners. They are shy to start conversations in English. When they do talk to foreigners, they use certain phrases memorized from their textbooks, thus the conversation ends quickly. They are afraid to improvise, even though they know all the necessary words. I personally feel that the test scores mean nothing if they cannot use English as a tool to communicate with others. Thus, I wanted to start a class that does not heavily focus on grammar, but encourage students to be creative, confident, and talk as much as possible without being afraid of making mistakes.

Being native vs. non-native

Both being a native and non-native help while teaching ESL independently. Being a native English speaker forces your students to communicate and express their thoughts in English 100% of the times. Meanwhile, being a non-native English teacher helps you understand how to learn English as a second language. If you understand the local language and culture as well, you can explain things in a much detailed way. Students then can clearly understand the way to use each English word, for example. You can also understand them better since many beginner English students tend to translate word-by-word from their mother tongue to English, which would make completely no sense to foreigners.

Tip #4

Lastly, you can set not only your teaching hours but also your rate. Set a rate that you’re comfortable with given the time you spend, yet do your research as well to see if it’s too high or too low compared to other options in the market. Many students would be willing to pay higher for your small, personalized class. However, do your calculation right to see how much time you’d put in. Teaching a 1.5-hour class doesn’t just take 1.5 hours. You’ll spend time recruiting students, developing your curriculum, grading assignments and advising each student as well. Set a rate that will motivate you to do all of this work by yourself instead of just showing up at the school and teach whatever materials handed to you by the employer.

Good luck and please comment below if you’ve got any questions or stories to share. Thank you and don’t forget to join our Online English Teaching Jobs and Teach English Abroad Jobs Facebook Groups to learn more about others’ experiences teaching English and find opportunities for yourself. If you’d like to get help, you can get started today and let us help you find an ESL teaching job online or abroad!