Italki is the best website to teach languages online.
How to teach on Italki and make a living teaching online?
Why a guide to teaching languages online
As I’m shifting from online tutoring to running my website, I’m ready to share my little secrets.
After 4 years of teaching and 1600+ online lessons done, I feel entitled to write a guide about teaching languages on Italki. My credentials are in my review of Italki.
Other similar guides and reviews already exist, but they’re either outdated or limited to “housekeeping” like signup process and features and lack tips based on personal experience.
Why teach languages online
Passion at work
If you have the luxury of being able to choose your job based on your interests and not only to make a living, teaching languages online is an interesting option.
If you’re passionate about your own language and thrilled to talk with people around the world, you could make a good tutor.
Add some training and you could be a professional teacher.
In the age of the internet, you can work online, anywhere. Yes, you can work and travel at the same time!
There are many kinds of digital nomads. Typically, they’re programmers, web designers, graphic designers, translators, and teachers.
For each job type, there are well-paid professionals and average guys who barely make a living out of their trade.
While online teaching doesn’t grant particularly high hourly rates, you can still command decent rates is you market yourself the right way.
The purpose of this guide is also to help you with that.
Italki is the largest language learning community that connects students and teachers for 1-on-1 online language lessons. It boasts 10,000 teachers teaching more than 130 languages to over 5 million students.
Check out my review of Italki for students. I wrote it from a student’s point of view, but it’s also relevant to teachers.
- Earn decent money
- As an Italki teacher, you set your own prices
- Find more students
- Largest and best developed in its genre
- Teach on your schedule
- Work from home, or just anywhere
- All you need is a computer and a headset, and you can teach from anywhere with an internet connection
- Build an online teaching reputation to find new students and future employers
- International payments
- Italki handles all the payments so you don’t have to
- Manage your students
- Italki helps you manage all your student records and history
- Safety and security
The positive of Italki is that you’re able to get paid a much higher hourly rate than you would working for an online teaching company. You also have the opportunity to teach adults more complex topics as well as test prep.
It’s also helpful because you can teach at various hours throughout the day, not just early morning like a lot of teachers who work for Chinese companies do.
If you’re looking to take your online teaching to a more independent level and are wanting to diversity away from online teaching companies, I strongly suggest getting started with Italki.
It might be tempting to build your own website in the hope that students will find you there and you’ll keep all the money for yourself.
However, I don’t recommend this, especially in the first couple of years.
Italki is the world’s largest marketplace for language teachers and learners. You can teach any language you want. Just create a profile, set your prices, and learners will find you. It’s free to create a profile.
Yes, Italki gets a 15% commission on your sales, but what they do for you is worth it (and it’s still lower than many similar platforms).
For this you get all the marketing done for you – and their campaigns are high profile. They provide responsive support when there are problems with lessons; their dispute resolution is, in my experience, fast and fair.
Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to make a website or a blog, but it takes an unthinkable amount of time and effort to make it successful, i.e. getting traffic and students.
Being a teacherpreneur is very much like running a little company. You’ve got to decide on your strategy, build your list, make your website, manage social media, and publish awesome content (regularly). The payoff is worth it, but it’s an investment in dozens or hundreds of hours before getting the results. It’s daunting and many (or most) give up somewhere along this journey.
Well, if the standard teacherpreneur route is like running a company, then Italki is like having a booth at a flea market. There’s not enough room for blog posts or websites — all you get is a little table to show off your wares (in this case an intro video and a few paragraphs of profile), and the marketplace, Italki, provides the traffic.
And you do get traffic, starting on day 1. Every day, students interested in purchasing lessons from a teacher will see your profile. For those without a blog, a website, or a social media following, this is a huge advantage. Remember, this is a flea market. The English teacher next to you may have a blog and a big email list, but in this place, their table is the same size as yours.
Rephrasing the last point, it takes too much time and effort to build a website that makes money, but it’s easy to build a website that helps you make money.
Even if your website doesn’t generate traffic or revenue directly, it can be a useful teaching and marketing tool.
On your website, you put together your profile, FAQs, and useful links like language-learning apps and dictionaries
Besides that, a professional website gives a good impression of you as a professional.
If students perceive your value, you can command higher rates.
Social media are big timewasters and it takes time to build relationships with the few serious potential students out there.
You have to send lots of connections, post content, and then nurture followers through messaging campaigns (which can’t be automated).
In the end, it’s similar to building authority through a reputable blog: you can’t establish yourself as an authority overnight.
This guide is designed to give you a complete introduction to teaching any language on Italki and to allow you to learn from some of my successes and mistakes along the way.
In this free guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about getting started with Italki. From how to teach class, to how much does Italki pay, to how to get students.
Unlike online teaching companies, Italki is not an online school like SayABC, Palfish or VIPKID. Instead, they are a leading marketplace of teachers and language learners.
They are part marketplace, and part community that connects language learners with teachers for private lessons.
To get started teaching takes a bit of time. You’ll need to apply, submit your credentials and go through a vetting process before being added to the marketplace of potential teachers.
To begin the process of becoming a teacher begins with you applying.
Submit your application for review.
Application will be either be pre-approved, waitlist or rejected. Applicants are notified within 10 business days.
Once approved, teachers go through an on-boarding process that includes teacher success videos and a quiz.
Upon completion of the self-study section, you’ll have to complete a video call with Italki Teacher Services.
An application will be formally approved once you complete all these steps. You’ll be notified within 7 business days after your call with teacher services.
This process is needed to weed out timewasters and unqualified people.
Anyone can apply, it might help if you have some teaching experience, but many students are just looking to practice with someone who speaks the language to a high level. Especially if you want to be a community tutor, you can easily just get paid to chat about interesting topics with foreign students.
On Italki, there are two types of teachers:
- Professional teachers
- Community tutors
To become a professional teacher on Italki requires:
- Having a bachelor’s degree. If in education you’ll be given priority. If no bachelors you’ll need a TEFL certificate or equivalent.
- Having references and employment history
- Submitting a short introduction video
- Being a native speaker (or being at a C2 language ability)
- Being at least 18 years old
Professional teachers are expected to have training as educators and/or extensive professional teaching experience. They should also provide students with resources, prepared materials, and structured lesson plans to help students reach their goals.
To apply for a professional teaching profile, you must upload documents showing your training and experience as an educator.
To become a community tutor requires:
- Submitting a short video introduction
- Being a native speaker in your language or having a verified C2 language ability
- Being 18 years old
Community tutors should be friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and give students the conversation practice they need.
Any languages in which you have C2 or native proficiency.
If you would like to teach a second language, you’ll need to prove that you are at C2 level by speaking in that language during your Introduction video.
Italki actively promotes language learning and is looking to allow everyone to learn whichever language they want from the comfort of their own home.
Once you go through the vetting process and have been accepted into the teacher marketplace, your next task is to setup an effective teacher profile.
Your teacher profile for Italki should include numerous things.
Upload a profile photo for Italki. This picture should be of you smiling, with a plain background and from the shoulders up. Ιt should look friendly and professional enough to take you seriously.
On Italki, the introduction video is possibly the most important part of a profile.
It’s so important that I wrote a section about that below.
Upload this video on YouTube and then embed it into your profile.
If you don’t want the broader YouTube community to see your video, set it as “unlisted” on Youtube.
Next, with Italki you’ll be able to list out the languages you know and are able to teach. Your teaching specialties help prospective language learners make a decision if you’re the right teacher for them.
There are three long text fields where you can show off your personality and teaching style.
Write it meticulously as this is your marketing copy.
Include your professional background, education, teaching style, previous employment and success you had as a teacher.
These fields can get long. Break them up into smaller paragraphs.
You’re free to set your calendar.
However, set available time only when you’re really available. Rescheduling and canceling is unprofessional.
Once you have availability, students will be able to see this and possibly reserve a class or trial class with you.
Here’s my secret tip: availability is marketing, too.
You should be available enough to look committed, but scarce enough to look popular and exclusive.
This is true especially after you’ve built a respectable profile.
Amusingly enough, I saw an increase in bookings from new students after I reduced my availability.
In your video, talk about what you can do for the student, instead of just talking about yourself.
- How can you help them?
- What do you specialize in?
- What types of students are you looking for?
If anything, you could mention your hobbies and educational background to help make a personal connection.
Write a script to have a clear idea of what to say, but don’t read.
You can always memorize small bits and edit them.
Make sure your video is at least one minute and to talk in any languages that you are planning to teach. Additionally, if you are going to teach a language other than English, it can be a good idea to speak English in your video too.
Your video is a marketing tool.
You can give a totally different impression based on your background.
Books, maps, flags, objects typical of your country help give a trustworthy, relevant impression.
Your smartphone is already enough to take a decent video, but watch out for lighting. Shoot in a place with plenty of natural light.
Use an external microphone. You need that for your lessons, anyway.
Italki is a free marketplace. You’re free to set your own rates from 4$ to 80$ per hour.
It’s a great idea to start off with cheaper classes to encourage students to try you out and get some feedback.
For the first month, I offered $1 trial classes (30 mins) and charged $10 per hour.
Even if you are an experienced teacher, you might not know how to teach effectively online.
The lower prices allow you to learn without pressure and build up a solid reputation.
During this period, you should directly ask your students for feedback and explain why it is important to you.
Ask them at the end of the class if they were happy with everything (if yes, ask them to write something on Italki, if no, try to rectify this).
As you build up your profile with positive reviews, you can and should raise your rates.
Italki is a marketplace and there are teachers who consistently charge $5 per hour. Don’t try to compete with them and instead focus on creating value for your students.
There will be students who look for the cheapest teacher, but there are many others who are looking for the best teacher. If you charge $5-10 per hour, you’re excluding these students.
In my opinion, students who are looking for the best teacher tend to be more motivated and engaging, so consider marketing yourself at them.
Many teachers have a hard time raising their prices. On Italki, I didn’t. It’s a marketplace, and there are scores of teachers. Students have no obligation to commit to just one.
They can (and many do) take lessons with multiple teachers at a time, or frequently switch from one teacher to another. In this environment, I didn’t feel like I would be “leaving anyone hanging” by abruptly raising my prices, so that’s what I did.
This had 2 results that confirmed I was doing the right thing: The first is that more than half of my original paying students were happy to pay the new, higher price, even though the service they were receiving was exactly the same. Secondly, the higher prices did absolutely nothing to stop the influx of students. In fact, I was drowning.
My valuable lesson from 30 days was to teach less and charge more, so it was time for another price increase.
Now for the fun part, how much does Italki actually pay?
Well, unlike online teaching companies that have a set hourly rate and various bonuses, with Italki you can charge anywhere from $4 to $80 an hour for your time.
What most teachers do is that they set a low rate for trial lessons of $1-5 as a way to recruit students. Then charge a much higher rate for regular lessons.
Each student can book up to 3 trial lessons in total and only 1 per teacher.
English teachers usually charge $15- $35 per hour.
It depends on your skills and what you teach.
Remember that Italki keeps 15% of your sales as a commission.
Another helpful feature Italki provides to its teachers is that they allow you to create full course packages.
As a teacher you can create a package like “business English” that is a 10-lesson course aimed at complete beginners that you charge $30 an hour for.
I believe that 5 or 10-lesson packages are the best. I wouldn’t feel so comfortable booking 20 classes with a new teacher, but 5-10 is manageable. A discount of 10-15% should be enough to be enticing.
Unlike online teaching companies, the teaching method is up to you, and so it the lesson material.
The slides, PDF’s, downloadable material is all on you. This make Italki a lot of work upfront.
My favorite software for video calls is Skype. It can be buggy depending on the updates, but it’s good enough.
In particular, I appreciate the following features:
- Webcam + screen sharing at the same time
- Editing and deleting your messages in the chat in case of typos
- Showing the student’s video even when I switch to other windows
- Hiding your background
- Most students already have it
Other options are Zoom, Facetime, and Google Hangouts. They’re all viable, but lack some of the features above.
Italki has a “virtual classroom” hosted on their website, but it rarely works. It’s been around for years and still doesn’t work well.
The Chinese only use Wechat because they’re not free. It works outside China, but the Chinese government spies on you.
Italki has a simple affiliate program that pays $10 per new student (not teacher) who signs up and makes a purchase.
This is a small one-time payment and doesn’t make a difference unless you’re already popular.
However, in that case, probably you don’t want to migrate students to Italki, but rather manage them on your own, with your own website or a booking platform like Calendly.
The most common mistake that freelancers make is to try to offer anything to anyone.
This is true not only for online teachers, but also translators, designers, and content writers, among others.
You might be hesitating to narrow your scope out of fear that you’ll business, but you can actually improve the quality of your classes, students and overall, of your business.
The benefits are:
- Perceived professionalism and expertise
- Efficient reuse of your existing teaching materials
- Higher degree of preparation
- More enjoyable classes for you and your students
But, practically speaking, how to specialize?
If you’re a community tutor in Italki, you can also provide one kind of class: “conversation practice”. However, you can still tune up your sales copy.
If you’re a professional teacher, you can set different kinds of classes, like “Italian for opera”, “French for travelers”, or “business English”, each with a different price.
Despite this, I’d still recommend having a more general course in the beginning.
Italki allows you to create around 6 courses as a professional teacher, but that’s too much. It’s confusing to have too many options. 2-3 course is the right number.
You can always keep an expensive course available as an anchor. This means that, thanks to the high price of this option, the other options will feel more affordable.
Remember the people who are booking your class are not fluent in English, so you need to make it simple for them.
If you teach languages other than English, it’s still a good idea to write your profile and course description in English to be beginner-friendly.
In theory, you can teach online with your phone and a data plan, but in reality, you are charging students for a service and need to make the experience as painless as possible to receive high feedback. Here are my recommendations.
You find more tips for a productive online language class on Skype.
The vast majority of classes will be video calls and these are quite intensive. During the class you may have to search for things on Google, send documents, messages etc. A tablet or phone won’t really allow you to do this, so invest in a laptop or desktop computer.
You must buy a decent headset right away!
Don’t make the same mistake that I made. I don’t know how many students I lost because my cheap microphone failed or caught noise from the surroundings.
Here’s my guide to headsets for online teaching.
The one surprising thing taking online classes is how you can hear everything that is happening. Even relatively quiet noises can be heard by the student. Try to avoid having someone else talking, watching TV or cooking nearby.
If you can’t avoid noise, you can always reduce the sensitivity of your microphone.
On Skype, this option is found under “settings > audio”.
To set the sensitivity manually, you need to disable the option “adjust automatically”.
Before class, do an audio test with the “echo test” Skype account.
To let your student focus on you even when you’re in a crowded place, you can blur or replace your background.
To enable to feature, right click on your video during the call and click “blur/change background”.
Video calls are demanding. You need an internet connection that is not only fast, but also stable.
If you’re a digital nomad and move into a new place, the first thing you need to check is the speed of your internet connection.
Use Ookla’s speed test to measure it.
You can feel safe if you have more than 10 MB/s in upload and download.
I’ve done classes with even less than 1 MB/s, but I don’t recommend it.
This value should be stable throughout the test. If it fluctuates, your call can still be choppy.
On Skype, there’s a tool to check audio quality, but not for video quality. Add the “echo/test” user to your contacts and call it. You record a message and hear its recording.
This test doesn’t guarantee that a video call will work smoothly, because video needs much more data than audio.
- The student books a class and pays for your class to Italki. You don’t get anything yet.
- You do the lesson.
- Wait for student’s confirmation. After the class is completed, students have three days to confirm their class, if they don’t do it in this time, it is done automatically.
- Check your teacher wallet. Once a class has been completed the money will go into your teacher wallet and can be withdrawn on certain dates each month depending on your withdrawal method.
- Request a withdrawal. I use Paypal and money can be withdrawn from your teacher wallet on either the 15th or 30th of each month. It then takes 1-10 days to be processed and you can move it directly from your Paypal to bank account. Other options include Payoneer (I hate them) and Skrill (tried once, looks ok).
If you take time off for a holiday, for instance, expect it to take time to build students back up when you return.
Never turn off “Accept New Students”. If you do this, in my experience, it can take quite a while for new students to come through again when you turn it off. If you feel overwhelmed, decrease your availability – or raise your prices.
If you make changes to prices or lessons, you may see a delay – or even a drop-off – before the effect takes hold.
I’ve made changes to my prices a number of times. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve seen lesson requests drop a little for a few days or a week, then come back up to previous levels. Or higher.
You lose students at the lower end, but gain them at the upper. Some people will automatically search for more expensive teachers, on the (correct or otherwise) basis that they must be “better”
As a new teacher, put as much availability as possible for the first couple of weeks.
Offer trial classes at $1. Offer a single conversation class at the minimum rate ($8 professional / $4 community).
Your aim for the first few weeks is to get some scores, rating and feedback on your profile. You’ll also understand the platform better. Once you have some reputation, you’ll find it much easier to bring in new students
Every time you log in or just refresh a page on Italki, you profile ranks on the top.
The more often you’re logged into Italki, the more often you’ll show as being online in the teacher listing. This means you’re more likely to appear to students.
This means you’ll be busier. Students like to see busy teachers, as it suggests that they are popular and therefore good!
Don’t expect miracles overnight. It takes time and patience to build a base of students. It’s a virtuous circle where success leads to more success.
Once you’ve done some lessons, you’ll have an idea of what you like and don’t like, and what your students respond to. Try focusing classes around what works.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new lessons – you have 3 or 6 slots to play with, per language you teach.
Review your lesson titles and content! Make them sound engaging to students. Don’t say what you are or just quote your qualifications – tell them what you can do for them.
My personal view, in addition, is that a degree of humor goes a long way.
Change your bio and lesson description based on your students’ feedback. They know what they need and what they like!
Some casual learners will ask you to teach 2 or more people at once. Some don’t even mention that until the lesson has started!
In any case, turn down their request. It just won’t work out.
Correcting language learners is an art.
On one hand, if you interrupt them at every mistake, they go blank and lose confidence.
On the other hand, if you don’t correct them, they don’t know how to fix their mistakes. Maybe they don’t even realize that they made a mistake!
The ideal timing for correcting varies with people. It also depends on the lag due to the speed of your internet connection.
Italki and other similar websites to learn languages online have attractive benefits for me:
- Students are motivated adults or young adults learning of their own volition
- This usually makes lessons much more interesting and enjoyable
In my review of Italki for students, I mentioned these platforms to learn languages that could be alternatives to Italki:
- Verbal Planet
I said “could”, because they’re not as good as Italki.
You should focus on only one teaching platform and you should choose the best. So, it’s a no-brainer to teach on Italki.
Unlike Italki, online schools resemble traditional language school with the only difference being that they work online.
VIPKID, Palfish, DADAabc and Landi are popular examples.
I’ve never considered them because:
- Most of these teaching websites cater exclusively to children and younger learners
- Lessons are mainly at unsociable times or require you to commit to blocks of hours each day/week
- Unless you are a native English speaker, there is also very little chance to be able to teach there
- Generally, you need higher qualifications to be hired
Personally, I used to give 30-45 classes per month. That’s not enough to make a living, but I had no pressure because I also had other sources of revenue.
During the 2020 pandemic, demand doubled and I got tired. Now, I raised my rates to the extent that I only have about 20 classes per month.
I’ve seen people with a who are extremely busy, like 80-100 hours per month. In many cases, these are long-standing profiles who could easily raise their rates and earn just as much as they do now.
In any case, you set your own calendar and rates, so you’ll never be busier than you want to be.
To protect your privacy, do not give out your personal account information to students or post it on your profile.
When a student requests a session with you, Italki will provide you and your student with the contact details so that you can add each other on your chosen communication platform.
After you start giving lessons to a student, resist the temptation to make a deal outside Italki to save on their commission.
It’s in your interest to build a profile with a large number of happy students to attract even more and better students.
Also, considering the time you’d spend scheduling and rescheduling by yourself, it’s just not worth it.
On a teachers’ marketplace, you want to catch a student’s eye and provide information to base decisions on.
Here are my tips to write a profile that attracts students.
Resist the temptation to talk about yourself too much.
Your introduction is not about you, but about your students and how they’ll benefit from taking lessons with you.
As with any kind of business, your message will be way more convincing if you choose and speak to a specific audience.
Resist the temptation to appeal to just anyone when in the reality that makes your message dull and uninteresting.
Whether you like it or not, the video is possibly the most important part of your profile.
That’s why it should look professional. And you don’t have to be a professional videographer.
Here are my tips:
- Make eye contact with the camera
- Have a neutral background or add “marketing” elements
- Speak slowly, loudly, and clearly
During the online application, you’ll be asked for your full name a “display name”.
This does not need to be your real or legal name, but it should be a name that you expect your students to call you.
My advice is to include your first name and one or two words that define your niche or help you stand out.
For example, my display name is “Stefano the polyglot”.
With hourly rates ranging from 6 to 40 US$ and tutors who give anything from 10 to 100 lessons per month, it’s up to every teacher to set their goals.
You won’t become rich on Italki, but you can easily make some pocket money or even make a living.
Italki leaves a high degree of freedom to teachers and takes a fair commission for the support it provides in terms of platform and promotion.
You can set your own rates, availability, and class programs.
You can reschedule a lesson as many times as you want, but only at least 24 hours in advance.
Please note that your counterpart is not obliged to accept or even reply to your request.
Try to stick to the schedule time and, if you really need to reschedule, add a note to explain why.
Generally speaking, classes in languages spoken in countries with a high cost of living are more expensive.
However, many tutors live abroad and digital nomads tend to live in countries with a lower cost of living. They could settle for lower rates.
If a language is spoken in multiple countries, you can find teachers with a broad range of rates. For example, an English teacher in the Philippines is much cheaper than one in the U.S.
In any case, don’t let other tutors’ rates discourage you from raising yours.
Italki doesn’t charge anything to teachers. It only collects a 15% commission on every class you give (excluding trial lessons).
Thus, financially speaking there are no entry barriers to new tutors.
If you market yourself smartly and build an attractive profile with lots of students, you can make a living on Italki.
However, there many teachers who teach as a side job. Some community tutors even do it for fun.
Italki is the best place to teach and learn languages online.
It has the largest database of teachers and students.
It also has the best system overall.
Italki takes 15% on every lesson marked as completed by students, except for trial lessons.
This percentage is fixed and doesn’t change over time or with the number or lessons taught.
This is the lowest commission I’ve seen among similar websites and it’s justified by their good service.
You can set lessons of 30, 45, 60, and 90 minutes.
It’s mandatory to provide 60-minute lessons, while the other lengths are optional.
I’ve never seen anyone offer lessons longer than 60 minutes.
No, Italki credits don’t expire.
You can redeem your balance or transfer it to your student’s account at any time.
Italki lets teachers choose which software to use for their classes.
The most popular is Skype.
Italki also has a “virtual classroom”, but it rarely works and I don’t recommend it.
As with any business, you need to market yourself.
Teachers are usually bad at this and burn out due to an unbearable number of poorly paid lessons.
Listen to your students’ feedback and finetune your profile to attract motivated students.
Beginners, especially if at their first foreign language, should start with frequent, short lessons. Let’s say 30 of 45 minutes each.
Personally, as a student, I only take 60-minute lessons.
Teachers can choose the length of the classes they provide, with the exception of 60-minute classes that are mandatory.
Yes, Italki is safe both for tutors and students.
Everything happens online, so the worst thing that can happen is a personality mismatch.
In case of particularly annoying people, you can always block them.
Teaching online is a great opportunity and can be used as a side-hustle or a full-time job. It is very enjoyable and you have the chance to meet students from all over the world.
Italki has quickly become the top place for English learners to find an online English teacher. Italki is NOT an online school, but an online marketplace for freelance teachers to list their own prices and services.
The good thing is there are a lot of students. Italki will help you find paying students and as a teacher on Italki, you set your own schedule and prices.
The negative is that there are also a lot of teachers on the platform.
Because this is an online marketplace, potential students will be choosing between you and other language tutors, so make sure that your profile stands out from others.
Make sure that you create a profile that stands out from the rest, a video that focuses on how you can help the student, and a field of expertise. Don’t just teach generic lessons or you will be competing on price only.