How do you become an online language teacher? Do you need any particular education? Any specific work experience? Do you need to be a language teacher to start with?
The answer is no.
All you need is a language to teach, an entrepreneurial mindset (or an interest in developing one), and a passion for helping people. Of course, if you have a background in language teaching, it will be even easier.
This was not the case for me though.
I come from Sweden. Although I was born in Stockholm, I grew up in rural Sweden three hours outside of Stockholm. My village had about 700 inhabitants, and we were only nine pupils in my year from age 7–12.
I have only really had temporary jobs. I have worked in over 10 different areas, including working as a nanny, picking strawberries, helping to set up a youth centre, working behind the till in a local supermarket, and working as a family planning educator, teaching teenagers about how to use a condom (among other things!). I have studied at university throughout most of my 20’s, but not continuously.
I think it’s fair to say that my education and job experience is varied, to say the least. All throughout this time, I have never really felt that I could fit in. I always found that I had an urge to develop, create and change things. It was like an itch, that I was rarely allowed to scratch.
I took six months off after my Bachelors to go and see about a boy, so to speak. The problem was that this person lived in New Zealand at that time. I managed to land a project-based job remotely. This was in 2003, and the Internet connection in New Zealand was appalling, but it gave me the first taste of working remotely while travelling.
The enormous sense of freedom of being in a different country, while doing a job that I found interesting, was worth a lot.
Six months later, my now boyfriend and I ended up in the UK. I worked temporarily for a year, but I yearned for freedom again, and I applied to do a PhD. University gave me a level of freedom and flexibility, and wetted my appetite for exploring and doing research. I could really indulge in becoming a nerd and go deep into areas that I was interested in. I was also mainly studying from home (I never lived on campus), and this taught me a fair amount of self-discipline and how to work alone on bigger projects.
However, as I got a better insight into the hierarchies of university departments, I began to feel it was not for me. Although I absolutely loved the teaching side of things, and also being able to throw myself into research and learning, I found it too restricted and too fixed geographically. Would I have to apply for a position somewhere in a department, where I had to spend most days every week, and only travel during holidays and for the odd conference?
Two years into my PhD in 2005, I needed a job so I could make some money. I tried my luck at a local betting shop, as I figured the hours were better than working in a pub. I only lasted two months…
A neighbour, who happened to be a German language teacher in a local school, casually said one day when I was complaining about the situation; “Why don’t you do something with your Swedish skills?”
The thought had never crossed my mind. I lived in a middle-sized town in central England. Who would want to learn Swedish here!?
I found a website where language teachers could advertise their services, and I gave it a go. I got my very first student, a man locally who was planning to move to Sweden in the future. I got another couple of students, who lived about an hour from me but were happy to travel. I taught them in my house.
Then something happened. A man from Pennsylvania contacted me through the language teaching website and wanted lessons. He said he would phone me. So we started lessons over the phone.
At the same time, Skype started to become more popular and I was already using it to call friends and family in Sweden. What if I could use Skype instead of the phone to teach students who didn’t live near me? Could this be an opportunity? I gradually started to suggest Skype in my adverts and it took off.
In 2010, I had about 15 students a week, and I realised it was time to set up a website. A year later, I found an online booking system that I plugged in to my website and by now I have taught over 15,000 hours online, for over 10 years. I have written a new version of Teach Yourself Complete Swedish, I have given talks at language conferences and I have been featured on BBC Two.
What I am trying to say is that your journey does not have to be straightforward either.
You may be a language teacher, or you may not. You may have a background in language teaching, or you may just find yourself in a different country to that of your native country and you want to develop something of your own, where you can help people and share your culture and language with others.
All your experiences in the past will be useful on your new Language Teacher Rebel journey. And you will learn the rest along the way.