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Teach English Online with 51Talk - Alumni Q&A with Ken Patel in Spain
Written by: Lynda Galea
Last Updated: April 22, 2021
What is your citizenship?
I am a US citizen.
What city and state are you from?
Los Angeles, California.
How old are you?
Do you teach English online from within the USA or abroad? If abroad, where are you located?
Abroad - Vigo, Spain.
What is your education level and background?
Bachelors Degree; Previously a Video Game Developer
Have you traveled abroad in the past? If so, where have you been?
I had previously traveled abroad to India, Japan, and Australia. I had never lived abroad before.
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
What sparked your interest in teaching English online?
My TEFL plan was to come to Spain and work in language academies. I did so, for a short time, but my academy didn’t have enough classes to offer me at first, so I picked up a job teaching English online to supplement my income while I waited for their business to pick up. It turned out that I enjoyed teaching online, and that I earned about 3x as much per hour after accounting for travel time, lesson preparation, and corrections that were needed for the academy work but not for online work. So at the end of the school term, I quit my academy job and switched to working online full time.
What were some of your concerns before teaching English online?
I am of East Indian descent and I was concerned that foreign students might not believe that I was American, or for other reasons discriminate against me because their vision of an English teacher was a white person. Whether or not this has happened I cannot say, but I have been able to attract enough students to fill my schedule regardless.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
Once I finally accepted that teaching English abroad was actually a valid and reasonable way to finance living in another country, getting a TEFL certificate was the obvious choice. It not only prepared me for the jobs that I was applying for but it also proved to employers that I was worthy of hiring. I chose the International TEFL Academy primarily because of the huge and active alumni community that it maintains, and that was definitely a good choice. The alumni community has been an invaluable source of information and encouragement throughout my experience thus far.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
How did you like the online course?
I enjoyed the course. I have a lot of respect for the choices made in the curriculum, especially in that they focused on teaching you what you need to know specifically for the experience of teaching English as a foreign language in another country.
How has your TEFL training helped you with teaching English online?
My TEFL training equipped me to adjust my teaching style and approach for different kinds of students. It also prepared me for how to be culturally aware and sensitive while teaching students from another culture.
TEACHING ENGLISH ONLINE - YOUR JOB
Why do you teach English online?
Teaching online is not only very convenient but it also pays very well. Online teaching jobs generally require less time for lesson preparation and corrections, and eliminates commute times as well. These differences factor into making the per-hour rate difference favorable to in-person lessons in many cases. In addition, teaching online means that you are free to travel and even move with far fewer restrictions. In my online teaching job, I am able to take vacations almost at whim. I can also move, not only between homes, but also between cities or even countries without worrying about breaking contracts or finding new employment.How did you learn about teaching English online?
I first looked into teaching English online as a possibility for completing my practicum. I didn’t do that, but when I wanted to supplement my academy-teaching income later, I knew exactly where to look.
Which company do you teach English online with?
I teach English online with 51Talk. It is a Chinese company, and my students are all Chinese children between the ages of 4 and 16.
[Hot Tip]: 51Talk are just one of many online ESL schools. Download our Teach English Online Employer Comparison Chart to compare online schools, hourly pay, degree and experience requirements, and much, much more!
Please outline any specific requirements to teach English online with 51Talk
51Talk requires their teachers have a Bachelor’s Degree (any major) and a TEFL or equivalent certificate. Your internet is expected to provide 5 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload, though I believe they may be flexible on this. You must teach from a computer or laptop; they do not support teaching from a phone/tablet at this time. Additionally, by and large, they are only hiring teachers with North American (US/Canadian) accents. There are exceptions but in general this is the case.
Briefly explain 51Talk's application and interview process
The full hiring process will take two to three weeks at minimum, so I recommend starting it soon as you think you might be interested. You can always abort or pause the process later if you change your mind. Start by filling out the application form at this webpage. Your application will be screened, and you will be notified of the result via email (check your Spam folder!). If your application was approved you will be invited to a brief initial interview, and following that you will be asked to give a “demo lesson” for an evaluator. If all goes well, that’s it for interviews! You will be scheduled to attend some teacher training sessions (unpaid), and at the end of the training sessions you will be offered your contract!
Is there a minimum number of hours you have to work per week/month, or is scheduling completely flexible and up to you?
51Talk historically only required that teachers *average* 7.5 hours per week. However, the company is converting the bulk of their clientele to a group class (1v4) program and all new teachers are hired on as 1v4 teachers. I believe with the 1v4 teaching program, teachers are required to teach 5 days a week, 3 hours per day. These hours must be within Chinese “peak hours” (18:00-22:00 M-F, 10:00-22:00 S-S, *Beijing Time*). Again, as this is a new program, I expect these requirements will evolve. Please check the website or ask your interviewer for the latest information.
Is this your full time job, or a side hustle?
This is my full time job. I fully support my life in Spain with my income from this job.
How many hours per week do you teach English online?
I typically teach online between 17-20 hours per week.
What do you love about teaching English online with 51Talk?
I love that the company does all of the “business” work (finding students, setting prices, collecting lesson fees, etc) and even some of the “teaching” work (mainly lesson preparation). I show up (roll out of bed) and teach and I am paid well for it. It is also rewarding to teach young learners; it can be frustrating at times, but it can also be quite fun.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Why did you choose to teach English online from Spain?
As part of the ITA coursework, I did research into several different countries that I was interested in. Many things that I read about Spain resonated with me strongly. It really stood out to me as a place where I wanted to experience the culture as more than just a tourist.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Spanish life is centered more around people than my experience of life in the US. This is reflected in a lot of ways. People of all ages frequently are generally very active socially and spend evenings together at bars. Young couples will just bring their children along. No problems. The elderly are engaged and lively and having fun, too. There seem to be fewer artificial barriers by age or marital status.
Nightlife for young adults starts at 2am and ends around daybreak on weekends. Dating is dating. You can try to meet people through friends, hobbies, or through dating sites and dating apps, just like in the US.
For me the biggest adjustment has been with respect to food. While there is a lot of good Spanish food, there isn’t much international cuisine here and therefore there is significantly less variety on the whole. The eating schedule here is also very different from that of the US and the vast majority of restaurants only serve according to that schedule. Very few restaurants offer food all day long and 24-hour restaurants are exceedingly rare.
The travel opportunities from Spain are tremendous. Flights within Europe are incredibly cheap… sometimes as low as 25 euros (~$31 USD). Similarly, you can often find AirBnBs for between 10-25 euros/night (~$12-$30USD). In short, travel opportunities are abundant and travel costs are low!
You're living in Spain for longer than a standard 3 month tourist visa - how do you get around this?
I have, at times, travelled out of the Schengen region, but I have also overstayed my tourist visa. So far, I have had no real problems with this.
LET'S TALK ABOUT MONEY...
What are your monthly expenses?
→ Rent: 250 euros ($310 USD)
→ Food: 350 euros ($430 USD)
→ Lifestyle/Classes/Entertainment: 150 euros ($185 USD)
→ Travel: 100 euros ($123 USD)
→ Transportation/Phone/Etc: 50 euros ($62 USD)
→ Supplies/Incidentals: 50 euros ($62 USD)
How would you describe your standard of living?
I would describe my standard of living as quite good. I don’t eat out extravagantly and I don’t have my own apartment, but besides those two things I don’t feel very restricted by financial concerns.
Does earning $USD from teaching English online (in oppose to earning in the local currency) mean you can afford to live a little more extravagantly in the country you are located?
Yes. The money I earn from teaching online is definitely more than I would earn from working the same number of hours here in Spain. It also means that my income is independent of where I live. If I move to an area with a lower cost of living, my money goes even further. This would not be the case if I were working locally, because areas with a lower cost of living also offer lower salaries.
Does teaching English online sufficiently support the 'digital nomad' type of lifestyle?
I am somewhat of a digital nomad. I do not travel constantly, but I have moved several times within the span of 1.5 years and working online has made doing that very easy. I feel comfortable saying that teaching English online can support the digital nomad lifestyle if you work for the Chinese companies, which offer the highest salaries.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably in Spain?
I have lived in inexpensive cities in Spain (Granada and Vigo) and $1000 USD is enough to live comfortably and have spending money. If you are in an expensive city like Madrid or Barcelona, I think you would want closer to $1300 USD.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ONLINE ESL TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching English online?
Frankly, I think it’s a great opportunity. You will need to make sure that you have a recent computer with a reasonably good webcam. You will also need to make sure that you are always teaching from a location that has strong Internet and good lighting. I also strongly recommend that you have at least one month’s worth of expenses in savings as a backup. This is because online teaching can suffer from occasional inconsistencies in income from a variety of sources, such as bookings going down during holiday seasons.
The highest paying opportunities are with teaching Chinese children. For that, you should make sure that you are willing to spend your working hours smiling, singing songs, and being goofy. For some people that sounds great and for others it is not their cup of tea. You also need to make sure that you are available during Chinese “peak times” (6pm-11pm, Beijing Time). Depending on where you are in the world that could be very convenient or not convenient at all.
Would you recommend teaching English online from Spain?
Teaching English online from Spain has been great. All of the cities that I’ve been to in Spain have had strong and consistent enough internet to support teaching online. The cost of living here is low, so your earnings go a long way. Additionally, Spain is in a great time zone for teaching with Chinese companies as Chinese peak hours align with midday in Europe.
Finish this sentence: You should teach English online if you…
You should teach English online if you prefer to have more independence and won’t miss being part of a physical school environment. If you thrive on being in the physical environment of a school and dealing with students and coworkers in person on a daily basis, by all means teach in a traditional academy. But in my opinion, teaching online is superior in all other ways. :D
An accomplished traveler (she's visited 40 countries!), Lynda hails from Melbourne, Australia. Since she joined ITA in 2017, Lynda has become a primary expert on the field of teaching English online. Not only has she published numerous articles on the topic herself, but she has worked with International TEFL Academy alumni around the world to produce an entire library of information and content about teaching English online. Lynda also serves as a primary organizer of ITA's ground-breaking Teach Abroad Film Festival.
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