The Pros and Cons of Teaching English on Italki
Back in 2018, I had a YouTube channel on which I taught Brazilians how to speak English. Eventually, one of my subscribers asked me if I gave private classes online. Before that moment, I had never even considered the possibility of teaching 1-on-1 classes, much less online. I mean, I just wanted to get paid to make cool YouTube videos.
But after doing some research, I figured it could be a good opportunity to grow as a teacher and get paid while doing it. So I signed up for Italki and started giving online classes. After 2 years on the platform, I gained the knowledge and experience I needed to create my own language education platform and teach English in a more interesting and effective way. In this article, I'm gonna talk about my experience teaching English on Italki and the pros and cons of working on the platform.
Italki Review - The Pros:
There is an abundance of students on Italki
Italki is a great option for teachers who don't have the time, money, or experience to market themselves online. Since Italki is essentially an online international marketplace, that means there are people on that website every day looking to buy what you're selling. It's like opening a store inside a shopping mall. All day, every day, people are walking by your store and that means you're constantly exposed to potential customers. If you teach a language that's in demand, you have a nice profile, and your hourly rates are competitive, you'll inevitably start getting students who want to learn from you.
You choose your own hourly rate
Unlike working for a traditional language school, you get to decide how much you get paid when you teach on Italki. Of course, you've gotta price yourself according to your target market, but at least YOU make the final decision on how much you'll be compensated for your work.
You set your own schedule
Another benefit of working independently is you decide which days you work and which days you rest. Back in 2019, I took a 3-month trip to Brazil. I was able to continue making money while I was there thanks to Italki (and my own website which I'll get to later in this article). Since I could set my own schedule, I decided that I would work from Monday to Wednesday, and I'd do whatever I wanted from Thursday to Sunday.
Of course, this change didn't work for some of my students, but most of them understood and adapted to my new schedule. My priority was being able to enjoy my time in Brazil, so I was fine loosing a few students temporarily because I knew it wouldn't effect my long-term goals either way. Due to that abundance of potential students I mentioned earlier, I knew that I'd continue to receive new students if I just kept getting good reviews (I'll talk more about the review system in a bit).
You don’t have to have a degree or certification to teach on Italki
This one is seen as a positive and a negative depending on who you ask. On Italki, you can be one of two kinds of teachers. You can be a 'Professional Teacher', and for that, you would need a degree or special certification like TEFL, for example. Or you can be a 'Community Tutor', which is essentially a native speaker who's willing to help foreigners improve their skills simply by talking to them on a regular basis. Just in case you're wondering, they're both paid positions, and you can charge as much as you want in either position.
The difference, I suppose, is just the perceived value of each position. Some people insist on working with 'professional' teachers that have been certified by an institution. Other people really don't care what your credentials are, they just want you to talk to them and correct their mistakes. I have zero teaching degrees or certifications, but I was still able to fill my schedule with motivated students who were eager to learn from me and valued the work I did.
I'm not going to lecture you at all, but the last thing I'll say is that you don't need a teaching degree to be a great teacher, but you do need to know what you're talking about. Simply being a native speaker doesn't mean you know how to teach people your language. You still need to take it upon yourself to study your language and experiment with different teaching methods until you find one that's truly effective. It goes without saying that if people are paying you money for a service then they expect you to know what you're doing.
You get to meet people from all over the world
Apart from being able to work from anywhere in the world, you also get to meet people from all over the world! I've taught people from Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Tanzania, France, Russia, Mozambique, China, Morocco, and the list goes on and on. My appreciation of culture and different communication styles has grown so deeply over the last few years. Although challenging, it's been nothing short of a privilege to have been able to speak with people from so many different walks of life. Some of my students have ended up becoming great friends, and others have gone as far as taking me out to lunch and inviting me into their homes when I visited their country. One of them even took me to a local hospital and let me use his health insurance when I got sick!
The entire world is learning to speak English, it's become the international language of business and travel. By teaching English on Italki (or online in general), you'll end up making connections with people from every corner of the earth. And you just never know how those connections will impact your life overtime.
Italk Review - The Cons:
Italki takes 15% of your money off the top
I'm not sure if this number has changed since I stopped teaching on Italki (in 2020), but when I was using the platform, Italki charged a service fee of 15%. That means for every hundred dollars you make on their platform, Italki takes 15 of them off the top. That's ridiculously high, especially when you consider the value exchange. Italki has brought the student, but after that, you have almost zero support from them. You work with the student, you keep the student coming back to the platform, and Italki sides with the student if there should ever be a dispute between the two of you. And for that, they expect 15% of everything you earn. That's 15% on top of the 3% you'll be giving to PayPal.
That's also after 2 to 3 weeks of waiting for your money to arrive in your account. Italki says they do payouts every 15 days, but what they neglect to mention is that it'll typically take 7-10 business days for them to transfer your money to your PayPal account after the payout has been started. And after that, you need to transfer the money from your PayPal account to your bank account. You have the option to request an expedited transfer or simply deposit the money directly into your bank account, but you'd have to pay more money.
For some people, this isn't a 'con' at all. But for me, it made much more sense to create my own platform and take complete control of my revenue, profit, client relationships, marketing, and branding. It's certainly more work, but it's also more lucrative. But my way of teaching English has evolved far beyond the limits of Italki, so I'll save that for another article.
Italki makes the final decision in disputes with students, and they typically side with the student
Let's say you and your student agree to meet for class on Thursday at 7:00 PM, but your student doesn't show up for class. What happens next? You notify Italki if the problem, let them know how you'd like to proceed (reschedule, require payment, etc.), and Italki reaches out to your student. He/she has 3 days to explain their absence and decide how they'd like to proceed. You have no control over the outcome of this dispute. Italki employees will arbitrarily decide on the resolution. In my experience, regardless of the situation, Italki will typically choose whichever resolution favors the student. Because at the end of the day, Italki needs students to keep using their platform. In my opinion, having a judge that's incentivized to rule in favor of a particular party is a conflict of interests.
The scheduling system has limited flexibility
When I was using the platform, Italki only allowed you to schedule classes in 30 or 60-minute blocks of time, and you can only have a class at the top of the hour (7:00 PM, for example) or in the middle of the hour (7:30 PM, for example). You couldn't schedule a class at 7:15 or 7:45. You also couldn't give yourself a 10-minute buffer before or after your classes like you can with a software like Acuity or Calendly. This is another one of those things that mgiht not matter to most people, but I found it really annoying the entire time I used the platform.
You must follow their regulations on their platform
This is a pretty obvious statement, but when you're on Italki, you've gotta follow their rules. One rule that I found particularly annoying was if a teacher doesn't respond to a class request within 3 days, the teacher gets a mark on their record. Every time this happens, you're expected to send an email to Italki explaining why you didn't answer the request in time and how you'll make sure that it won't happen again. If you get 2 or 3 of these marks on your record, Itakli will simply remove your profile from search results. You'll be able to book classes with your previous students, but new ones won't be able to find you. Italki's logic is, if you're leaving our students on read, they're gonna have abad experience and go to another platform. And you're not responding to the requests, so you must not be available, so we're gonna make sure you stay unavailable until you convince us otherwise.
Your whole teaching business could be tanked because you neglected to respond to a message in the time that Italki deems sufficient. Of course, as a professional you should be responding to messages and requests in a timely fashion. But the idea that someone else could literally disrupt your livelihood like that never sat right with me.
Your rank in search results is beyond your control
Italki functions serves as a search engine. The same way you go on Amazon and search for a product, people go on Italki and search for a teacher. I have no idea how the algorithm works, but the fact is that there are hundreds, if not thousands of teachers on the platform. You have no control over whether you show up on the 1st page of search results or the 99th page. AlthoughI completely understand that not everyone can show up on the first page, I prefer to take more control over where I show up, for who I show up, and how I'm able to present myself to them. Again, this takes a lot more work than simple creating an Italki profile, but it's worth it to me.
Options for marketing yourself are limited
Speaking of marketing oneself, there are no real ways to market yourself on Italki. We just talked about the fact that you might be showing up on the last page of search results when someone is looking for a teacher. You know nobody is going to page 99, so how can you attract students to your profile and convince them to give you a chance? Well, you might make a post on the Italki community forum. You could correct people's mistakes, teach them a lesson, or simply state that you offer private classes. Either way, you'll be marketing to people in a place that wasn't intended for marketing posts, and in my experience, it won't do anything for your business.
Obviously, if teaching online is a side hustle for you, then you might not worry so much about marketing, SEO, profit margins, etc. But if you're treating this like a business, then you might consider doing your own thing and learning how to drive traffic to your own platform.
I look at teaching on Italki like renting an expensive room in someone else's house. Creating and operating your own website/business is like a building your own house from the ground up. Both options have their pros and cons, you just have to decide what makes more sense for you.