Are English language schools dying?

English Coach teaching online

The last thirty years has seen the rise of thousands of new English language schools across Europe and Asia. While these small businesses where never big money spinners, most of them have provided a steady stream of income and profit to the owners. We all know the story - English teacher goes abroad, marries a local and sets up a school to provide a better living than a teacher's salary.

Language students seem to trust personal experience and word of mouth more than big companies with hundreds of branches and a formula to follow. In the last few years, Excel English and Inlingua have both folded, and there are probably more school closures on the way. Students have stuck with the little guys, and the growth in disposable income as well as the need for English as Lingua Franca has ensured steady growth.

Yet, the lack of regulation and consistency with language academies is what keeps language teachers from developing their jobs into a careers. There is no incentive for schools to educate students on what makes a good teacher, so long as they are paying fees and attending class. That way, businesses don't need to pay teachers more for their experience or knowledge and turnover remains high.

But now, even this safer business of the local language school is under threat. The biggest growing market (China of course) is making things harder for foreigners to run businesses and is leading the charge to take teaching online.

Nowadays, people are used to their role as consumers with rights and opinions. They leave reviews about their Uber drivers and AirBnB hosts, so why should they look for value for money as students? The issue of trust and word of mouth is no longer a barrier to hiring a teacher - you can see their videos, stats and reviews online.

Benefits of working with an independent English Coach

The cost of a private online class with a tutor is likely to be 50% lower that at an traditional academy which has much higher overheads. So in answer to the question, I say yes. Language schools are dying. How quickly? We don't know, but I would say we'll see far fewer in our towns in 10 years.

Of course, they can push back against the trend. Schools have a brand, they can offer social interaction and experiences that online classes don't. Language+ is the pivot they need to make to offer value to their local community. Summer schools, language homestays, and cultural institutes which offer events and workshops may survive the cull.

So which type of students switch to online? All of them, eventually. Parents who can't drive their kids into town, or meet the specific class times. Students who want to study outside of local working hours. People who don't want the red tape of matriculation fees and year-long courses. Students who want a greater choice of tutors - from different countries or with different skills. And most importantly, the introverts.

Young people are increasingly suffering from social anxiety and can be less inclined to put themselves in group situations. I've taught countless students who think this way. They are comfortable speaking to a coach thousands of miles away. They are at home, and if they don't want, they don't even have to turn the video function on. These youngsters are a whole new market for online tutors to tap into and they are not likely to look for live classes.

These reasons (as well as getting to be my own boss), is why I've decided become an English Writing Coach full time. I now offer courses to international publishing professionals, so that they can transform their writing

If you are an online English teacher you could also become a coach for professionals. As well as that, you have a few options. I've listed them below.


Work for an online English company


There are hundreds (if not thousands) of companies who connect students (usually children) with trained teachers. This option is the most like traditional employment. The companies have interview procedures, rules and a curriculum to follow. Companies like EF, Whales English, VIP Kid, or QKids can be good places to start working online. Facebook groups are the right place to look for job listings and to get the lowdown from current teachers.

The benefits - competitive pay, companies will fill your schedule with classes
The pitfalls - you're still a contractor not an employee (no benefits), companies can be inflexible with working hours and require higher tech computers, uniforms, props etc.

Offer services on an English teaching marketplace

working on a computer

Sites such as Italki, Verbling, and Palfish allow students to select their teachers. The platforms do the marketing to attract paying customers, but it's up to the teachers to get them into 'their classroom'.  Typically, the company takes a 15% cut of class prices for providing the leads.

The benefits - Teachers can make their own hours and charge their own rates, students can choose different skills and experience levels.
The pitfalls - Competition can drive teachers' prices down. No guaranteed students. Teachers need to learn how to market themselves effectively.

Work for a hybrid English learning platform

hybrid creature. Elephant and butterfly

Cambly is a chat platform which connects students and teachers. They pay a flat rate, and teachers try to help students in whatever way they can. Most users sign up to speak to native speakers they can't access in their own countries.

The benefits - teachers make their own hours, are paid weekly. It's great fun meeting interesting people from around the world.
The pitfalls - teachers paid only for the minutes they are on a call with only a small amount of guaranteed talk time. Students can be less serious about learning. Tech issues.

Work as an independent English Coach

self employed desk

The most profitable way to teach online, is to attract the student yourself. This way, every penny they pay goes to you for the services you provide. However, you'll need to find the students yourself, which can be time consuming and costly.

The benefits - make more money, sell courses or different types of lessons, make your own schedule and prices, be your own boss. I now offer courses to international publishing professionals, so that they can transform their writing
The pitfalls - teachers will need to create an attractive website, and have real-world marketing, SEO and sales experience to make this work.The marketplace is crowded.

Bonus: Teach English online for free

There are an increasing number of charities who offer classes to those in need. I work with Language Beyond Borders who offer courses to refugees and displaced peoples. This can be a great way to get started with online teaching and hone your skills while giving something back. I'll be writing a post about my experience with them soon.

If you have any questions about teaching online, then feel free to contact me.