5 Tips to Help You Become the Best Online Language Teacher Ever
Can I tell you a secret?
The best online language teachers have five secrets to success. And I’m telling you they are oh so simple.
These five tips will keep your students engaged, making them look forward to every lesson with you!
They’ll also ensure you leave your positive mark on this world, as teaching languages is an important job.
Want to know what the five secrets are?
Of course you do!
I’ll tell you in a minute. But first, I want to share three characteristics of excellent online language teachers, and you can see if you have these traits.
Characteristics of the Best Online Language Teachers
Here are the facts of the matter: Your student is probably half a world away from where you sit. And you’re communicating with him/her on video that could lag and mess up your timing, with audio that might not quite pick up all the nuances of your pronunciation and the only (im)personal contact you have is that dusty flatness called the computer monitor.
How can you teach effectively under these circumstances?
As it turns out, the best online teachers are also the most creative ones. They make these drawbacks irrelevant and use plenty of visuals when teaching.
For example, if you want to be an effective online language teacher, get ready to be holding giant flashcards to teach vocabulary. So your student would be seeing huge words held to the screen as you hammer on its translation, pronunciation, usage, most common mistakes, etc.
And when I say visuals, I mean more than just simple pictures or cards. As an online presence, it is your privilege to exaggerate those facial expressions and gestures in order to put emphasis on the important aspects of your lesson.
So don’t just sit there and talk like some teller at the bank. Move around the room and dramatize your lessons. If the lesson is about Spanish greetings, for example, don’t just “¡Hola!” for 45 minutes. Stand up, play the role of a person meeting somebody for the first time, mimic the obligatory handshakes, do some air kisses, etc.
We know what “fun” sounds like and looks like. We can’t sufficiently describe it, but we know a fun teacher when we have one.
The very first step of fun is being relaxed about the whole situation. The best online language teachers are always relaxed, comfortable in their own skin, proud of their heritage and confident about their abilities.
When you display this kind of relaxed confidence, your students become relaxed themselves. They’ll look forward to online sessions with you. It’ll be like catching up with a friend.
When you’re an effective online mentor, your students won’t be afraid to make mistakes for fear of being judged or ridiculed. In fact, you should encourage your students to make mistakes from day one. You could laugh with them at the mispronunciations, wrong usages and mistranslations, but then you should gently, but very clearly, correct those mistakes and shine the spotlight on what is right. (Mistakes are well-springs of learning and that should be a thought you plant in your students. It will serve them well in not only in learning a language, but in life in general.)
When you make students feel relaxed and the sessions fun, your students won’t know where the time went. There are no awkward silences every 5 minutes—only a real connection that makes a student forget that you’re half a world away.
Patience is required in all forms of teaching, right? Whether you’re standing in front of a class or sitting in front of a computer screen, patience is one of the characteristics of a good teacher.
Without patience, you couldn’t even be a decent one.
How could you even have the energy to prepare giant flashcards, much less continue teaching on a night when Internet speeds are curiously slow and your video lags so long you feel like you’re back in the ’90s?
How could you make a student realize that it’s okay to make mistakes if you were to bring down the hammer of Thor every time he or she were to make an error?
In the land of virtues, patience has prime real estate. With patience, you’ll provide your students with sufficient repetition in exciting contexts so they can fully understand new concepts.
With patience, you’ll be able to really connect with your student.
Now, are you ready to dig a little deeper into the secrets of the best online language teachers? Here they are:
5 Shockingly Simple Secrets to Teach Winning Language Lessons Online
1. Know How and Where to Look for Students
First and foremost, the best online language teachers know the lay of the land. They know how to look for students and the sites to join. Here are some of those sites:
- myngle.com – This is the leading platform for online language teaching. Create your profile here and open up your schedule so students can book classes. Myngle looks for excellent teachers and rewards them accordingly. The site is an ideal place for professional teachers with a robust teaching experience.
- verbalplanet.com – Considering itself the home of online language teaching, Verbal Planet boasts that their teachers get 100% of their earnings. That means you owe nothing to the company. You teach the sessions via Skype and get paid via Paypal. It’s easy-peasy.
- vivaling.com – Want to teach kids online? The site is one of the few that focuses on clients aged 3-15. Join Vivaling as a coach and you get to spend your free hours teaching cute and adorable students. And who knows, you might be the very spark of a child’s life-changing journey!
Verbling is an online teaching option that really stands out of the pack. The site’s mission is to empower people to become fluent in at least one foreign language. Why not become a part of that mission and earn at the same time? Not to mention, you get to do it during your most available hours and at a convenient location.
What should your online profile look like? Well for starters, your profile picture should flash a big smile. Wear bright, sunny clothes to match the grin rather than some conservative dress that would be appropriate for a corporate accountant. Potential students judge the way you look, so keep that in mind when selecting a photo.
Allow your students to get a glimpse of who are in your bio. Don’t give them just a litany of accomplishments and certificates. Make your teacher profile match your personality. Maybe that’ll mean slipping in a joke or two—like writing, “Oh, and I definitely don’t bite!” or “Verstehen? Yeah, that’s me demonstrating how much I know German. We’re gonna have so much fun!”
Your bio gives potential students a glimpse of what classes might be like with you.
2. Come Prepared for Class
Okay. Now you’ve got classes scheduled. What do you do next?
The best online teachers prepare well for their online sessions. Come to think of it, the best of the best—in any field—always come prepared. Tennis stars practice all day long, basketball stars shoot thousands of hoops, swimmers do countless laps. Teachers should do the same.
It is not enough for you to know the language. It is not enough that you have taught it in the classroom. Online teaching is a bit different. A classroom can be a noisy gaggle of 7-year olds, but online you’re face to face with just one student. (So in a way, online teaching can be more personal than a classroom situation. It’s more in-your-face.)
If you’re not sufficiently prepared, there could be some awkward silences during the session. Video and audio lags are already bad enough, so avoid awkward silences by being 100% in your game the whole session. That means you know exactly what to say next, you know your examples by heart, you’re controlling the pacing of the lessons and their sequencing, while at the same time being flexible enough to jump from one language concept to another as necessary. You’ve also anticipated the questions your student might ask.
These can only be possible with ample preparation. Believe it or not, that means plenty of dry-runs, of talking to yourself in front of the mirror or the webcam. That means mimicking actual teaching sessions as many times as possible, and honing and revising until you get the best version of the lesson.
There will come a point when it will get weird. (After all, you’re talking to yourself). When the feeling of strangeness or weirdness comes, I want you to do one thing: Continue.
Another way you can prepare is to create a cheat sheet that can help you during the lesson. The advantage of online teaching is that your student won’t see the sheet of paper plastered on the wall in front of you or the Post Its hanging beside the webcam.
Fill your cheat sheet with as much ready information as possible. For example, include:
- An outline for the lesson (with duration for each section)
- Example phrases/sentences that you’re going to use during the session
- Grammar rules and exceptions to those rules
- Funny stories, interesting sidebars or cultural insights that can perk the attention of your student
- Memory aids like acronyms that can help your student
- Potential questions your student may ask
- Questions you would like to ask the student to check for comprehension
- Assignments you would like them to work on
- Useful apps or links to sites
Write plenty on your cheat sheets. Annotate if you have to: circle, underline and highlight using different colors.
This is the most effective way of avoiding awkward silences during a session. There’s no feeling like knowing exactly what you’re going to do or say next.
Your preparation will reap rewards, that much can be assured.
3. Have a Full Bag of Tools
It really takes a whole village to effectively teach one student.
Don’t ever entertain the idea that you’re the only source of language information and insights. There’s a whole world of tools, and even other teachers, who can help your wards. So point them in the direction of these wonderful tools.
And guess what? There’s also a whole world of help for teachers like you too!
- Seek the help of colleagues and log into sites like sharemylesson.com and teacherspayteachers.com to download lesson plans and worksheets of fellow teachers. Most of them are free!
- Bookmarks sites like wordreference.com and have an online dictionary handy when you teach. Visit forvo.com, a site dedicated to pronouncing all the words in the world, and double check your pronunciation. Shares these sites with your students too.
- Tell your students about FluentU, an outstanding online immersion platform for learning languages through real-world videos.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Here are several other language learning sites to recommend as well.
- Point your learners to language exchange sites like italki and Lingua Swap where they can find language learning partners.
- Inspire your students by introducing them to these amazing polyglots.
- Teach your students these smart strategies for learning a language online, so that they’ll continue learning once the lesson is finished.
Make your student feel that the world is behind them in their endeavor–that they are not alone in their journey. Make them believe that learning the language is not only possible, but can be extremely fun and rewarding. Make sure your students know that there are plenty of other people on the same road to success.
4. Don’t Just Prepare for the Lesson, Make Sure All Bases Are Covered
I’m referring here to the logistics aspect of online language teaching: a good Internet connection, a quiet and clean room, and a presentable and punctual teacher. These details could be the difference between a great teacher and a pretty good one.
First of all, you’ve got to have a reliable Internet connection. And a fast one too! There’s just no way around it, plain and simple. So get the services of the fastest Internet service provider in your location.
Second, you need to have a quiet room to work in. Don’t work in a café, if possible. Have a nice room where you can have privacy, with no cats knocking all the vases behind you. (Unless the little feline is part of the class, for demonstration purposes—way to go, creativity!)
What’s behind you is important too. Make sure the wall facing the web cam is clean and decent. But don’t leave it all white, that would be too boring. Hang a nice little picture behind you—a picturesque landscape perhaps. Or you could place something that’s related to the target language. For Spanish, maybe something about bullfighting; for German, a well-oiled engine block; for Japanese, cherry blossoms. Something that can circle back to the language lesson at hand.
But the most important element is you, the teacher. So be prepared, be punctual and be presentable.
5. Love What You’re Doing
Do you actually love what you’re doing? Do you love teaching, guiding, informing and helping students? Is it a point of pride for you to be able to teach someone several time zones away a language that is close to your heart?
Because that is one of the secrets of being effective.
Don’t think of it as a job that pays a certain rate for a specified number of minutes. It’s not just about teaching a bunch of random words to someone fascinated by your native tongue. It should be more than that.
Pull out all the stops when trying to help out a student. Bring out the visual aids you’ve used in your classes. Come up with excellent examples that make the lessons more vivid. If need be, leave the chair, stand up and dramatize the lessons. Diligently search for websites and send the links to your student even after the 1-hour period, so they can explore the target language for themselves. Point to other teachers, tools and resources that can help your student.
When you wake up at odd hours of the day in order to teach somebody on the other side of the world, don’t think of it as a nuisance. Love your work. It’s actually a pretty big deal, so embrace the privilege and responsibility. Who knows? You might just be the spark that changes the life of a student.
So those are the five secrets to being an effective online language teacher. Teach like you mean it. Because what you do really matters. Don’t ever forget that.