Online language teacher is still one of those jobs which sometimes elicits a blank expression from people. Sorry, you do what?
But with more and more students migrating from bricks-and-mortar schools to the virtual learning environments offered online, this reaction is becoming increasingly rare.
In fact, despite being a relatively new addition to the world of language learning, online tuition is often the number one choice for students with busy schedules or specific needs or who live in remoter areas.
It puts them face-to-face with a native speaker who is qualified in exactly what they need to learn, whether academic, professional or general language, and allows them to progress at their own pace.
But what about the teachers themselves? What’s their motivation for getting behind a computer screen and taking their knowledge and experience online?
Well, to coincide with World Teachers' Day on Wednesday, October 5 I’m going to reveal my favourite things about being an online language teacher.
Meeting people at the best stage in their lives
Learning languages is about self-improvement. And people who are interested in improving themselves tend to be happy and positive people. Even better than that, they’re usually at a time in their lives full of optimism and ambition.
Perhaps they’re about to embark on a new stage of education or are seeking professional advancement? Whatever it is, language students often have big plans for their own future. And a teacher has the privilege of playing a (small) part in that.
This makes a ‘work environment’ which is full of job satisfaction and smiley faces. Anyone who spends long days in an office can tell you how rare that is.
Feeling like a know-it-all
There are not many situations in life where we get to feel like an authority. But don’t underestimate how satisfying this feeling is. You know the sense of importance when your friends consult you on a matter which just so happens to coincide with your area of intellectual expertise? Well, that’s what it feels like to be a teacher.
Explaining a grammatical concept or piece of new vocabulary and then seeing it become a regular part of a student’s arsenal of language abilities is thoroughly rewarding. And that’s especially true when it’s something they’ve struggled with in the past.
Seeing students progress
A conscientious and enthusiastic student can make incredible improvements to their language abilities in just a short length of time. And this is another reason which makes online teaching a pleasure.
Perhaps the first lesson featured stilted conversation, misunderstandings and a lack of confidence. But quite often, by the 10th session you’re engaging in complex conversations, have worked out those kinks in pronunciation and are hearing someone express themselves semi-fluently for perhaps the first time. What could be better?
Hearing about lives halfway around the world
Teaching in a school is great. But teaching online lets you into the homes of students in the furthest flung corners of the world. Perhaps in the morning, you’ll find yourself chatting with a Muscovite about their daily commute through the Russian capital. In the afternoon, you could be deep into conversation with an Uzbek about the country’s political situation. And by the time you’ve almost finished for the day, you’re learning about the latest local news from an Italian in Milan.
Not many jobs allow you to peer into the day-to-day realities of such an interesting variety of human beings. For anyone interested in how life is lived on the other side of the world, it’s a truly fascinating experience.
Being free to live wherever you want
In the past year I’ve lived in Colombia, Ecuador, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In fact, I’m writing this now from Berlin where I’ve been based for only a week or so. Working online is great if you’ve got itchy feet, a taste for foreign cuisine and an eagerness to jump feet first into adventure.
Being location-independent means you’re only reliant on your laptop and a steady wifi connection. You can move at the drop of a hat and set up somewhere new in the space of a few days. What freedom!
Having the best conversations
Anyone learning a language at a beginner level, will be familiar with the themes of hobbies, holidays, family and work. But get a little higher and you’ll obtain the ability to speak about much more complex topics. It might be literature or TV shows or it might be world politics and current events, but making serious steps in a language allows you to enter a whole new world of conversational topics.
And that’s great for teachers as well. Suddenly they find themselves with a fascinating conversation partner who can illuminate them on world events or offer their personal opinions on culture or art. When you really click with a student, it makes teaching them a truly rewarding experience.
Learning your own language
Surprising as it may seem, not every language teacher grew up with an encyclopedic knowledge of the grammar and syntax of their mother-tongue. Instead, they probably spent months learning the intricacies of complex grammatical forms so they could accurately explain them to their students.
Rather than being arduous and dull, it’s actually a fantastic opportunity to really delve into the language you call your own. Learning your own language at a ‘nuts and bolts’ level is infinitely rewarding for anyone who has a love for words and the (sometimes) complicated rules which govern their order.
Hearing back about successes
And finally, there’s nothing more rewarding about being an online language teacher than finding out your lessons have helped a student achieve their grand (or not so grand) ambitions.
Maybe they’ve finally got that promotion they’d been angling for? Or spent the first three months in a foreign country and realised their language skills have withstood the challenge? Maybe they’ve been accepted to study abroad or just passed that exam they’d been losing sleep over?
Whatever the goal, finding out you helped a student achieve it through hard-work and dogged determination is a great feeling and makes language teaching (either online or otherwise) one of the most rewarding professions going.