I still remember my first gig as a Spanish language tutor. I loved learning languages, and was fluent in Spanish after having studied it for a few years in university the US and abroad living in the Dominican Republic, a Spanish-speaking country in the Caribbean. I was passionate about learning the language and invested all of my free time and quite a bit of money into it.
I decided my language skills needed to start paying back everything I’d invested in them, so I got up the courage to place a tutoring ad on Craigslist.
Two days later, my first client responded to the ad. I had a language teaching gig!
I showed up to the cafe to meet my first student. I felt excited, but also anxious and lacking in confidence. I guess it wasn’t so bad, because he agreed to do a handful of tutoring sessions with me. I wasn’t really sure of myself though, and wish I had had a guide, a mentor, someone to show me how to go from language learner to language tutor.
This small step turned out to be the beginning of an entrepreneurial language teaching journey. I eventually decided to help language learners with my native language, English, and to do it in a big way online, creating a six-figure business that supports me and allows me to live my dream lifestyle.
The shift from the role of student to the role of teacher is a big one – but it has lots of benefits. You’ll be making money. You’ll be more motivated to improve your own language skills. You’ll be challenged and inspired to stay ahead of your students and find answers to questions you never even thought of asking.
In short, becoming a foreign language tutor is a great way to get paid to do what you love and use your skills to help others.
For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming you speak your target language at an upper-intermediate level or higher. Otherwise, your first step is to work on your language skills.
Let’s take a look at what you need to take yourself from language learner to language tutor.
Step 1: Choose Which Language You’ll Teach
First, decide if you want to teach your native language or your foreign language.
I taught Spanish as a foreign language for several years, but then decided to teach English as a foreign language.
Many of my friends who are teachers also ended up teaching English (their second language) to speakers of their native language, because English is more in-demand and they can have a good career in their home countries teaching it. On the other hand, I also have friends from other countries who decided to stay in the US and teach their native language, for example Korean, to native English speakers.
Teaching a language other than your native language can actually make you a better teacher. You know what it’s like to learn the language, and you can retrace the steps you took when you’re showing your students how to learn.
Step 2: Find Your Purpose for Being a Language Tutor
As with starting any new venture, becoming a language tutor won’t always be a smooth ride. Knowing your purpose for tutoring keeps you motivated, so you’ll keep going even when things get tough.
What’s your reason for wanting to tutor? Do you want to earn money? Connect with other language learners? Become a teacher? Support your travels? Challenge yourself to continue to learn your foreign language?
I was motivated by all of those reasons! I wanted to be a language tutor and teacher so that I could get paid to do something I loved: — speak another language and help others to do the same. After I started teaching online, I was able to travel to over 20 countries in one year.
Step 3: Create Your Own Language Tutor “Internship”by Offering Free Classes
The first time I tutored English as a second language was during a volunteer gig with an Argentinian woman in an adult education program. I used my Spanish skills a little as I helped her with her English fluency. Because it was not paid, I didn’t feel under pressure – so no nerves. It was super fun, and I made a new friend.
Start small by creating your own internship with volunteering gigs or with low-pressure gigs. You’ll build up your experience and skill set. I recommend asking your students to give you feedback on how you can improve.
Remember, you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be able to help your students. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a question as long as you follow up to answer it for them or refer them to a resource where they can find the answer.
Tutoring for free is also a great way to build your confidence.
Another way of boosting your confidence is to draw upon the teaching and leadership skills you already have. When I started tutoring, I had some teaching experience in other areas, including as a typing teacher, sailing instructor, and camp counselor. Having any teaching or leadership experience will help you, even if it is volunteer experience.
Once you’ve built up your confidence, you can start asking your students for referrals for paid work.
Step 4: Get Your First Students
How do you get those first students?
The biggest surprise I had when I started my own language teaching business was the amount of marketing work I needed to do! When you run your own tutoring business, 80% of your effort needs to go into marketing, and only 20% into teaching.
If “marketing” is like a foreign word to you, don’t worry. The best marketing is often simply having conversations with your target audience in person or online via social media, a YouTube channel, podcast, or blog. Find out what their goals and challenges are, offer your help, and see if they’re ready to accept!
Also, you should create appealing, informative descriptions of your tutoring services and identify the best places to advertise.
One of the most helpful things you can do when you start marketing is to identify your target market. Who do you want to work with (age, nationality, interests)? What other experience do you have (business, medical, test prep)? What’s your schedule? What’s your current level in the language you’ll be teaching? Keep your target audience in mind for your marketing materials.
In the beginning of my tutoring days, looking for students felt like searching for water in the desert. These days, I have hundreds of emails from potential students flooding my inbox every week and I don’t even advertise or provide a private tutoring service anymore.
Step 5: Get Organised and Build Lesson Plans
Once you have more than a couple students, you’ll feel lost if you don’t develop a system to organise your meetings and teaching materials. Use a simple spreadsheet and Google Calendar to keep track of materials or lessons covered.
You can use Google Drive or Dropbox to store lesson materials in the cloud and share links to resources with your students.
You’ll want to prepare learning goals and materials for your students. I’ve found that some learners like to listen and talk, while others prefer to read and write. Try providing learning opportunities using all four skills. To save time in the long-run, create materials that can be recycled from one student to another.
Even if your students want to practise free conversation and ask you questions, it’s still a good idea to prepare some lesson points. A little preparation will go a long way to make the lesson run more smoothly and impress your students.
Step 6: Branch Out and Diversify Your Income
As a language tutor, there are lots of different ways to earn money. You could offer local, face-to-face tutoring. You could offer online lessons through one of many established companies, such as italki. You could tutor online independently simply using Skype. You could even create your own multi-media courses. You could grow a following online and make money from ad revenue and work with sponsors. These are all income streams that I have built and help others to build.
Step 7: Get Help
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from all of my experience is the importance of getting help. I would not have been able to build my own tutoring business if I hadn’t talked to other tutors. I would not have been able to build a successful business online if I hadn’t learned from people who had gone there before me. Don’t try to do everything yourself.
Now, Get Started!
Is your head spinning with all the possibilities? Then decide what you want to do, and go for it!
Even if you decide your goal is to do like I did and create a YouTube channel and produce online courses, I highly suggest starting as a tutor and building on that experience.
Want more tips on building a tutoring business? Feel free to reach out and connect with me.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.