A few weeks ago I wrote an introduction to teaching English online for the Travel is Life Creators because it can be a great way to supplement your income as a travel blogger from anywhere in the world.
The two biggest teach english online companies are 51Talk and VIPKID. They are similar in that they both cater to Chinese students and lean towards hiring qualified Americans as the teachers, but they are different in regards to their their student demographic, teaching styles, and work/payment structure.
I digitally sat down with a teacher who's spent the last year of her life teaching English online with both companies and living for free via pet sitting gigs at Trusted House Sitters. The purpose of this interview was to breakdown the differences between 51Talk and VIPKID to help other aspiring online English teachers decide which company to work for or whether they want to tackle working for both companies like this teacher. I've decided to keep her identity a secret as to not jeopardize her job with either company. In the interview below, you'll get a no-holds-back honest look at what it's like to work for both companies from one teacher's perspective.
If they're interested in working with you after your preliminary application, they'll contact you and ask you to watch videos and take quizzes about the videos. The next day is the interview. It's not really an interview and more like a demo. You're going to be talking to a person in China who is going to act like a 5 year old child. They shoot you over what you're going to teach the night before so you can prepare. Both companies do this – 51Talk and VIPKID – but the difference is how intense of a demo process there is.
With 51Talk, it's only a one step process. You go through that one demo and they'll be like, “Okay we'll get back to you,” and within 5 minutes you know if you're hired or not.
When you're doing this interview, my advice is to cut “slow” in half – meaning, talk slow for you and then speak at half that speed. Also enunciate more than you would normally. If the person doing the interview messes up, you correct them immediately.
From there you do a training class with six other people and it's like a 3 hour ordeal. They go through the entire company and how to teach, and then you're onboarded. After that you can open your class slots and you're good to start teaching.
The demo process for VIPKID is more intensive. They send you slides for you to prepare your lesson plan from, and then they want you to use a lot of “TPR” (Total Physical Responses) during the demo – like hand gestures, facial expressions, and over-the-top body language.
VIPKID wants a lot more during the demo than 51Talk – more of everything. They want pictures behind you, puppets, and props. They want you to make it look like you're in a classroom. VIPKID is over the top with everything.
After you do the first demo, you'll get a PASS or FAIL – and if you PASS you have to do a second demo which is the hiring one. Then after you get done with the second demo, you take a quiz, and you have to pass the quiz to be hired.
The quiz is about the different terms they use, levels they teach, and what those levels focus on – whether phonics or grammar. VIPKID is a lot more involved. I don't like teaching with them. I haven't taught with them in a month because it's just too much. It's not just their interview process… their teaching process is even more over the top.
So at first with VIPKID, I was only getting trial sessions – which are students who may or may not want to do the program. And then I was getting some Level 1 students which I hate teaching. I hate teaching students who don't know anything. I don't have the patience to be like, “A is for Apple.” That's not me. With VIPKID, I opened up a full schedule for a few weeks and was only getting 2 or 3 bookings out of 14 with them so I said, “Fuck it. I can't do this.”
Whereas with 51Talk, my schedule was almost immediately full from day one. I've been working with them for a year now. At first in Europe, I was opening up my schedule to 14 classes a day and they were always full. Now I'm teaching about 6 classes a day which are always full.
With VIPKID it's about the same minimum required hours per month, and they teach on the same schedule.
If you're not consistent with it, you're not going to make the money you'd like to make. I've had my students for a year now. I'll have new ones once in a while, but 90% of my classes are repeat students now.
With 51Talk, they give you different levels to teach – and the students can be of any age within the level. For example, I can have a 60 year old women sign up or I can have a 3 year old. Whereas, with VIPKID, I ONLY teach kids, and I was just teaching one level because I didn't want to do all those freaking quizzes. I could add more levels but it takes more time that I dont get paid for it.
With VIPKID I was teaching really little kids, and it's not a text book – they're slides and more comprehensive than 51Talk. With 51Talk, there's usually about 13 slides that you have to do in 25 minutes, whereas with VIPKID there's 30 slides to roll through.
With each company you have to do the wrap up slide which is the last one, but you have to do all the stuff previously so the kids will know what's on the wrap up slide. VIPKID is very speedy – about 1 minute with each slide, versus 2-3 minutes per slide in 51Talk.
With 51Talk, the child preselects their books and it's pretty self explanatory. There's a teachers edition of each book with questions that you're supposed to ask the student. The characters and stories are already built into the student curriculium, and the kids know the characters because they've already learned about them in their classrooms.
There are characters in VIPKID but not ones the kids would know. I feel like VIPKID goes by faster because there are more slides, but I don't think the kids learn as much because you're moving through all the slides so fast.
51Talk is simple and I just follow the directions and teach what's on the slides. I don't use props, I don't have puppets, I don't have to draw a smiley face and add special things like teeth for congratulations. There are just stars on the board that I can give. 51Talk doesn't care. I'm giving the students digital rewards like high fives and stuff.
But with VIPKID they want you to have your room setup like a classroom. And you need to be super animated, have all these props, and say things like, “Yay you're doing so good!” There are stars and smiley faces with teeth and all sorts of rewards to it.
When I teach on 51Talk, one-third of the screen is a chat box with video. The kids can see me and I can see them. With 51Talk you login and wait for the kid to come online. You have to enter the classroom a couple minutes early because you can't enter after the start time. If you do, you get dinged for entering class late and that's a penalty. You also cannot leave class early or that's a penalty.
Everything is all in one with VIPKID. All you do is sign into your dashboard and click on the kid and it's just the classroom from there. With 51Talk, if I enter the classroom early, the kids can hear me and see me, and it's obnoxious because I don't want to start class 2 minutes early. But I have to arrive early or I'll be late. However, with VIPKID I get in, I click into the classroom from the dashboard, and the camera and everything is off. Kids can't see or hear me until class starts, and then I enter the classroom which is a better setup.
Both companies record the classes, so I make it a point to say, “Okay Sally, do you want to do the lesson again or just talk?”
I'll have college students, really advanced students, or a 65 year old grandma who just want to speak and practice in English. But that's only with 51Talk, not VIPKID.
When I was a newbie with 51Talk they offered me the lowest amount and I had to do more demos to gain money. Straight out of the box I was making the lowest with 51Talk, and with VIPKID I was making $20/hour from the start. I was pretty much making as much as I could with VIPKID.
I don't know how you make more money with VIPKID because I entered into that making as much money as I could.
If the internet goes down, you get charged. Say something happens with the Internet here and I'm about to teach class but can't connect – I'm marked as absent, and I get charged $16 for missing that class.
51Talk wrote me up and charged me. They said I had to get a letter from the electric company in order to dispute it, and I said that's fucking bullshit. I was about to quit at that point, and another trainer who wasn't assigned to me – he just happened to be in the chatroom when I needed help – was like, “I understand your frustration but please don't quit.” He ended up getting the penalty removed for me. My trainer didn't give a shit. I had walked 30 minutes to the nearest coffee shop to communicate with them about the problem and my trainer was like, “Can't you just teach from there?” And I'm like, “I'm in a tiny ass coffee shop and I'm whispering to you. Do you want your customers to see their teacher in a coffee shop teaching? Does it look good for the company?”
If something happens within the computer system, like a glitch, you don't get charged with VIPKID. Their system can tell who's issue it is and you don't get charged for missing a class either way. But with 51Talk, their AC platform gets fucked up. Sometimes it doesn't work and you get on support and they don't help and if you miss a class you get charged. You have to take screenshot after screenshot to prove that it's their issue and it's very hard to prove.
Angela I've had for an entire year now. She wasn't able to read one damn sentence and now she reads paragraphs. That's really rewarding. Plus I'm getting paid so I can still do other stuff. I wake up early and am done with work by 10am.
You're not going to become a millionaire off it. If you live on a budget and work it right, you can make enough money to survive, but you're not going to be able to live luxuriously. If you're a minimalist it's perfect. The only way I was able to teach in Europe was because I was doing Trusted House Sitters where I had a free place to stay. So literally all the money went to a phone bill, plane tickets, food and entertainment.
VIPKID only hires Americans and Canadians. 51Talk only hires Americans and Filipinos. And the Filipinos only get like half of what a normal salary would make. They only get paid $3.25 / class.
We decided not to use this teacher's referral link because it would identify her with the interview, and as you can tell, she was kind enough to be completely honest about her feelings working for both companies and I wouldn't want to jeopardize her standing at either. So instead, if you found this article helpful in determining whether you want to work with 51Talk or VIPKId, please use my affiliate links below. With VIPKid, I can earn a little revenue for this website even though I'm not a teacher, but with 51Talk, you have to be a teacher in order to refer other teachers, so I'm cycling through a few referral links from members of the Travel is Life Creators who will be thankful for the commission.
51 Talk ==> Apply Now
VIPKID ==> Apply Now
What's it like for YOU working for 51Talk or VIPKID?
If you're currently working for 51Talk or VIPKID, do you agree with this teacher's perspective on either? Or do you feel that she didn't invest enough time and energy into VIPKID to form a proper opinion? How has your experience differed from hers? Drop a comment below and let me know what your thoughts are on working for 51Talk or VIPKid.
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Hello there! Mentioned here is that, in 51talk they pay 15$ per hour but why is it that i earn 2$ per hour?I am on second level. I guess their salary varies per country. Too bad I am residing in the philippines.
Hi Mer – from what I know you are correct and that the salary varies by country. I’m sorry to hear that it varies so much for you in the Philippines.
It is a bit unfair in 51talk that the student’s pay so much ($30 max) and Filipinos only get $1 payment per class even though we speak fluent english just because we aren’t native english speakers. And the support/trainer system is a bit shitty. Lots of penalties. But if you follow their rules no penalties but sometimes there are really problems we can’t avoid. 51talk should change regarding to their penalties and payments.
Thanks for this interview. There are so many insights for working for both companies! I got my TESOL certificate early this year and I am looking for the teaching English jobs online. Too bad both companies only hire Canadians and Americans and I am never nationality. I will wait until I get Canadian passport next year.
I enjoyed reading this interview. Just heard about these programs. The one that was recommended to me wad Dada Abc. However, reviews on that one were very negative.
One thing not mentioned is how one gets paid?
I would be interested in knowing this and if conversion rates are on the up & up?
I would imagine that most pay via ACH transfer or PayPal. I’m not sure what you mean by “if the conversion rates are on the up & up” though.
Best source I’ve gotten on both companies. I have years of academic and professional work: MA, Linguistics, MS, Ed online teachng and learning, TESOL Certificate, CA credential, worked stateside and Lesotho, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, KSA, UAE, Thailand, Chile, Mexico. However, I AM a 72 year old male, ‘retired’ but lookingh for some extra cash – and I DO love teaching. I know that age is a factor, I faced the fact long ago. And, you mentioned something about working with older students at 51talk. How realistic would it be that I get older students. Not that I mind kids but my background has been with young adults range to older ESL students. Your response can be ‘brutally honest’. I can take it.
Hi Joseph – I asked the woman I interviewed (because I had no idea, I don’t teach on either platform) and she said that unfortunately you cannot specify with 51Talk the age of the students you’d like to teach. So it’d be luck of the draw on what age you got. She also said that they might be getting rid of adults soon and focusing just on students.
If you haven’t already seen this post of mine, check out my post called 20 Legit Websites to Teach English Online. Perhaps there are some platforms on there that cater more towards older students and adults. If anyone else is reading this in the comments section and can recommend a platform for Joseph, please advise. Thank you.
Just wanted to say, it would be helpful if this post were dated. Anything that is not evergreen information should be dated. I read quite a bit of the interview before I realized this was old news. VIPKid doesn’t even have a level 1 anymore. I’m in the process of being hired by VIPKid. It’s still complex and a lot of time and money spent before you get hired. But the process is different. I’m waiting for my background check. If that ever comes through (I’m American and the gov’t is shutdown. So who knows.) I’ll probably work out the first contract with them and see how it goes. I’m definitely considering other options.
Hi Joy thanks for stopping by. My posts are dated, right underneath the title. Either way, thank you for the update on VIPKID. And good luck with your English teaching, whether it ends up being through VIPKID or elsewhere.
I love working for VIPKid. I don’t have any experience with any other esl company. It does take a while to get established, though. I have been working with them for a little over 100 days now. I got bookings right away but it was sporadic at first. I am up to about 20-25 classes per week. I am taking my time because I want to be the best teacher I can be and learn the ropes as I go. I have all five apple ratings. I put my all into each class because I know the Chinese people don’t have a lot of money and they have to pay so much for the classes. I try to pretend that they are my children and I treat them the way I treat my own daughter. That was a game changer for me when I decided to begin to think of it that way. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A beautiful way to live life. It’s all about attitude.
What a great way to think Cathy! Thanks for sharing your experience with VIPKid. I’d say “keep up the great work” – but something tells me you’re going to anyway. 😉
Filipinos actually get paid $1 for every 25-minute class. This is the entry level wage. Master teachers, those with the highest level in terms of tenure, get $1.40 per 25-minute class. But to get here, you should have conducted at least 4000 classes, among other requirements.
I am currently working for both companies and find your interview helpful, but it is DIFFERENT for everyone. There are some days I totally enjoy the NON PRESSURE almost relaxed atmosphere of 51 Talk. and yet they just dont give a shit and just want to make money, There are some days i love the rigor and seriousness of VIPKID format. I am going to continue and see what happens.
Thanks for sharing your opinion. I know it’s much appreciated by readers to hear what other people think about working for both companies. Please feel free to pop back anytime in the future and share more about your experiences after you’ve had a chance to work with both companies more.
The low wages Filipinos get explains why an American like me gets so few students when things slow down. Right now their website is down (at least for me) and I’m going to be fined for not posting my last lesson memo. I taught the class, but couldn’t log on to post the report. That’s $16 for being marked absent plus I don’t get the $7.50 pay for the lesson taught so in essence It costs me $23.50 to teach that class, plus 51Talk gets the $20-$30 the parent paid. So, they have little incentive to not do that or to fix the problem.
I’ve tried contacting them by email, but no luck.
The hours are brutal for me on the West Coast (midnight to 7 am). My circadian rhythms are shot to hell. I enjoy most of the kids, but there are a lot of them who do their homework during the class and are unresponsive. Some kids are just pissed off because the parents are using online ESL classes as punishment for something or other the kid’s done wrong or just because they are restless and the parent thinks a little education will solve that. Then you get the parents who hang by the computer and coach the kids. I worked with one kid for ten minutes helping her pronounce “th” at the beginning of a word instead of pronouncing it “L”. This became Lis. I’d got her straightened out and then I heard Mom’s voice off camera “correcting’ the kid back to “Lis” and undoing all the work we’d done to fix it. The parents can be a huge help for getting the kids back on task, but they can also help in ways not so helpful. I’ve had the kid’s camera go off for a minute and then come back on with the kid crying. Then some parents work their kids so hard and then give them an ESL lesson last thing at night. I’ve had kids nod off in class and I couldn’t wake them. Some of the lessons innocently ask the kids what their weekend plans are. Nine out of ten times they say, “Do homework!” Even in the summer. I try to make the lessons light and fun, but it’s hard to do that when the kid is trying to do their schoolwork during ESL class or when they are playing a video game off camera. A lot of the kids have learned the trick of either turning off the camera or tilting it up so you only see the top of their heads and can’t tell where they are looking.
What I hate most is when one of my students tell me she is going to be leaving 51Talk and there are tears in her eyes. Some of the teachers barely speak English and their pronunciation is abysmal and the parents get tired of paying through the nose for substandard teaching. It’s too bad because I have lost students that were really doing well with me and with whom I had a really good rapport..
The $1 teachers are being exploited and their kids not well served. I’m looking for something here that I can work at in the daytime and get my circadian rhythms back like they are supposed to be. I’m 66 years old and I need to take better care of myself.