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 Tribe 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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