How to start a language teaching business

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Teaching a language can be incredibly rewarding work as you watch your students grow and bloom with confidence. If you've ever dreamed of setting up your own language teaching business, the Internet now provides plenty of ways to reach students all over the globe.

From deciding on your niche and marketing your business, there's a lot to consider. We've put together a step-by-step guide to get the ball rolling on your dream.

What skills or knowledge do I need to start a language teaching business?

Aside from being fluent in the language (or languages) you'd like to teach, building a language teaching business requires an ability to communicate effectively with all kinds of people. You'll also need time management and business skills which can be developed along the way.

Language teaching skills include:

  • Knowledge of teaching methodologies
  • Ability to communicate to students at various levels
  • Lesson planning skills
  • Developing curriculums
  • Knowledge of assessment strategies
  • Scheduling and administration
  • Marketing skills.

What courses or qualifications may I need to complete?

woman teaching online

This will depend on the type of language teaching business you want to set up and your goals. You don't necessarily need formal qualifications to start tutoring students in a language. You can run a small teaching business delivering non-accredited courses online using Skype or Zoom, or in-person classes, without a qualification. You just won't be able to issue your students with a recognised qualification at the end of their courses.

However, if your aim is to offer accredited language courses that are recognised by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), you'll need to meet certain academic criteria. To teach in English language colleges, you also need to have an English teaching qualification such as the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) or the Certificate IV in TESOL. These courses typically cost, on average, $3,500.


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    Equipment and software needed to start a language teaching business

    If you want to run your business from home with classes online or face-to-face in your home office, you'll just need a laptop or desktop computer, as well as other office supplies. If you plan to open a larger school with face-to-face group classes, it will require more equipment.

    For a home-based language teaching business, you will need:

    • Headphones for online lessons
    • A webcam
    • Scheduling software (Google Calendar, Calendly, Doodly)
    • Subscriptions to online teaching materials, like Linguahouse and Teach This
    • Accounting software (QuickBooks, Xero, PayPal, Stripe)
    • Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).

    For a larger, brick-and-mortar-based language school, you will need:

    • Desks and chairs
    • Whiteboards
    • Whiteboard markers and cleaners
    • Projectors
    • Desktop computers
    • Textbooks (grammar books, activity books)
    • Printing paper
    • Printer/s

    What kind of courses can I offer my students?

    From grammar and vocabulary to speaking and writing skills and pronunciation, there's a whole range of areas to consider when teaching a language.

    In the beginning, you may like to keep it simple and offer speaking practice classes in the language you want to teach. Most students learning a language, particularly English learners, are very keen to improve their speaking fluency. Many don't have the opportunity to speak their target language in daily life, so they need to practise with a native speaker who can correct their mistakes.

    As you grow, you'll want to add courses on specific areas. You might consider surveying your students to find out what skills they want to improve. Some course topics to think about include grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, academic writing, English for business (or Spanish, French, Japanese, etc., for business) and test preparation such as IELTS or PTE.

    Choose your business structures

    Before you start signing up students, you'll need to register for an Australian Business Number (ABN) and decide on a business structure. If you're starting off small or just working solo, the easiest structure to set up is as a Sole Trader. This means you are the only owner of your business, and you control and manage everything yourself.

    Alternatively, you could register as a Partnership, and share the responsibility, profits and debts with one or more others. In this case, it's worth implementing a Partnership Agreement to avoid any misunderstandings or disputes.

    If you want to set up an English language college and provide English Language Intensive Courses to Overseas Students (ELICOS), you'll need to meet certain national standards which are highly regulated. You'll be required to register your courses on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) and can only offer your courses once they are approved. Take a look at the website for details on how to proceed.

    You'll want to lay out the Terms and Conditions for your courses before you sign students up, so they are clear on what to expect. This will help set boundaries on what you can and can't offer, and also outline your terms relating to cancellations and refunds.

    Here are some of the legal documents to consider:

    • Course Terms and Conditions. You can write up a document to set out what you offer, the time frame the course must be completed in and scheduling expectations. Make sure your students view it and agree by signing the document to avoid any disputes later on.
    • Cancellation Policy. Outline your terms so you're protected in the case of last-minute cancellations.
    • Refund Policy. Set clear conditions for any refund requests.
    • Privacy Policy. Australian Privacy Law requires a statement on your website which allows you to collect the personal information of people who visit your site, such as names and email addresses.
    • Website Terms and Conditions. This outlines the rules for people visiting your website, including how users can use your site and a disclaimer to limit your liability.

    To make life easier, you can find plenty of ready-made legal documents online, which can be edited. You can also seek legal advice online to help you get clear on what to do.

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    How to market your language teaching business

    Whether you're setting up an online language school or a brick-and-mortar college, online marketing can be a highly effective way of getting your name out there.

    Claim your piece of Internet land by developing a strong website with an effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy (read more about SEO). A good way to do this is by identifying who your target audience is (the types of students you want to attract to your business) and researching keywords that they search online. Then start writing weekly blog articles that provide relevant and useful information, and incorporate these keywords. For example, a student who wants to learn Spanish might type into Google something like, "How can I speak Spanish fluently?" You can use these "keywords" as a basis for a blog article or YouTube video.

    You can spread your brand out further by leveraging social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and posting mini-video lessons and useful language-learning advice. Consistency in delivering useful content is key.

    How much should I charge my customers?

    When teaching private one-to-one lessons, language teachers tend to charge by the hour. In Australia, the average hourly rate for foreign language lessons is around $30, but your rates are entirely your decision and will depend on factors such as your experience and what's included in your lessons. As you gain experience, you can charge up to $50 or more per hour.

    Teaching corporate clients or specialising in a certain expertise can be especially lucrative as you can charge higher rates.

    Accept payments from your customers in person and online with Square's card readers, payment terminals, digital invoicing and e-commerce tools.

    Frequently asked questions

    How can I accept payments for online lessons?

    If you want to teach on Skype or Zoom, you can set up a payment method and send students a link to easily pay online. PayPal and Stripe are among the best-known and easy-to-use payment systems around the world which accept credit card payments online.

    Should I pick a niche for my language teaching business?

    It may be worth thinking about a particular niche to brand your business around. You could niche by focusing on a particular language skill, such as vocabulary or improving listening by watching movies. You could think about niching your business by teaching people in one specific industry, like medical professionals or engineers. Another option might be to teach particular first-language speakers, such as English for Portuguese speakers.

    How can I grow my business?

    Once you've built up a database of students and established yourself as a reputable language teacher, you could think about adding digital courses to your business. You could pick a particular area of language, such as phrasal verbs or vowel pronunciation, and create an online course using videos, audios and PDF worksheets. Then you'll need to promote the benefits of your course through social media and email marketing so you can start making sales.

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