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English First Review: Earn Money Teaching English Online (Scam or Legit?)

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Have you ever thought of how great it might be to ditch your 9-to-5 and start working from home? Well, one way to do just that is by teaching English online through companies like English First.

We’ve talked about lots of different ways to make money on Frugal For Less, and most of the things we talk about are side hustles – great for earning a little extra cash on the side, but they don’t pay enough to actually give up your day job. Teaching English online, however, does.

While there are dozens of companies out there that will pay you to teach English on their virtual platforms, not all of them are legitimate. In this English First Review, we’re going to be looking specifically at English First and finding out whether this company is a scam or legit.

We’ll also be covering what the company is, how it works, and whether or not it’s worth your time. Ready? Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Who Are English First?

English First is a company that provides English language (ESL) education to students in China, Russia, and Indonesia. They’ve been operating for more than 20 years.

They hire teachers from the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand to teach English, both online and offline in schools around the world.

While we’re going to be focusing specifically on their online teaching positions in this review, this isn’t actually what most people associate English First with. They’re much more well-known as a company which places English teachers in schools abroad.

English First is also known variously by their other brand names: English Live, English Town, and Education First. While these might sound like different companies, they’re actually all part of the wider organization, EF Education First.

EF Education First is the largest private education organization in the world. It’s also one of the oldest, having been founded way back in 1965. They boast a huge network, with 16 company divisions and more than 43,000 employees worldwide. They also have offices in more than 50 countries across the world.

Teaching English at Home vs In China

English First offer two different online positions: online teacher (work from home) and online teacher (China).

The former is, as you’d expect, work you can do from the comfort of your own home. All you need is a computer, high-speed wifi, a headset, and a webcam. You’ll be teaching students in China remotely from anywhere in the world.

For the latter, you’ll still be teaching online via a virtual classroom, but you have to first move to China and do this from the EF offices over there. That means you’ll be working from a company office.

The actual job itself is more or less the same regardless of which option you choose but, for most people, working from home is the preferred choice as you don’t have to completely up sticks and relocate. You can fit in the work around your day job if you like.

However, if you’re the adventurous type, this can also be a great opportunity to experience a new culture.

Here’s a quick table comparing the two options:

Online Teacher (home)Online Teacher (China)
No relocation costs required (airfare, home deposit, etc).Living costs are lower, increasing your savings potential.
Teach where you’re most comfortable and have already put down roots.Experience a new culture.
There may be communication issues with management and support staff as you’ll be communicating exclusively online.More access to professional support, you’ll be working in the same office as support staff.
Working from a home office can be distractingAccess to a real office and a professional working environment

How it Works

The way the platform works is pretty standard and similar to many other online teaching platforms.

First, you’ll let the company know your available time slots. You can set your availability to work during the following hours:

  • Monday to Thursday, 4:00 AM to 8:30 AM (EST)
  • Friday and Saturday, 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM the following morning (EST)

These hours aren’t the most sociable, but at least they’re early morning so you can fit them in around work if need be!

Once you’ve set your availability, they’ll then list this on the system and students can start booking classes with you. Students book 25-minute class slots and have to stay with the same teacher for between four and eight weeks in a row.

This provides some stability and guaranteed bookings but your schedule might not always be full. You won’t be paid for any periods in which you’re not actually teaching a class, but many English First teachers report that their schedules are mostly full, most of the time.

The lesson materials are fully prepared for you, but English First recommend that you familiarize yourself with the materials a few minutes before the lesson to make things easier.

All you have to do is log onto the platform during your available periods, and read through the prepared lesson slides with students that have booked classes with you. You’ll also be correcting your student and giving them feedback while teaching, and will have to fill in a quick post-lesson assessment after it’s finished.

The platform is mostly about conversation practice, so you don’t need any specific teaching skills, but it helps to use props to keep the children engaged.

If you have any technical issues or problems during class, you can request assistance through the platform from the on-call support staff.

English First Pay

Ok, now we’re on to the fun stuff. You’ve been waiting for this section all along, right? I’ll jump right into it.

English First don’t officially list their pay range on their website. However, EF Education First (which is basically the same company) does.

They advertise a pay rate starting at $12 per hour. This rate is negotiable depending on experience, qualifications, and performance. You should expect an initial offer somewhere between $12 and $19 per hour.

Here are some tips for getting offered a rate at the top end of that range:

  • Don’t sell yourself short. Even if you feel like you don’t have a lot of experience, you’ve probably got something you can use. Even things like coaching and babysitting for friends and family can count as experience if you put the right spin on it!
  • Make sure your CV looks professional and really sells you as a teacher.
  • Get a high-quality TEFL certificate, if you can afford it. Having something like a CELTA or DELTA really goes a long way towards proving you’re an excellent teacher.

$12 might seem like a decent rate for a side-hustle, and it is, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s actually lower than many other similar platforms. The typical DaDaABC (another popular online ESL platform) salary, for example, is $18 per hour, plus bonuses and incentives.

English First do periodically assess you’re eligibility for a raise, however, so even if you’re offered a lower rate to begin with, there’s always the chance it could increase. Check out this article for some tips on negotiating a raise.

English First Hiring Policy

If you’re interested in getting hired with English First as an online English teacher, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A passport from the UK or US. Unfortunately, English speakers from outside these two countries aren’t eligible for the online position (I know, this sucks).
  • A BA Degree in any field. It doesn’t have to be in a relevant topic like English or teaching, any subject will count. It’s mostly for paperwork/legal reasons.
  • A TEFL certificate (more on this in the next section).
  • To be able to speak English at a Native level.
  • To be authorized to work in the UK or US.
  • Stable internet and appropriate tech equipment.

TEFL Requirements

The main requirement that poses a problem for teachers is the TEFL certificate, as most otherwise-eligible applicants don’t have one of these. So what are they and why do you need one?

TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certificates are essentially internationally-recognized documents that prove you’ve completed some basic training on how to teach English to second language learners.

A few months ago, most online teaching platforms didn’t include them as part of their eligibility criteria. However,  the online English teaching crackdown in China means that all ESL platforms based in the country now must ask for this if they want to meet their legal obligations.

TEFL certificates come in many shapes and sizes. The most well-known (and expensive) TEFL certificate is the CELTA qualification. This is a high-end qualification from Cambridge and requires lots of face-to-face instruction. Other high-end certificates include DELTA and Trinity TESOL. This article talks about the differences between the three.

There are, however, many cheaper alternatives. The cheapest form of TEFL certificate is usually online-only certification. These usually come in three types:

  • 100-hour certificates
  • 120-hour certificates
  • 140-hour certificates

The specified number of hours refers to how much study is required to complete them. In actuality, though, it rarely takes this long. As the tests are often multiple choice and many of the questions require little formal study, some teachers have reported being able to complete a 120-hour certificate in 10 hours or less.

You can usually find discounted online teaching certificates on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial for under $50, a worthwhile investment if you consider the fact that you’ll use them to land a job that pays ten times that amount each month.

The only downside to these cheaper certificates is they really don’t teach you much and are only useful as paperwork to get you the job. If you’re looking for something that actually teaches you and builds your teaching confidence, it’s better to opt for a certificate that includes face-to-face teaching time.

Is it a Scam?

Short Answer

No, English First isn’t a scam.

Long Answer

While some employees might not be happy with some of English First’s policies and practices, there doesn’t seem to be any red flags or indication that it’s a scam. There’s also plenty of things vouching for English First’s legitimacy.

Firstly, the sheer scale of EF Education First and the fact that they’ve been successfully operating for more than 50 years is a testimony to their legitimacy.

They’re recognized as one of the global leaders in English education. It’s unlikely that a company of this size would have been able to operate for so long and grow to such size if they were a scam.

Secondly, they have a strong online presence and a lot of reviews on sites like Glassdoor. They’re also mentioned and discussed regularly on Facebook groups created to help teachers find legitimate online English teaching opportunities.

Other English First Reviews & What Teachers Think

Overall, the company gets an average 3.5/5 star rating based on Glassdoor reviews, which suggests that most teachers are happy with English first.

However, one thing to mention here is that working online with English first and working abroad with English first through one of their remote job opportunities are two very different things.

A quick glance at their Glassdoor reviews can, therefore, be misleading. For example, let’s take a look at this not-so-glowing review from a disgruntled employee:

“Management is inexperienced and untrustworthy and every day will be a challenge to prepare for classes. You may never know how many kids to prepare for in a class… Your PA’s will throw you under the bus at any opportunity to cover themselves.”

On the surface, that looks damning, but it’s quite clear that the employee in question is talking about his employment in a specific teaching center in China that he was placed in through English first.

Let’s compare that to a review from an online English teacher with EF instead:

Comprehensive training, helpful resources, good communication with higher-ups, make your own hours, work from your pajamas”

As you can see, this one is much more positive. Online teachers and on-the-ground teachers tend to have very different experiences

I mention this to show how important it is, if you do check out reviews, to make sure you know what role the reviewer worked in if you want to get an accurate picture.

Looking at real reviews, written by their online teachers, can be a great way to pick out some pros and cons of working for the company, which brings me on to my next section…

Pros and Cons of English First

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest pros and cons of teaching online with English First. I’m a positive guy, so let’s start with the good stuff.

These pros and cons are all based on real reviews from real teachers, as well as my own experience and knowledge of the industry.

  • You can work from anywhere in the world on your own schedule
  • The pay rate is ok
  • There isn’t much planning and preparation required for classes
  • Low pay compared to some other companies
  • A lack of professionalism
  • A non-inclusive hiring policy (they only hire applicants from the US or UK).

How to Apply

Applying for English First is quite easy and can be started by filling out this application form. Basically, the whole application process looks like this…

Step One: Application and Qualifications

At this stage in the application, you’ll be asked a series of questions relating to your personal details and work experience. The application form also requires that teachers upload scanned copies of there resume, teaching certificates and bachelors degree.

Step Two: Initial Call

Once your application has been reviewed, you’ll then set up a call with one of the teaching staff to discuss your application and how to use the EF classroom software

Step Three: Recieve Offer

Once you’ve talked to the teaching staff and been familiarised with the platform, you’ll then get an offer from the company. At this point, you can discuss your contract and schedule and begin to get set up to start taking classes.

The application process for this teaching job is actually quite simple in comparison to other online teaching companies, and you can probably get started teaching in around 1-2 weeks.

Alternatives to English First

Online English teaching is an industry that is booming right now, so if the concept of EnglishFirst interests you but your not keen on the package that they’re offering, there is a diverse range of other options to looking into.

You can find quite a few reviews of other online English teaching companies on this blog. In my opinion, some of the companies we’ve looked into do present a much better option to teachers than EnglishFirst These companies include:


SayABC is one of the most popular English teaching companies operating right now. Unlike EnglishFirst, it prioritizes teachers experience and knowledge, rather than their nationality, meaning that there are opportunities for English speakers with educational backgrounds from around the world.

The pay for this company is also better too, as teachers have the potential to earn up to $21/40-minute class with SayABC


VipKid is another well established English teaching company that has a great online presence. They offer rates of between $14 and $22 per hour depending on experience,  and they have some great reviews from teachers on glassdoor.

The only drawback with VIPkid is that they only employ North American teachers, so if you’re an English speaker from countries outside of the US and Canada, you aren’t eligible for the job.

If you’re specifically looking for a company that will pay $20/hour+, check out this article

Other English Teaching Options

If the idea of working with kids from other parts of the world is the most appealing aspect of online teaching, you might want to consider a TEFL career that’s based in another country. If you’re thinking about this, EnglishFirst’s teach online in China program is probably not the best option.

However, there are a wealth of great opportunities for English teachers worldwide, and you can also make some pretty good money too.

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