Take a look at a map of the world. There is one country you can’t miss.
It’s both huge in size (spanning 11 time zones!) and a huge ESL opportunity.
Teaching English online to Russian students is a potentially rewarding niche which many ESL freelancers should consider.
The Russian Federation has 146 million citizens, making it the 9th largest country in the world by population; about the equivalent of France and Germany combined. And although the median annual income ($US 11,260) might seem low by some standards, this is still higher than China.
And as with any country, there are huge variations in wealth within the populace. Russia is estimated to have around 246,000 millionaires and 98 billionaires, according to Forbes.
There are also dramatic differences in the cost of living within the country. Moscow is routinely cited as one of the world’s most expensive cities. The second-largest city, Saint Petersburg, isn’t far behind.
Russian people, like most people around the globe, have an insatiable appetite to acquire English, the language of opportunity. Many of them have the means to pay a good price for high quality, high value ESL teaching services.
To better understand what teaching English online to Russian students and Eastern European students is all about, I conducted an interview with ESL teacher, Daivina O’Connor.
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What’s your professional background, and where are you now?
I am a qualified ESL teacher with Bachelor’s in ESL and Master’s in Education from a European university. I am qualified in TOEFL. I have British qualified teacher’s status and full Irish registration with the Teaching Council. I have been teaching ESL for 20 years and for the last 10 years I have been teaching SEN (special educational needs) native speakers and working as a language support teacher for immigrants on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.
I live in Ireland, and I am a non-native speaker of English. I used to live in London as well. I have taught English all my life.
I understand that you use the Telegram App for teaching English online to Russian students. Can you explain a little about how you use it?
I use the Telegram App for all my professional communications with my social media marketing team and also with my students (or parents). I used to use WhatsApp, however, the desktop app seems unreliable at the moment, so I moved all my professional communication to Telegram.
Telegram is a perfect alternative to Facebook Groups as they are not very popular with my Russian students. I love Telegram as it works for all countries where I teach except China. I use WeChat with them.
I also use it for group chat in lessons. When I teach classes on Zoom, I can’t save all messages (without special settings) and it is very confusing. In Telegram everything is in one place; Zoom links, all messages, poll options, and you can even edit your messages (saves you very often, if you are a fast typer like myself).
When Skype or Zoom are not working properly, I can use Telegram for teaching English online to Russian students in one-on-one classes.
I have my own course which I recorded on YouTube. I decided to stick to YouTube and not to go with Udemy or any other platform as they charge a lot. Their commissions are too high for my liking. Therefore, I share my videos with tasks and explanations in the Telegram chat. Students have to comment, respond and do the tasks. I can correct and provide my feedback in the same chat.
As I have mentioned, for me Telegram is a better alternative to Facebook Groups. I came across a growing dissatisfaction with Facebook, as the content you share there belongs to Facebook, whereas Telegram keeps it encrypted. If you are planning to teach English online to Russian students in one-on-one classes (as conference calling is still not possible on Telegram) you can have it as an alternative encrypted platform.
To add students to Telegram you need to know their account ID or have their phone number saved in your contact list.
Which other social media platforms are common now for ESL students in Russia and Eastern Europe? And why is Telegram so popular? Do many people use Viber?
Telegram is encrypted and nobody can contact you unless you invite them. Channels are searchable, though.
Viber is an outdated social media platform. Only people aged 55+ are still using it.
Facebook is only for professional people or Russian speakers living abroad.
Younger generations are all on Instagram, Telegram and TikTok. For young people nowadays, if you are not on TikTok you are basically dead. I highly recommend using it to attract students from Russia. Snapchat on the other hand, is absolutely NOT popular in Russia.
Instagram and Facebook are also quite common for Eastern Europeans.
How do you accept payments for teaching English online to Russian students? Are there any difficulties in accepting payment via PayPal, or can you recommend other methods?
PayPal doesn’t work for Russians as the commission will cost an arm and a leg. I have Yandex wallet and a Russian bank account because I have relatives in Russia. They helped me to open a bank account. This is the biggest problem when it comes to teaching English online to Russian students. Russians don’t want to use anything that doesn’t support Rubles due to the poor conversion rate.
Eastern Europeans are more than happy to use PayPal. TransferWise might work as well.
Which ESL learner markets are strong in Eastern Europe and Russia, in your experience? E.g., English for Young Learners, English for Teens, English for IELTS/TOEFL, English for Business Use? Are there any groups where you’ve noticed the strongest demand?
All of those mentioned are popular in Russia. Eastern Europeans are usually into Business or General English.
I would say the best ESL niche for teaching English online to Russian students and Eastern Europeans is pronunciation. Accent coaches and people working on native pronunciation are in demand. I am looking for an American accent coach myself. If there are any out there, please feel free to contact me!
What I have noticed about Russians and Eastern Europeans unless their level is B2 or C1, is that they don’t want to have a teacher who doesn’t speak their language. They love grammar explained in their mother tongue. They are afraid of mistakes and are not interested to listen to long explanations in English. They want everything fast and understandable. They might be interested in job interview preparations with native speakers or some kind of general chats, but not proper exam preps or grammar classes.
Very often I have students contacting me saying that they used to attend a class with a native speaker but could never understand anything. They need somebody to explain everything to them in their mother tongue.
In contrast to Asian learners, Eastern Europeans don’t like shadowing and repeating after the teacher. They need to understand exactly what is going on and why they are doing certain exercises.
Asians are obsessed with the books we use with native speakers. Whereas Russian students and Eastern Europeans don’t really care about what native speakers do, they want “normal” as they say (usually American) international English. A lot of people in Russia and Eastern Europe are still into received pronunciation “Queen’s English”. They have this silly idea that everybody in Britain speaks like Hugh Grant or Harry Potter!
Are there any projects you are working on now? How can people connect with you to learn more about what you do?
I am working on some online courses in 3 languages; English/Russian and English/Lithuanian for Interview preparation in Britain and Ireland (I have a wide experience myself after working in customer service).
Also, I am finishing my Patreon page to have international learners as very often people text me that my courses are too expensive, and they would like a cheaper option.
I also am developing my YouTube channel that has been abandoned for a while. We spent a couple of years living in Denmark and during that time I was focusing on my blog, “My Expat Life in Denmark”, but now I am back in business and focussed on my English learning channels.
You can contact me on Instagram, Telegram or Facebook.
The author of this post lives in Japan with his wife and family. He has taught English part-time (online and off) for more than a decade. He is passionate about WordPress consulting, online marketing and using the power of the internet to help people achieve their dreams.
He thinks that until you’ve tried sashimi tuna with wasabi, soy sauce, hot sake and a cold beer chaser, you just haven’t lived.