I’m a pretty busy guy at the moment. From Monday to Friday, I have to look after two little girls, both under five years old and one with autism. This makes it difficult to do anything to make money until they’re fast asleep in bed. Then I have three or four hours to get stuff done.

One of the most reliable ways of making money that I’ve found, given my limited availability is to teach English online via a site called Cambly.

About Cambly

Cambly is a company that links English tutors (people like you and I) with people that want to practice speaking English with a native speaker.
They provide their students with an app that they can use on their phones to chat to their tutors anywhere they have a stable internet connection but tutors are required to connect through the website on a laptop or desktop computer.

There are two ways you can connect with your students, either through booking priority hours or by students making reservations with you, according to the availability you set as a tutor. It’s unlikely that students will make reservations with you until you actually meet some via the priority hours.

So, what’s a priority hour? It’s a time that you book on Cambly where you will need to be available to take student calls for an entire hour. Student calls are routed to tutors that are currently on a priority hour and you’re expected to take them. This is how you meet students that might want to make future reservations with you. Incidentally, you’re allowed to take one five minute comfort break at any point in the hour.

What are student calls like?

Most of the students I’ve met have been genuinely interested in learning English but there are exceptions. Cambly offer trial time slots for new students and I’ve found they can be the most problematic. I’ve encountered black screens with giggling voices in the background, students with no previous speaking experience and on one occasion a student that just stared at me, speaking in his native tongue (that was pretty uncomfortable). I ended most of those calls pretty quickly and indicated to Cambly that they were problem students.

Most of my calls have been a positive experience. It’s been really interesting talking to people of different cultures, helping them to improve their English. Their motivations have ranged from general interest through to wanting to improve their career (often with an intention to attempt the IELTS exam).

Sometimes I’ve been unable to see the student I’m talking to (either there’s something blocking the webcam or it’s disabled). This has usually been when I’m talking to female students in predominantly Muslim countries. This hasn’t detracted from the conversation – I’ve had some really positive conversations whilst being unable to see the student so don’t let that put you off. You have to respect the cultural norms of the student’s own country. 🙂

How much can you earn?

You’re paid according to how long you speak to students and it adds up surprisingly quickly. The hourly rate is $10.20 ($0.17 / minute). This might not seem like much but it’s a fairly relaxed way to make money – especially when you no longer need to do priority hours thanks to regular student reservations. You set your own hours and work as much or as little as you can or want to. Personally, I just teach an hour an evening but I could easily do more if I wanted to.

Is it for you?

Well, that depends on how good your understanding of English is. Not every student will want to talk grammar (e.g. past and future tenses) but some of them will and the higher your command of the English language, the more likely it is that you’ll get regular students.

It is a video-based application so students will see your face. If you’re camera shy or suffer from any kind of social anxiety, Cambly might not be for you. It’s also worth mentioning that I’m a guy. I’ve had no problems with any kind of inappropriate language or suggestion but it’s possible that might not be the cast for female tutors. Even so, Cambly provide you with easy tools to end a call if a student acts inappropriately.

Protecting your privacy

Cambly very specifically discourages you from sharing your contact details with students (websites, social media accounts and email addresses). This is to protect you from the creepier class of student or those that will try to manipulate you into tutoring them for free. Bear in mind, many people will try to get something for nothing and Cambly try to protect you from students that are just trying to avoid paying for the service.

I’ve only had one student ask me for my Skype or email contact details and I politely declined, citing Cambly’s policy as the reason.

I’ve found Cambly’s in-site messaging system more than adequate for communicating with students. It enables you to exchange files too so there’s no need for any external contact with students.

How do you get started?

The first step is to go to the Cambly website and register to become a tutor. This link includes my referral code. If you sign-up using that, I’ll get a small bonus for introducing you to Cambly.
As part of the application process to join Cambly, you need to submit a trial video which is assessed by the Cambly staff before you can begin to tutor. Presumably, this is just to make sure you can speak clearly and that your level of English is suitable for students to learn from.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. If you just have a couple of half-hour sessions an evening, that’s $10.20 a night and that soon adds up to $71.40 a week. That can really help to pay the bills! Also, remember that you’re free to set your own hours. You work when you want to.

I’ve been teaching on Cambly for about a year now and I still enjoy it. I have a really good relationship with my regular students and it’s been really interesting to talk to them about what life is like in their part of the world.