How to Teach English One-on-One.

This is about teaching English to ESL students

Private Tuition for ESL.

At some stage in your ESL career ( English as a second language), you will be asked if you can provide private tuition. Some teachers can get needlessly worried about doing this. However, teaching one on one can be a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. The rewards are not always financial but they are something we should cover first.

Pricing for Students

Teaching one on one can be a fiscal boon, but you have to be careful not to rely on private tuition only. Let me explain. If you are teaching for a private school you will have a regular income. And if any students depart, you will still get paid.

If like me, you do a lot of private tuition you will probably be teaching groups rather than individuals. So you have to take into account how much per hour you are making for your groups then average that out for your “one-on-one” student.

Lets do some rough accounting. I have a class of 12 students who individually pay 1,000,000 dong per month. ( $43.00 US) and I teach this class approximately 13 hours per month. So 12 million dong ( Vietnamese currency) divided by 13 gives the rate that I could charge my individual student.( about 900,000 dong)

Price high or price low.

This works out in US dollars to about $38.00. I know a lot of teachers will say that is too expensive, my student or my students parents can’t afford that. But you can’t afford to go below that. Let me explain why.

If you are working at a private English school you will probably get about $20 US per hour. If you cancel the class at the private school there should be no problems. That is only one class or 3-4 hours per week. You still get the rest of the classes in your schedule.

But if you have taken on your individual student and they leave after 3 weeks it may take you another month to pick up another class at your private English school. So, not only would I price higher, I would also want payment of 3 months upfront. And this is what I do. I have lived in Vietnam for 15 years and the parents will pay this if they trust you.

In a nutshell, the 2 main things to remember are price higher and endeavor to get an upfront payment of at least 2-3 months. You are the one who is taking the financial risk.

Teaching English One on One.

The great thing about teaching one-on-one is you can tailor each session to the specific needs of the student, especially the ability to tailor activities to the students strengths and shortcomings. The most important thing is that the pupil has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to practice intensively.

The student will progress more quickly if he or she speaks for the majority of the class, practice makes perfect. The same can be said regarding the other English skills; Listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Nonetheless, it is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that the time spent with the student is spent effectively.

If you have a happy student, not only will they stay with you, they will provide referrals to your teaching business.

Customized Lessons.

If you’ve never taught individual students before, the first few lessons can be challenging. Even if you’re an expert, the first few one-on-one classes with a new student will be difficult because each student has their unique personality, learning style, interests, and educational needs.

The first step to building an environment conducive to learning is to build rapport with your student. This is done by getting to know your student and what they need to get from your classes.

Tips for One-on-One lessons.

Whether your student is a young child ( I have taught individually to a 7 year old) or an older student, the tips I share with you are non age related. By which I mean you can use the overall concept for any age.

Introductions. The first lesson should be about getting to know the student and their life. They may tell you about their country and how it is to live there and customs and traditions. When discussing Christmas, for example, you might compare how the holiday is observed in your home country compared to your students. If your student works in a certain industry, have them describe it to you: what the job entails, what the company does, and who their clients are?

If you have a younger student, chat to him or her about their family and the school that he or she attends. What are their favorite video games or TV programs. Also, don’t forget to introduce yourself to the student. Encourage the student to initiate the dialogue about you by asking relevant questions. Overall it is an “introduction” lesson.

Real Life Objects. Real-life items (Realia) can be used in any type of class, whether one-on-one or in large groups. However, if you have a map (for example), you can sit next to your student as he or she gives you instructions to their house, a hospital, or a specific spot that you can both follow on the map. “Realia” also makes the lesson more fascinating and enjoyable in general, and it can be a useful icebreaker.

Adults will enjoy Realia because it allows them to use and relate to almost anything. Newspapers, work brochures, restaurant menus, and ad pamphlets are just a few examples. And with children it is just about essential that you use them. Twinkl is a great resource for the younger student and you can check out the range of resources they provide here at”Twinkl Resources

Video Lessons. Remember that the main advantage of one-on-one sessions is that pupils have more time to communicate. Using video and audio to start a conversation is a terrific approach to get a student talking. Show a video to your student, check for listening comprehension, and then talk about what you watched.

Any audio file can be used in the same way. Keep in mind that the Internet offers a wide range of audio and video files, the majority of which are simple to download. There are a number of websites dedicated to children that also feature videos. And for shorter lessons consider YouTube as well.

It is also worth considering opening your own Youtube channel where you can post prepared homemade videos. Or make one with your student. Here is one I made about “Our House in Vietnam“.

Video Recording. Most students do not like getting recorded by video or only audio, however, a one-to-one lesson is a much better opportunity for this to take place than in a full class of students.

Audio and video recording are great for students to become self-aware of their speaking and pronunciation difficulties. And while the younger student will not be interested for that reason, they will have a lot of fun making the recording.

You could get the younger student to be the “presenter” of a house walk-through. Similar to the YouTube video shown above. ( via link )


Internet lessons. When it comes to one-on-one instruction, the Internet is ideal. You can use genuine websites for reading assignments, play an online game, listen to a podcast or view a video, and even have your student take an online test. The options are limitless.

However, keep in mind that adequate lesson planning is still necessary. Before your class, double-check all links and web pages. And depending on which country you are in, have a back up lesson in case the internet is down. However, Vietnam has improved a lot, but I still make sure I have a paper based alternative lesson just in case.

Quiet time. Although some advanced students are willing to talk for hours, the majority of them find it difficult to speak for more than ten minutes. Make sure to follow up a particularly busy speaking activity or game with a more relaxed and quiet tasks. A young learner may sketch a picture of the tale they heard; a business English student could write a resume or an email.

Silence isn’t something to be scared of. Remember that your students will need some time to process what they’ve learned. Keep in mind, though, that encouraging a student to work on something independently while you do something else could be seen as a lazy practice for the teacher. Because the student may think they could complete the task outside of class if you weren’t present. Such activities should be completed informally, with the teacher reviewing each answer with the student.

Final Thoughts.

One-to-one teaching has many advantages for both teacher and student. It does, however, require a slightly different mindset compared with group teaching.

One big advantage that I haven’t talked about is that teaching only 1 student gives you the opportunity to take the classroom outside. For example, you can go to the local supermarket and talk firsthand about the vocabulary related to the supermarket. Or even just visit a coffee shop where you can sit and talk (hopefully) with other foreigners.


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There will be no extra cost to you and at times due to my affiliation, you could actually save money.

You can read our full affiliate disclosure here.

The Vietnam Education System and ESL

A Bit of Background.

I think it always helps if you have a deeper understanding of both the country and the area in which you will work. So I hope that this information gives you the background context for you to help the students and yourself.

An Overview.

Since the 1980s, Vietnam has undergone substantial market changes as the Communist government has transitioned from a command-style economic structure to a more open capitalist economy while maintaining political control.

The modernization of Vietnam’s education system, which is perceived to be trailing behind other Southeast Asian countries by foreign observers, was one of the country’s strategies for achieving greater economic growth.

A number of reforms were announced, including the need for teachers to enhance their abilities and get masters or doctoral degrees by 2020. There’s also a focus on increasing school enrollment.

Increased internationalization of Vietnam’s still relatively closed higher education system is another goal of the present reforms. The Vietnamese government is attempting to boost English-language education in the country, as well as foster international collaboration and exchange with nations such as Australia, New Zealand, France, the United States, Japan, and Germany.

School Grades and Age Ranges.

In Vietnam, children typically begin preschool at the age of three and complete kindergarten by the age of five or six. (The school weekday is 6 days a week for K-12, however, most students only attend half a day for classes).

They subsequently go to primary school for grades one through five. This program is for youngsters aged 6 to 11 years old. Although these are the only years in which Vietnamese children are required to attend school, it is typical to find children from low-income families not attending at all.

The students then progress to Grade 6 – 9 which is for 11 to 15 year-olds, (or enroll in vocational training programs.) This is called lower secondary school or “Trung hoc co so”.

After grade 9 they can then move on to Grades 10 to 12 called “Trung hoc pho thong” or Upper Secondary. Upper secondary admission is only granted after a tough entrance examination.

Students who do not achieve a high enough score on the admission tests might alternatively enroll in private institutions or advanced vocational programs. After which they may attend University after an admittance examination.

The National Highschool Graduation Examination.

The National High School Graduation Examination was created in 2015 by combining the high school graduation and university entrance exams in Vietnam, and all high school students in Vietnam are required to take it at the end of Grade 12 to receive a diploma known as the High School Graduation Certificate. Around 900,000 Vietnamese students take the exam each year in June.

The graduation examination requires the completion of three papers:

  • Mathematics
  • Literature
  • Foreign Language (English, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, or Russian)
  • In addition, students must choose either Natural Sciences (a combination of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology) or Social Sciences (including History, Geography, and Civic Education). In some cases, the students can take both combinations and choose the best result to be applied to their “score”.

In addition to the results of national high school examinations, several universities in Vietnam have added ‘General ability’ tests to the selection process.

Because universities develop their own assessments, this approach is supposed to aid institutions in selecting students with sufficient talent to grasp their training programs. Candidates can apply for the tests on their own time, usually before or after the national high school exam.

Costs for Students and Parents.

Despite the fact that elementary education is technically free and the government covers the majority of the expenditures, elementary schools charge a range of supplemental fees, ranging from maintenance fees to fees for the purchase of books and uniforms.

In the meantime, secondary public schools are permitted to collect minimal tuition fees. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for parents to pay school teachers for extra private sessions in order to assure their children’s academic success, a frequent corrupt practice that raises prices and inequities in public education.

Higher education tuition fees have also been steadily rising, and numerous public colleges have already been freed from tuition limitations. For bachelor’s degrees, top colleges such as the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology are presently charging annual tuition costs in excess of USD $1,000.

The Curriculum.

Elementary School.

In grades one through five, students are taught Vietnamese, mathematics, moral education, natural and social sciences, arts, and physical education, as well as history and geography. Foreign language ( English ) and computer training ( starting in grades three and four) are also part of the curriculum. Rote learning from what I have observed seems to be the preferred methodology of teaching.

So when the students see a foreign teacher in English class making it fun, they can become quite excited.

Lower Secondary Education

All students who have completed elementary school are eligible for admission to general lower-secondary education. A Lower Secondary Education Graduation Diploma is awarded at the end of the program.

Vietnamese, foreign language, mathematics, natural sciences, civics, history, geography, technology, computer science, arts, and physical education are all part of the curriculum. Elective subjects include a second foreign language and minority languages.

Students attend up to 30 45-minute lessons per week, and annual advancement is determined by instructor evaluations and exams.

Upper Secondary

Course requirements involve a total of 6 hours per week in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology in the natural science field, and literature, history, geography, and foreign languages in the social sciences and foreign language field.

Past reforms allow for greater individual customization with elective subjects now making up one-third of the curriculum. Beyond these subjects, all students take a core curriculum that includes subjects ranging from Vietnamese to foreign language (mostly English), mathematics, and physical and military education.

Upper-secondary students attend up to 30 45-minute classes per week. High school graduation requires passing a rigorous final secondary school graduation examination, which is also used to determine admission to higher education.

The Background and The Reality.

I have been living and teaching in Vietnam now for the last 15 years and while I love living here there can be so much more done for the students.

Vietnam is currently one of the most active outbound student marketplaces in the world, trailing only China and India in terms of raw scale. The number of Vietnamese degree students who left the country increased by 680 percent between 1999 and 2016. Source, UNESCO institute of statistics.

This dramatic increase in Vietnamese migration reflects both the country’s rapid economic expansion and its educational system’s deficiencies.

From what I see one of the biggest problems the education system has is the financial reward system for the teachers. When I first arrived it was common for teachers to get 5,000,000 dong per month. About $250 US. Even with the reduced cost of living in Vietnam the salary just doesn’t cut it. Thus, the teachers become demotivated and do just enough to get them paid.

But it also means the teachers often take on extra classes from their home and if the students do not attend their school grades suffer.

In the classroom I see the teachers teaching in the rote style of writing on the board and then getting the students to copy. It is no wonder the students are so bored with school. I have witnessed teachers sitting at their desk and surfing the net while the students write down their “topic” from the board.

ESL in the Public Schools.

There are four areas you can teach Englisn in Vietnam. The first is in the public schools in any of the age ranges mentioned above. Next is working privately for the English Academies from VUS down to less salubrious choices. The third would be teaching in one of the International schools and lastly you can set up your own private classes.

When you teach in a public school do not be surprised if you walk into a class of 50 students. So you have to do a bit of pre-planning before you walk in. Please, do not try to “wing-it”. Because the class sizes are big you should consider looking at investing in a microphone which will save your voice.

You can find out more about this at Essential Tech Tools in The Classroom.

Most classes will last for 45 minutes and some will be back-to-back classes meaning you should be prepared to teach for 1 and a half hours. I have a range of advice and articles on my website about teaching to different ages and advice on lesson plans you may use. One example is “How to Teach ESL to Kids“. But there is also much more to be found.

And what of salary, well you can expect to make around $20 US per hour and still keep your weekend free. However, at some stage you will want to work in a private school as well because the public schools close for 3 months every year for Summer holiday. Normally closing at the end of May and restarting in September. So unless you want to do 3 months of traveling during this time, you should consider working in a private school as well.

Before applying for any positions you may wish to also look at “Mistakes to avoid as an English Teacher

Final Thoughts.

Moving to any country for work is a big change. You can prepare for a lot of this by reading as much as possible and talking to those who have done it. If you need any advice, leave me a message and I will get back to you ASAP.

Stephen.


Any or all links on this site may be affiliate links, and if you purchase something through those links I will make a small commission on them.

There will be no extra cost to you and at times due to my affiliation, you could actually save money.

You can read our full affiliate disclosure here.