The best free video chat apps for teaching English online

The best free video chat apps for teaching English online 1

There is increasing demand in Japan for online English lessons. Many companies are offering to connect students and teachers with their service using video chat solutions which they provide themselves.

However, freelance teachers will need to figure out their own systems for teaching as well as receiving payment, and agree these with their students. In this article we examine the best options to teach English from anywhere in the world to students in Japan.

Skype (best for 1 to 1 lessons and small groups)

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Well-known in Japan and established all over the world, Skype was one of the first video chat solutions to hit the mainstream.

The benefit of this is that many people already have Skype accounts and familiarity with the service. While not a professional solution, from my experience Skype has been good enough to teach 1 to 1 lessons quite comfortably.

With the ability to share your screen and have a chat feature at the same time as video to clarify spelling and grammar, Skype is very user friendly and useful for freelance teachers giving lessons to individuals and small groups.


  • Well-known and easy to use
  • Decent screen share functionality
  • Possible to blur background (many students like this feature to protect their privacy)
  • Free!


  • Free solution may have some connection issues from time to time

Zoom (best for larger groups and webinars)

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Offering robust connection and webinar functionality (for paid users), Zoom has become extremely popular in recent times.

Zoom is a great option if you are teaching classes of more than 10 students. As host, you are able to control who can speak, and there is also a “raise hand” feature, just like in a classroom, which allows students to indicate that they have a question and would like to speak.

You are then able to enable their audio easily and avoid having many people speaking at once. As the free version is limited to 40 minute calls, Zoom is not the best for freelance teaching to individuals, but it offers professional quality for those teaching classes.


  • Excellent audio and video quality
  • Good screen and content share capability
  • Can record lesson on a local device or in the cloud easily


  • Free version only available for 40-minute calls
  • Requires student to install software they might not be familiar with


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Perhaps less famous as a solution for teaching, Apple’s video chat software FaceTime can enable surprisingly good quality lessons.

The app is available on multiple Mac devices, meaning you can teach from a Macbook to someone joining on an iPhone or iPad. It is only available on Apple devices, however.

As with the other options mentioned above, FaceTime has a handy screen share feature, and you also have the option of recording the lesson using QuickTime.


  • Screen share and recording capability
  • Reasonably good quality audio and video
  • Free!


  • Only available on Apple devices

Facebook Messenger

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Facebook Messenger is another solid video chat platform, but the quality of calls has been lower than the others mentioned in this article in my experience.

However, and contrary to what many people believe, you can share your screen using Facebook Messenger, which means that it can be a good method for teaching from a PDF textbook or by sharing video.

What’s more, and also not so well-known, you can also add multiple people in the same call, allowing you to teach to groups.


  • Screen share feature
  • Free!


  • You need to share your personal Facebook details which you might not want to do in a professional setting
  • The quality of calls can sometimes be lower than required for teaching

Extra tips for giving lessons online

Now let’s look at some extra things to have in mind when teaching online to students in Japan.

Use a wired internet connection

WIFI is very convenient and allows you to connect to the internet wherever there is a strong enough signal. However, there are many factors which can make WIFI temporarily unstable, and this can lead to problems with video chat apps.

As the customer is paying for a service, it is very important to mitigate any connection issues on your end to avoid disappointment. For best results, use a laptop or personal computer and plug it directly into your internet router with an ethernet cable.

Give the student(s) time to respond

The slight delay we experience when using internet-based chat apps can sometimes make conversations a little awkward. In light of this, it is a good idea to pause after making a point to allow the student to signal that they have understood, or to ask a question to clarify an issue.

Some students are naturally shy and reluctant to ask questions, and many students will be very keen to simply talk to practice their speaking, so it is very important to give them ample time to speak in either case.

Use the screen share feature

As mentioned previously, many Japanese students are keen to have an opportunity to simply practice their conversation skills, and there is little need to use textbooks or other materials for this kind of student.

That being said, as every teacher knows, every student is different, and some students will want to be taught grammar and vocabulary. It is therefore a good idea to make use to the screen share feature to make sure you are both “on the same page” (pun absolutely intended) when teaching from a PDF textbook or other digital material.

As before, make sure you give enough time for the student to see everything and confirm they have understood before changing the content on the screen.

In conclusion

Skype should be a good solution for most teachers using SenseiStar’s matching service to teach 1 to 1 lessons, and will probably serve teachers who are teaching group lessons as well.

It is important to remember to give the students a lot of time to talk and the respond, and use a wired internet connection where possible. As ever, we would like to hear from your experience, so do let us know in the comments if you disagree with the above or have found something better quality/ more cost effective!

The best payment methods for teaching online to students in Japan

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Japanese learners of English often look to online teaching solutions to brush up their listening skills and practice conversation. This means that any speaker of English can teach Japanese students online providing they have a suitable internet connection and access to the suitable apps.

Online teaching portal sites take care of payment on your behalf, but if you are going to take advantage of matching sites such as SenseiStar for freelance teachers, giving you greater flexibility and allowing you to receive 100% of your lesson fee etc., you will need to negotiate payment terms with your student in Japan.

It is therefore a good idea to be mindful of what payment methods are available in Japan and what options are best for Japanese students in terms of transfer fees as well as other considerations such as the speed and timing of the transfer.

In this article we will introduce the best options for sending money from Japan from the perspective of someone living there.

In order to get an idea how each service works for small payments such as a trial or one short lesson, we tried making payments of JPY ¥2,000 to accounts in the US to compare the rates, fees and transfer speeds.

Note that each person may have his or her own preference as to what payment methods to use and you might need to be flexible. It might be a good idea to request payment for several lessons at a time depending on their transfer preference.


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Probably the most well-known option, PayPal offers a very user friendly experience to send and receive money. PayPal has been around for a while now, and while it used to have fairly steep fees for transfers abroad, the competitive landscape has forced them to offer more attractive rates in recent times.

When we tried PayPal, we were given a pretty good exchange rate and it looked to be a quite a good deal.

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However, there was a USD $1 fee on the receiving end, which was not clear when the payment was made. This could lead to confusion when receiving money from students and leave the teacher out of pocket.


  • Well known and easy to use
  • Transfers are processed instantly


  • Fee structure is not clear and easy to incur hidden fees

Transferwise (our choice)

Why not sign up with our invite link above to receive money off? 😀

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With very competitive exchange rates and extremely low admin fees, Transferwise is great for sending money abroad from Japan. It has been gaining in popularity with the expat community in Japan, but is not as well-know among the native population here as some of the other solutions mentioned in this article.

Transferwise payments are paid directly into bank accounts in over 70 countries, and the most cost-effective way to use this service is by doing a bank transfer to Transferwise, which can be a little slow in Japan. However, instant transfers via card payments are also available for a higher fee.

In order to receive money this way, you will need to give your student your bank details including SWIFT code and IBAN number which you should be able to get from your bank.

When testing Transferwise, we were given the screen below.

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Because the account we sent the transfer from was with MUFG Bank, there was no transfer fee for this service. In the case that the student does not bank with MUFG, they might need to pay a JPY ¥300 fee for this transfer. In this case, it would be cheaper to use the card payment option, which in the example above would have been a fee of JPY ¥138.


  • Very transparent fee structure
  • Very good exchange rates
  • Ability to pay via bank transfer which some Japanese students prefer


  • Not well-know in Japan and might take some getting used to on the part of the student
  • When using bank transfer, transfers are not instant and will be processed the next business day if submitted after 3pm
  • User needs to go through verification process before sending payments

Western Union

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Another well-known money transfer service, Western union has a good user interface and a clear pricing structure.

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At first, it looked as though Western Union was the winner in terms of price, however on closer inspection, they had added their fee to the transfer amount, meaning the transfer now costed JPY ¥2,490

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This can be beneficial for the teacher because fees are handled by the sender, but it is important to factor this into your lesson price so the student is not taken by surprise when they see that they need to pay a fee. In any case, Western Union was not as cheap as TransferWise over all.

Other options

GoRemit by Shinsei Bank is another popular option in Japan, but with a flat fee of JPY ¥2,000 for every transfer, it does not make much sense for payment on a per lesson basis. Similarly, the transfer fees of the traditional Japanese banks are very high and we advise staying well clear of those.

In conclusion

If you are going to be teaching many lessons online to students in Japan, agreeing on a money transfer service is a very important step and picking the right one will save you and the student a lot of money in the long run. We recommend Transferwise for this reason.

The fact that so many people have PayPal accounts combined with its user-friendliness make it the most convenient option, but Transferwise is simply cheaper. Apart from Western Union, the other options we tried were not suitable for small payments on an individual lessons basis.

Unfortunately, freelance teachers can only suggest the best payment method and some students might be keen to use what they are accustomed to. Suggesting payment for a set of 10 lessons or so would be a good idea if the student wants to use Go Remit or a traditional Japanese bank.

If you have come across a better deal than those mentioned above, please let us know in the comments!

The best payment methods for teaching online to students in Japan 18 is a Student and Teacher networking site which connects learners of English in Japan with teachers all around the world.