The best free video chat apps for teaching English online

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.

Pros

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

Cons

  • 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.

Pros

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

Cons

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

FaceTime

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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.

Pros

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

Cons

  • 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.

Pros

  • Screen share feature
  • Free!

Cons

  • 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!

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