What is the future of TEFL?


The impact of Covid-19.

It cannot be denied that Covid-19 has hit the in-person ESL industry dramatically. These are the language schools where people travel to take English classes. For the UK, USA and Australia these have been massive industries. For example, thousands of European students travelled from the continent to take English classes in the UK every summer. In fact, just in the UK, the industry has lost £590m in total income with student numbers drastically reduced by 79% since 2019. While Covid-19 is still with us, only 29 % of institutions predict that they will only have 40 per cent of their previous student numbers taking in-person classes. This seems grim.

How much was the industry worth before Covid-19?

According to this report by English UK, the ESL industry brought in £1.4bn per year for Britain. Overall, the global ESL industry is worth $54.92 billion, and it is estimated that it will be worth $97 billion by 2027.

A change towards online learning

However, all has not been lost during Covid-19. Worldwide, there has been a remarkable shift from classroom-based lessons to online ESL classes. Globally, the market for all education technology was worth USD 89.49 billion in 2020 and is predicted to grow 19.9% from 2021 to 2028. ESL companies that teach via applications and platforms have done a lot to attract new students through offering cheaper or even free online classes. Stocks associated with online teaching have been seen to rise in value. Universities have shifted their EAP (English for Academic Purposes) classes online to cope with travel restrictions. 

Similarly, governments themselves have invested heavily in online education, seeing it as the future. Digital English learning products are projected to grow by six per cent year on year. Moreover, the Financial Times has reported that online education has upward of 200m users and $36.5bn in sales in 2018 according to a Chinese government agency.  Furthermore, online learning in China could have a value of 500 billion Yuan by 2022. That is 78 billion USD!

Take just one app, Duolingo. It had 300 million users as of 3 January 2021 and by 6 May 2021, this had grown to 500 million registered users. This is truly a phenomenal upward trend.

From these figures, it's clear that the online teaching industry has experienced rapid growth. There are many advantages for teachers who teach exclusively online such as:

  • flexible timetables
  • the ability to spend more time with family and friends
  • less time spent preparing or marking - many online platforms, especially those that target young children will provide the content of the lessons.
  • the ability to teach students from all over the world without having to travel to these countries

Will we all teach online even when Covid-19 has become a distant memory? 

This is unlikely. According to research carried out by the British Council in Europe, there are some encouraging trends that point to the fact that there will still be a lot of scope for classroom-based ESL lessons, but a blended approach will become preferable. The British Council's research has concluded that while there are many apps and online platforms available, they do not see them as a total replacement for classes with a real human. Learners are now demanding a mix of online and offline study. The study had some interesting findings.

They predict that there will be a slight increase in the number of older ESL learners. 

Increasingly students will be looking for courses which will top up what they have learnt at school. This demand is mostly driven by parents of young learners or from adults needing English to enhance job prospects or seeking ESP – English for Specific Purposes. There has been quite an increase in growth for “short, sharp courses”, very targeted in their content.

They didn't conclude that online learning would completely replace face-to-face instruction, but that it would be used as an enhancement tool for in-person lessons.

However, they found that consumers are demanding lessons that are flexible, tailored specifically to them, very specific in their purpose and timesaving. As a result, traditional modes of English learning for adults, such as night schools or weekend schools are seen as quite restrictive and lacking in flexibility, and their popularity is declining. 

So why is English still so popular in Europe and around the world?

The British Council research has indicated that most Europeans will choose to use English as their second language in 2025. English has become more and more important for hire ability. Speakers of other languages also see English as being a simpler language to learn when compared to many others and prefer it due to its dominant position in film, TV, music and the Internet.

There's no denying that English is the major language of international business and other spheres such as academia, diplomatic transactions, and international education. Demand for English will continue to grow towards the year 2025 despite the rise of significant emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia and China. Indeed, China itself is a massive ESL market. China alone will experience significant growth in ESL demand of 21.9 per cent until 2022. With China being such a massive market, one might think that there'd be a rush to learn Mandarin instead of English. However, the study concluded that Europeans consider Mandarin to be difficult; therefore, they and the Chinese will continue to use English as the language of business.

In terms of which business sectors most require English knowledge, government departments and those in the real estate market require the most improvement. However, most employers, across all sectors, believe that their staff does need to improve their English abilities. English is especially important for those in the tourism industry. 

Good news for non-native speakers teaching English.

The British Council study found out that there has also been a shift in the perception of non-native teachers, at least in Europe. While native English speakers were previously seen as far more desirable, some areas now view English teachers from their own countries as having a better understanding of the difficulties involved whilst studying English and possibly being more relatable. Not to worry native speakers, there's still a large demand for you as well.


From these developments, it can be confidently said that the TEFL industry will continue to go from strength to strength in the future, despite some temporary setbacks for in-person ESL lessons. Furthermore, although online learning has taken over during the Covid-19 pandemic, it will most likely come to supplement learning done in class and won’t serve as a complete replacement in the future.

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