Whales English Review Summary

Whale English offers good (if diminishing) rates of pay, bonuses, and long-term contracts for most Native Speakers, however, their hiring requirements are somewhat exclusionary and some work is unpaid (e.g. feedback and grading). Read this in-depth, impartial Whales English review to find out whether they’re a good online teaching fit for you.

Pay (per hour):$18-27
Native / Non-Native Speakers accepted?Native (non-South African)
TEFL / TESOL / CELTA required?Yes
Degree / diploma required?Yes
Adult / child students?Children
Class size:2-6
Minimum hours (per week):8

Whales English Pros and Cons


  • Relatively attractive salary and some bonus schemes
  • Slightly higher pay for those willing to teach larger groups (1v6)
  • 12-month contract
  • Long-term student relationships
  • Responsive support staff


  • Non-Native Speakers (and South Africans) are not accepted
  • You need both a degree and a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA qualification to apply
  • Accusations of racially-prejudiced hiring practices
  • Wide-ranging cuts to pay and bonuses is a worrying trend
  • Bookings made by parents, making it difficult for unestablished teachers
  • Unpaid time grading homework and writing feedback
  • Stiff penalties for attendance issues and late feedback
  • Spelling and grammatical errors in teaching materials

Is Whales English Legit?

Whales English is a legitimate online ESL company founded in 2013. It was originally called Sprout and started by a group of Chinese parents as a non-profit organization to teach a US curriculum to China’s students. Its legitimacy is underlined by partnerships with prestigious international brands such as Cambridge English, Oxford University Press, and National Geographic.

Whales English Pay / Salary

The standard Whales English pay is US$18-$26 for every 50-minutes of regular teaching, though trial classes will earn the lower rate of $18. This is towards the upper end of online ESL salaries, though be aware that Whales English has a track record of cutting their rates as, prior to 2020, the regular pay used to be $2 higher. Some peak weekend slots offer an extra $2 (5-7pm) or $5 (7-9pm) on top of this base pay (the latter amount has also been reduced from $12). You can earn a higher rate of $19-27 if you agree to teach groups of 6 students instead of 2 (on Whales English’s 1v6 program).

Note that while you are paid for every 50 minutes of teaching, on top of this you must write-up student feedback in the 10 minutes between classes (and grade homework), and this is time you will not be compensated for.

All payments are made in US dollars, and you will be paid on the 15th of each month via Payoneer or wire transfer.

A pay rise evaluation will be conducted every 12 months (at the end of your contract). Your overall performance review and the number of opened time slots will be taken into consideration when evaluating whether you are eligible for a pay rise.

Whales English offers some compensation for student no-shows (20-50% of the class pay rate, though this has been reduced from 100%). Student no-shows cannot be counted towards the Full Attendance Bonus scheme (see section below).

Beware that Whales English does impose stiff penalties for any lateness/non-attendance issues by teachers and if late student feedback has been provided. In extreme cases this can amount to 3 hours pay.


At one point, Whales English offered a number of attractive bonus schemes, however, they have been rationalizing these over the last year. As already mentioned, the student no-show rate and weekend peak hours bonus have been sizeably reduced. The completed class bonus has been axed altogether, while the Full Attendance Bonus of $150 has been made tougher to attain (you must now deliver over 64 classes in a month, with no vacation, emergency leave, cancelations, IT problems, late starts or finishes. The system can also be buggy and not record these accurately, costing you your bonus).

Whales English teachers still receive a one-off enrollment bonus of $5 extra for every trial class student they convert into becoming a regular class student. The conversion rate of trial class students becoming regular ones is around 1 in 5 (or 20%).

Whales English maintains a referral incentive, for which you will receive a bonus of US$100 (for each of your first 1-3 successful referrals), $120 (for 4-8 successful referrals), and $150 (for each subsequent successful referral).

Whales English Requirements

Native/Non-Native Speakers

Whales English only accepts Native speakers from the USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Somewhat controversially, Whales English omit South Africans from this list, and so if you hail from South Africa you will have to consider another company unfortunately.

Whales English has also been accused of racially-prejudiced hiring practices from non-White Native Speakers who were rejected (we’ve seen this type of claim elsewhere in the ESL industry).

As long as you are one of their approved nationalities, Whales English imposes no residency restrictions as to where in the world you can live and teach from.

Qualifications and Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 120-hour TESOL/TEFL/CELTA certificate
  • Minimum of 1 year experience teaching children (online or in a classroom)

Tech Requirements

  • Minimum of 20Mbps wired internet connection (you can test your internet speed here)
  • Windows 7, 8 or 10 / Mac OS 10.X or higher operating system
  • Intel Core i3 processor or above
  • A minimum of 4GB RAM
  • External or built-in camera (HD preferred)
  • A headset with microphone (noise-canceling preferred)

Contractual obligation

To work for Whales English you must commit to a 12-month contract, and you will be penalized should you break it. However, Whales English has removed their non-compete clause and you will now be free to do additional teaching with other schools during that time, should you wish.

Whales English Hours

Most Whales English teachers will be delivering their 1v2 program (1 teacher for 2 students). For this, you must open at least 8 peak hours slots every week, including 4 on the weekend. Peak hours are considered to be between 7pm and 9pm (Beijing Time) every day (Monday to Sunday), plus 9am-12midday on Saturday and Sunday. Other than that, you can decide upon your own timetable. The main off-peak hours are between 4pm and 7pm each day.

You may also apply for Whales English’s 1v6 program, for which there is no minimum hours requirement, though you will have to teach up to 6 students for 50 minutes at a time (including a 10 minute break). The peak hours for this are also different, being 6.30pm-8.30pm on weekdays and 5.30pm-8.30pm at weekends.

Once you have opened your available time slots, most classes are booked by the parents, though some classes (such as 1v6) may be assigned directly by Whales English’s schedulers.

There are allowances for ‘limited time-off’ (holiday or emergency leave) over the course of a 12-month contract. Adequate notice is essential for any class cancelations as otherwise you can receive a harsh penalty of up to 3 times your standard pay!

Whales English Application Process

There are 4 main steps in applying to Whales English:

  1. Sign up for an account and complete a short application form, including your personal details, education and teaching experience.
  2. Book and attend a Mock Class Interview to showcase your unique teaching skills
  3. Conduct a background check and prove your qualifications
  4. Sign your service agreement and become a Whales teacher

The Whales English Hiring Team will email you their response within 48 hours of receiving your application, so make sure to check your spam folders.

Whales English Interview

Should your initial application be accepted, you will be invited to a live interview and mock class conducted via Zoom, unless you are applying for Whales English’s 1v6 program, in which case it will be on ClassIn. The Q&A part of the interview can last up to 30 minutes, with another 10 minutes to conduct the demo lesson.

Here are some interview questions that teachers have been asked by Whales English (make sure you prepare answers in case they come up again for you):

  • Tell us your previous work history, including any ESL or teaching experience or certification.  
  • Describe your teaching experience.
  • What is your ESL experience?
  • Do you have a an ESL certificate?
  • What is your highest qualification?
  • What is your nationality?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • What would you do if a student is distracted?
  • How would you deal with a class with two students, one student talks a lot and the other student does not speak much at all?
  • Are you prepared to teach another subject (e.g. History or Social Sciences) too?
  • A grammar question, e.g. you might be asked about the tense for different sentences.

Of those who reported on Glassdoor, 60% had a positive interview experience with Whales English, while 33% had a negative interview. The average interview difficulty was felt to be 2.8 (out of 5).

How to Pass the Whales English Mock Class

Immediately after your interview, and in the same session, you will have to demonstrate your teaching abilities by giving a short (10-minute) demo lesson. You will use lesson materials (including PowerPoint slides) given to you ahead of time.

Your ‘student’ will be an adult acting like a child (so may challenge you by giving one-word responses). Whales English, especially, want to see that you can keep younger students engaged, so be energetic and smile a lot!

For your demo lesson, you need to:

  1. State your learning goal (i.e. ‘Students will be able to…’)
  2. Elaborate on the procedures and required strategies you have designed to teach the lesson (e.g., TPR)
  3. Introduce extra skills/supplemental materials
  4. Present your lesson (model for lower-level students)

Top tip: Use physical prompts and elicit information from the student often, e.g. ask “What do you see in this picture?”

Whales English provides candidates with access to a webinar to help them prepare for the mock class. Here is some official advice on what they expect in your demo lesson:

Whales English Background Check

Once you have passed your Interview and Mock Class, Whales English will conduct a Background Check on you through Sterling, who will examine your Identity, Education and Criminal Record. Whales English commit to safeguarding the privacy of any personal information they receive from this.

Once your background check has been cleared, a service agreement will be sent to you to sign. Then you can start onboarding:

Whales English Classes

A typical Whales English class size will be 2 students, unless you’re delivering their 1v6 program, in which case you will have up to 6 students per group (this used to be 1v10). Whales English students are Chinese and between the ages of 3 and 18 years old. They are schooled in either the Oxford Reading Tree (ORT) or National Geographic’s Reach Higher curriculum.

You will teach a combination of trial classes and regular classes, lasting either 50-minutes or 25-minutes depending on the level. Trial classes are diagnostic classes for prospective students to try out both the course and you, the teacher. You will be expected to try and convert trial students into regular students by conducting high-quality trial classes (and you are offered a $5 incentive to do so). Regular classes consist of several months of lessons (25-30 weeks), with teachers expected to form long-term bonds with their students by meeting them at least once a week over that period.

Teaching materials are provided, which you are expected to familiarize yourself with ahead of time, though they often contain spelling and grammatical errors. Whales English encourages the use of supplementary resources and props.

You are not expected to communicate in Chinese or any language other than English. Whales English classes are intended to be full-immersion English lessons, and you will be assigned a Teacher Consultant (TC) to help liaise with the parents (TCs are, by most accounts, supportive and responsive).

Whales English Teacher Reviews

Whales English receive an average rating of 3.4 out of 5 from their teachers on Glassdoor, with 50% willing to recommend the company to a friend.

Here is the most positive recent Whales English teacher review:

And for balance, this is the most negative recent Whales English teacher review:

Conclusion: Is Whales English Worth It?

The fact that Whales English offer very reasonable rates of pay for online ESL teaching, plus some incentives (for the time being), makes them worth considering so long as you meet their strict qualification and nationality requirements. They are also a good option if you like to develop longer-term relationships with regular students, though the company’s habit of cutting pay and bonuses makes it difficult to commit to them too far into the future. If you are unwilling to do unpaid written feedback and grading, or would prefer teaching older learners, then these are other reasons why Whales English may not be the best fit for everyone.

You can apply to Whales English here.


A full list of other online teaching companies can be found here.

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Dr Daniel Spence

Daniel Spence is the founder of Online Teaching Review. He has been an international teacher since 2008, an award-winning academic, author of two books, and holds a PhD, MA, BA (Hons), and TESOL.

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