Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Would you like to set up a website for your language teaching, but don’t know where to start? Maybe you have never even been near designing a website, or perhaps you already have a website but have never really considered the design in depth? Or it is hopelessly out of date and you don’t know what you could do to improve it?
In this blog post, I will discuss the essential elements that every language teaching website needs and why. I will also discuss some nearly essential elements, and some other options that you might find interesting.
There is a free download of a check list that you can use when you design/redesign your website for your language teaching, to make sure you include all the essentials.
Ok, let’s get started.
Essential Element 1 – Home page
Well, this might sound very obvious. Of course every website needs a homepage. But have you really considered how important this particular page is? A lot of people only spend a couple of seconds on a homepage before they browse away from it. They only have a matter of seconds, literally, to make up their mind about you and what you do. If you peak their interest, they might stay a little longer and start to realise just how awesome and clever you are. But first impressions matter. They matter so much.
So what should be on your homepage? Surely your CV, your experiences and things like that? How long you have been teaching for? What you offer? Right?
I’d like to start from a different angle. You might be familiar with Simon Sinek’s TED-talk ‘Start with Why’. If not, watch it immediately and then come back to this blog post (it will only take 5 minutes, I’ll still be here, I’ll just put the kettle on in the meantime).
The thing is this. Unless you teach a super mini tiny language that no one else teaches (perhaps Indonesian Liki or Ethiopian Ongota), the chances are that there are other language teachers that teach the same thing. In other words, you will most likely have competitors. Which means you need to try and stand out. Just listing the number of hours you have taught, or the fact that you may have a teaching degree, will just look dull.
You need to find another, unique way to stand out. But how on earth can you do that? Especially if you teach a very large language? Well, my friend, welcome to the world of niching. You need to try and find your niche. The best, and easiest way to do this is to have a close look at yourself, and discover your “culture add”. Yes, it may sound jargon and buzzword-like, but it is actually quite logical.
Ask yourself this: Who am I? (and before you panic and develop a full-blown existential crisis, bare with me!)
I am a Swedish teacher. But I actually don’t have a background in language teaching. I sort of fell into it. I was studying for a PhD in music psychology when I started teaching Swedish, and I had been studying musicology previously. I was all about music, and a little bit about psychology. In the beginning when I started teaching, I felt really embarrassed about this. Not that I was doing a PhD, because that is pretty cool, but that I was teaching languages and I had no qualification in language teaching. I felt like I was faking it. But I have always been interested in languages and I had a very high grade in Swedish and English from school, so I quickly picked up how to teach grammar, etc. But I still felt I shouldn’t speak about the fact that I was really doing a PhD in something unrelated.
After a few years I did mention it to a few students, and started talking about how music and psychology actually have many links to learning a language. And being into music, I had also always loved dialects, because of the musical elements to it. I am also desperately interested in and passionate about integration, and I see languages as such a powerful tool to integrate. This is me. I am a language teacher with a particular passion for the musical and the psychological sides of languages, along with integration and identity. This is my niche, my culture add. That is something that makes me stand out.
It took a long time before I was brave enough to start promoting myself as such, but when I finally did, I was contacted by many students who said they had chosen me specifically because of my background. Maybe they too were interested in music. Or psychology. Or dialects. Or they liked my take on languages as something bigger than just verb tables and the grammar drills (although I love them too). Not all my students are, but it is something that makes me slightly more unique, just because of who I am. And I can use that.
So ask yourself, what is your Culture Add? Consider the following elements, to try and formulate your Culture Add:
· Your cultural advantage
· Your circumstances
· Your identity
· Where you have been and why
· What you have achieved and how
· Who you have helped along the way
· Who and what you have taken a stand for
This is what your homepage should clearly communicate. People buy with their hearts, not with their minds. We later use our minds to try and rationalise our hearts’ decisions. And to get to that, don’t start with what, or how. Start with why.
Another super important element for your home/first page is a sign up option to your email list. I have to admit, for a long time I ignored this. I didn’t really understand what it was all about. I think at some point I did have a subscribe button on my website, and I think some people subscribed, but I had no idea what to do with it all. I don’t think I even knew where to find the email addresses that had subscribed!
I have since started to realise how immensely important it is to engage in building an email list. Why? Here are 3 compelling reasons:
1. You don’t own social media, don’t build your house on someone else’s land.
If you have some followers on Facebook or Instagram, great. But what if something changes on these platforms? They can change the algorithms and all of a sudden your followers might not see what you post. So if you don’t want to be vulnerable, or get killed (metaphorically speaking) when they decide to make a change, you must build your own email list.
2. It is the easiest way to market. Emails are easier to write than to design social media posts, and they tend to be more effective. It’s a great way to reach people who have already expressed an interest by opting in and provide them with useful things to show them what you can do. Some of them will be your future students.
3. Email is apparently the most effective marketing channel. But don’t take my word for it.
These 2 elements are the most important ones for a homepage. Something that communicates your Culture Add, and a way for people to subscribe to your email list. The rest is optional.
Essential Element 2 - About
This is the place where you can talk about your background, your experience, how many hours you have taught, any education details that are relevant, and so on. Things that students like to read are “qualified” and “native”, but if you are not – don’t worry. Just talk about what you have done and what you can help with. A still picture is also nice to have here.
A very nice thing to also include on this page is a short video of you, talking about yourself and what you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be a long video, 1 minute is totally fine. But it is a great way to show what you are like “in person”, so that people can get a sense of you and feel like they are connecting with you. If you have a smart phone, that will most likely be enough to shoot a video on. You do not have to buy any extra equipment for this. If you don’t have a smart phone, just ask someone you know if you can borrow his or her phone.
Here are some basic things to think about when you record:
· Lighting: natural light is great, so if you can sit or stand in a room with natural light, like for example in front of a window in daytime, that will be fine
· Background: make sure the background is somewhat clutter free. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but piles of clothes or dirty dishes does not look great. If you want to create a simple backdrop, you can just hang up a white or lightly coloured, single colour sheet or duvet over a door and stand in front of that. I recorded a whole vowel pronunciation series with a cream coloured duvet as a background, you can have a look here.
· Don’t worry too much about your hair etc, you will be surprised how much people appreciate authenticity! However, it’s good to look somewhat clean. You get what I mean.
If you want to edit your video, there are loads of ways to do this. I have a Macbook and I just use the free iMovie that comes with the Mac. But there are also phone apps that you can download and edit your video with. Just google “best video editing apps for mobile” and you can check some of them out.
Essential Element 3 – Booking
Unless you really want to schedule manually in your diary (and love spending unpaid time emailing back and forth with your students when they need to cancel or reschedule), I would strongly recommend investing in a booking system. And you should have a separate webpage for this, so you can easily link to it.
Why you should have a booking system:
· To allow your students to browse your availability and choose the times that they want, and also to cancel and reschedule without having to bother you about it.
· To cut down on emailing time between you and your students. Emailing makes us feel as if we are working, but you have to remember that this is unpaid work.
· To allow you to plan your time better, as you can block future dates when you don’t want to teach, or hours that you cannot teach
· To allow you to take payments in advance and have a system that takes care of your cancellation policy automatically.
I have tried a few different booking systems throughout my teaching journey, and I am currently with Acuity Scheduling, since Feb 2018. I love them. Here are the reasons for why I love them:
· It is so easy to use. Honestly.
· They allow for you to block out time between appointments (so you could for example offer 50 min lessons – 10:00-10:50 – so you can have a toilet/tea break in between)
· They offer packages. This was one of the major reasons for why I switched from my previous booking system to them. I sell a lot of packages of 10 lessons (for a discounted price), and it is really easy to do this.
· They allow for Intake Forms, so you can ask your students some questions when they book their first lesson (for ex what level they are on, what their Skype ID is, and other relevant things).
· Their system for sending out automatic email reminders before lessons is great.
· Their time zone feature is great too, so your students can book in their own time zone but it will show the times in your time zone for you.
· Their email and online support is just fabulous, friendly and fun.
If you use this link to sign up with them, I get a commission payment if you buy, at no extra cost to you. You may already know, I'm only an affiliate for a very small number of products I 100% believe in and use myself.
Essential Element 4 – Contact
Have a separate page with an option to contact you. You can of course just put your email out here, but be aware it might mean you get some spam emails too. A better option is to include some kind of contact form, where people can fill in their details and you’ll get an email with the details of the form.
However, if you do opt for the 2-step email sequence, then you should put out the first email address here. If you do this, you don’t have to worry about spam emails, as you won’t be checking that first email account anyway.
Essential Element 5 – FAQ
It’s worth spending a bit of time on writing a really good FAQ section. Some prospective students might read it, and a lot of people will not. But you can still link to it from other pages on your website, and also in your auto-reply emails.
The FAQ should obviously contain frequently asked questions, and if you have had enquiries before you probably know what these questions tend to be, but here are some common ones from my own experience:
· How can I book lessons with you?
· What days and hours do you teach?
· How long does it take to learn [the language you are teaching]?
· How often should I have lessons?
· What materials (if any) should I get?
Think about if there are any other questions people tend to ask, or if there are any particular aspects that you would like to highlight, and note them down. Put them on the FAQ page with the question as a title and the answer underneath each question. You can also use links here, to other pages on your website. For example, if you talk about your booking system, insert a link to it. Try and also include a link to your email list, to encourage them to subscribe. It can be nice to use videos here too, in addition to the written text. Some people like reading, other like watching, so it’s good to try and cater for as many different learning styles as possible.
If you want to make a video out of a text (rather than you as a talking head), check out Lumen5. It’s a great free website where you can enter text and it will automatically create a video from it. It will insert pictures from its database that it thinks would suit, based on the text. You can of course change them to another picture or short moving image from their database, or upload your own. You can also select music to play on top. I did this with a few of my Frequently Asked Questions, click here to have a look.
Lumen5 is free to use, but their free version has slightly lower resolution (i.e. not HD) and it will also say at the end that the video was created by Lumen5. But to be honest, I don’t think it matters too much. Especially if you are just starting out, it’s better to create a video than splashing out too much money. See what you think, but I think it’s definitely good enough as a start.
That’s it, these are all your essential elements for your teaching website. If you do only this, and if you market it in a clever way, this will work wonders!
There are a few other things that you might want to consider, so let’s look at some Nearly Essential Elements.
Nearly Essential Element 1 – Blog
To blog or not to blog, that is the question.
· You can show off your skills (you can for example blog about pronunciation, certain aspects of grammar that your students find difficult, etc)
· You can give prospective students a sense of how you communicate before they take the plunge and buy lessons from you
· You will assert yourself as an expert
· You create something that people can share
· You can also create content upgrades to encourage people to sing up to your email list (more on content upgrades below)
· It will make your website look alive, rather than static
· It's good for Google searches
· You can connect the publishing of blog posts to other social media platforms (so it automatically publishes on facebook for example) and you can set up in Mailchimp that it emails your email list when you have published a new blog post. There are lots of nifty automations you can do.
· You can also reuse this content in many ways. You can create a video with Lumen5, you can tweet smaller aspects of the blog post, you can record yourself reading it and create a podcast or a downloadable audio track.
· It does take time
· It takes a little bit of planning
· It’s important to blog consistently (as the website can look abandoned otherwise). You don’t have to blog every week, you could do once a month if you want, but consistency is quite important.
Look, you don’t have to blog. There are lots of other alternatives, if you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of blogging: podcasts, guest blogging on other people’s blogs (to get yourself in front of someone else’s audience), using a newsletter to your email list as a way to communicate, doing facebook live sessions, etc.
Also, it’s actually better to write fewer and longer posts, than shorter posts more often. Basically, try and provide as much value as you can. It’s better to have 4 or 5 killer blog posts, rather than posting mediocre posts regularly. If you write longer blog posts that people find super useful, it’s more likely that they will share it as well.
So what is a content upgrade? It’s something that people can download at the end of the blog post, in exchange for signing up for your email list. This could for example be cheat sheets, check lists and printable worksheets. If you want to learn how to create content upgrades and how to set it up, join my free email course on this very topic.
Most people can feel pressured about blogging. We are all busy and it can feel overwhelming to try and think of new things to blog about. If you want a free list with over 20 ideas for language blog posts that can make over 40 blog posts, you can download one here.
Nearly essential element 2 - Videos
This might make you feel uncomfortable, but videos (especially of yourself) are a great way to help prospective students connect with you. They will feel like they are getting to know you. It does not have to be perfect at all. In fact, I think we are in an age now when we really appreciate a sense of authenticity. Too strict, too arranged and too scripted will feel dull and boring. So it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect, instead it will feel more human.
In terms of social media, videos attract more views than text-based posts and it is predicted that videos will become the majority mode that we consume content online (although it's still worth having a blog, as texts are what google search works best with). So it’s really worth considering this, and getting used to recording videos now.
Nearly essential element 3 – Links to resources
Another thing that can be good to include on a website is a page with links to resources. You communicate that you are here to help and that you are generous, and you will also affirm your role as an expert. This means students (current and future) will be more likely to turn to you for advice and help in the future. Things you could include are:
· Links to national newspapers
· Links to tv stations (and particular programmes if available)
· Links to radio stations (and particular programmes if available)
· Links to online dictionaries
· Links to resources for how to get a visa/move to the country
· Links to universities and job sites
· Links to free exercises online (perhaps your own Quizlet sets, or something similar)
· Links to music artists that sing in the language
If you do have some social media channels (facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest), you might want to consider embedding the feeds onto your website. This way, you can show that you are active in other channels. You may not blog regularly, but if you post on Instagram or Twitter more regularly, this feed will make your website still look alive and active. I would recommend embedding this on the homepage/first page, so that new visitors see it immediately.
Now you will hopefully have a better idea of the essential elements for your website.