So How Does One Support Oneself Abroad? Pt 3 – Cambly

In this post I’ll get into what the actual work is like with Cambly, including some suggestions for getting good ratings and for keeping the conversation going with learners.

Before I get into that though, I wanted to go over just one more tip that I think is really important.

If you’re thinking about using this as a way to support yourself abroad, try it out first!!! Plans are great but they need to be proven before you can be sure they’ll work. I’ll give you an example.

We have two laptops. One that I use for my programming job and the other as a backup/other stuff computer. Cambly works great on my programming laptop but I cannot get it to work properly with my other laptop. Cambly only uses Google’s web browser, Chrome, and for whatever reason, my built in webcam does not work in any browser other than Microsoft’s Edge.

So we had this wonderful plan of being able to use both laptops if needed that we have not been able to execute due to technical issues. I’ve reinstalled windows, wiped and reinstalled drivers, played with a mess of settings and… nothing. One thing I haven’t tried is using an external webcam, but I would have to go out and buy one, which I’d rather not do unless I’m 95% sure that it will work.

So yesterday I was supposed to do 3 Priority Hours but I had to cancel last minute because my wife was using one laptop and I couldn’t get the other to work. Priority Hours (called PHs for short) are supposed to be canceled 24 hours in advance, if you cancel short notice then Cambly can reduce the amount of PHs you have access to. This was my first time cancelling though, after having a very good record of being on time, so Cambly sent me a message saying that I won’t be affected this time. Either way it’s not something you want to have happen regularly.

When we were in Canada my wife signed up for Cambly and did a few hours on it just as a proof of concept. This is a good opportunity to make sure your system is working, that you’ve got PayPal set up correctly, and that you actually feel comfortable doing it.  I  highly recommend that you do this well before you move to another country. That way if something goes wrong you can either fix it before you’re in a foreign country with a foreign language and a foreign way of doing things, or you can do a Plan B maneuver.

So there’s my long winded exhaustive tip. I hope you enjoyed it.

Alright, so back to teaching on Cambly.

Personally I consider it to be the easiest money that I have ever made. Definitely not high paying and lucrative, but easy. About 80% of learners just want to practice English, so you are literally being paid to just sit there and have a conversation with them and offer a few corrections or suggestions.

On the other hand, I could see how this isn’t a job for everyone. How much you like it will depend a lot on your personality. This job is a bit harder for introverts. You have to enjoy conversation and be able to keep that conversation moving. Actually I think that’s probably the single most important skill for working at Cambly: knowing how to handle lulls in conversation.

Writing out a list of topics and questions and having them beside you while you’re tutoring is a great way to make sure that your mind doesn’t go blank if things go quiet, especially if you’re new to this type of work. I would also recommend that you discreetly put a little mark beside questions you’ve already asked during the conversation to make sure that you don’t suffer from brokenrecorditis. I’m serious about that. After doing a few hours on Cambly your brain can turn slightly mushy and it can be difficult to determine what you’ve talked about to the person you’re presently speaking to and what you said to the person you were talking to 15 minutes earlier.

I’ve also found that your introduction can do a lot to help get the conversation going. Your introduction is a way to encourage questions from the learner. Here’s a typical dialogue that I have with new students that are at an intermediate to advanced English level:

Me: “Hello! (wave and smile) My name is Jonathan, what’s your name?”

Learner: “My name is _______”

Me: “How are you?”

Learner:  “I am good. How are you?”

Me: “I’m great! (smile, nod, thumbs up, whatever you prefer. This is a good way to get them to smile a bit and break some ice) Where are you from?”

Learner: “I am from _____. And you?”

Me: “I’m originally from Canada, but now I live in Ecuador, in South America, with my family.”

Learner: “Why do you live in Ecuador?”

Me: “That’s a great question! (Smile, nod, etc) I moved for two reasons. The first is that I get to spend more time with my family. The second reason is that I volunteer my time to teach the Bible here.”

From here the conversation can go a million different directions. But I’d like to focus on a few aspects of this introduction that makes the subsequent conversation easier.

First, it’s extremely important to smile and to be as encouraging as possible. You’ll come across people that are at various levels in English, but they’re all here because they’re not comfortable with the language. Do everything you can to make them comfortable. Unless they’re at an advanced level, I speak slower and enunciate a bit more than I do in normal conversation. However I don’t speak like a caveman to them. I always use proper sentences. The last thing I want is for them to feel like they understand me, and then speak in English to someone in the real world and feel embarrassed and discouraged because they don’t understand as much they thought they did. If they have a hard time understanding a question, I use the chat window to write it out for them, as well as type out any definitions, help with pronunciation, etc. The learner can access a recording of the session as well as everything in the chat box afterwards so they can review and practice, so make use of that chat box!

I also use contractions, idioms,  connected speech (linking, disappearing, changing, and extra sounds that naturally occur in phrases for the sake of fluency) – everything that makes conversation natural. I use less for beginners and more for advanced learners. Remember that most people are signed up so that they can learn to carry a conversation in English. Often after I use an idiom or expression I’ll ask the learner if they heard that one before. If not, I’ll explain it verbally and type the expression and definition in the chat window so they can remember it. If they did I’ll just offer some word of commendation so they feel good about it.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to get a decent rating:

  • Be positive and smile. Speaking an unfamiliar language is uncomfortable. Your demeanor can have a huge effect on how motivated they are to continue practicing with you.
  • Be patient. Give them time to formulate their sentences. Suggest words if they get stuck on vocabulary, or ask questions if they get confused with grammar, but give them a chance to figure it out. One of my regular learners usually sits quietly and thinks for about 5-10 seconds before he’s worked out the sentence in his head. That’s fine. Fluency comes with practice and that is the whole reason you have a job.
  • Write notes about your learner. There’s a specific area for these that you can access during the chat. When you get to speak to the same person a few days later and ask how their 2-year old’s doctor’s visit went, they pick up on that personal interest you’re showing them and are more likely to give you a higher rating as well as request you again.
  • Correct them based on what they can handle. You don’t have to correct every single mistake but corrections should be regular. Cambly recommends one correction every five minutes, but personally I like to try to read the person to see how well they take corrections. I observe their body language and tone of voice when I correct them. 90% of people put “correct after every mistake” in their profile, but not everyone means it. Take your own notes on them to help you with subsequent session. I’ll write another post on how I correct people without making them feel embarrassed. One quick tip on this though is that when I offer corrections, I make sure I’m smiling in a friendly way. Be careful with this though – you don’t want them to feel like you’re laughing at them. Usually when I smile I’ll nod and raise my eyebrows, sometimes even lean forward, to convey the body language that I’m trying to encourage them, not make fun of them.

So there we have it, I hope this gives a bit of a feel for what the job is typically like. As I said, I find this job really easy. To be honest, when I saw my wife doing it, I thought I would absolutely hate it. But now after doing it for a few weeks I actually find myself enjoying it. I think that anyone thinking of living abroad should seriously consider signing up for companies like Cambly if for no other reason than to have a decent plan B.

2 Replies to “So How Does One Support Oneself Abroad? Pt 3 – Cambly”

  1. Very good information. The suggestion regarding ‘test driving’ the program in your home country seems to be a great one.

    I also emailed you a few questions a few days ago. Hope you received them if not I will resend. Thank you for your insights.

    1. Thanks Teresa! I actually just finished my long winded response to your email 🙂 I was kinda considering just writing the answers into a new post… I might reuse some of that info though, I think that others might be able to make use of those answers too!

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