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The Internet has opened up many new and exciting ways to learn English. One of these ways is to have your own private tutor.
Did you know that you can easily find a tutor from countries like the United States, England, Canada or Australia? It may even be a lot cheaper than you think.
In fact, you could be taking a lesson online within 20 minutes of reading this article. Would you like to find out how?
Note: This is one of a series of four articles reviewing online English tutoring websites. If you find this article useful, you may want to read the others: A Review of Preply, A Review of italki, A Review of Verbling.
Want to compare these websites side by side? Here's our review of italki vs. Preply vs. Cambly vs. Verbling: The Battle Of The English Tutoring Websites.
Cambly’s website can be found at www.cambly.com.
Let’s see how easy it is to get started. If you like, you can open the site in your browser and follow along with this article.
If you don’t have an account, the first thing you will see on cambly.com is the welcome page.
You can see that the website looks clean, simple and easy to use.
You can scroll down the home page to find out some basic information about Cambly. However, to find a tutor and browse the site, you need to sign up for an account.
To do this, just click Sign Up in the top right corner of the page. The signing up process takes under a minute.
You will be asked to give an email address and a password. Or, you can sign in with a Facebook, Google or Apple account.
Next, you will be asked whether the account is for you or for your child.
If you choose My child, you will see different features when you log in. For example, the tutors you see will have experience in teaching kids aged 4-15.
Of the sites that we reviewed, Cambly is the only one to have dedicated children’s teachers. If you are a parent, this is a great feature.
If you click Me, you will then answer a few short questions, such as this one:
These questions are to help Cambly suggest suitable tutors for your level and needs. Answer the questions carefully because it will help you a lot later on when you search for a tutor.
You do not need a credit card to sign up and you can browse the site without a subscription. However, you will need to use a credit card later in order to pay for lessons.
First impressions of Cambly
My first impression of Cambly is positive. The information you need is clear and easy to find. You will find it easy to navigate the site and find the information you need.
Once you log in, you are immediately provided with a list of recommended tutors.
Note the green box next to the photo of each teacher above. This green box shows that the tutor is online and ready for a class now.
Note the green box next to the photo of each teacher above. This green box shows that the tutor is online and ready for a class now. This means that you could start a class within a few minutes of logging in (and paying).
If you are the type of person who likes to get going and learn something now, Cambly is a good platform for you.
Further down the page, you will see profiles with red boxes. This means the tutor is busy and, if the tutor is busy soon, there will be a message, such as Busy in 15 minutes.
Browsing through the tutors, I can see that most of them are from native-English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia. There are a few teachers from places where English is widely used, such as the Philippines and South Africa.
Other tutoring sites are proud of the number of tutors available and put the number on the main page. But how many tutors are available on Cambly? This information is missing.
Just by browsing the site, we can easily see that Cambly has hundreds of tutors. But does it have thousands or tens of thousands like some other tutoring websites?
Additionally, other tutoring websites offer you the chance to learn other languages, school subjects like history and mathematics or even computer skills. Cambly simply offers English.
I actually think this is a good thing. It means Cambly are focussing on one thing and should lead to better results.
How much does Cambly cost?
Since Cambly has fixed pricing, let’s see if it is affordable before choosing a tutor. In fact, you need to choose a package before you can contact a tutor to begin a class.
Note that your subscription is NOT limited to only one tutor. You can use your lessons with any tutor you choose.
Click on the red SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page to see the pricing.
Unlike other sites where tutors set their own prices, on Cambly you pay a set fee via subscription.
You can choose 15, 30 or 60 minutes a day and you can choose 2, 3 or five days per week.
While this makes it easy to choose a package, it does seem to limit how flexible you can be with your lessons.
What if I want a 90-minute lesson once a week? I need to use three 30-minute slots.
It is also possible to buy “Anytime Minutes” to add to your current plan. So, you can buy 5 extra minutes to add to a 30-minute slot to get a 35-minute lesson.
So, there is a way to make the system more flexible for you. However, it is overly complicated for a site that promotes “instant lessons”.
Also, how effective can a 15-minute lesson be? If you only have fifteen minutes to practice English, it may be better to listen to a podcast or learn a grammar topic by yourself.
To get an idea of the pricing, two 30-minute lessons per week will cost $85 per month. That’s approximately $20 per hour.
You can reduce this price by paying quarterly (one quarter = three months) or yearly. But will you really continue the lessons for a year? Not many of my own students could commit to this.
How do you pay for a Cambly subscription?
Once you have chosen a plan, click the Select Plan button to pay. on the following screen, you will be asked to enter your credit card details.
Remember that the subscription will automatically renew, so if you decide to not use it any more then you will have to log in to Cambly and cancel it.
Cambly offers large discounts through promotional codes. To find a code, search for Cambly on Facebook and look for a post like the one below. (Note that the code shown in the image may no longer be valid.)
Then, simply enter the code in the box at the bottom of the Subscribe page:
I also found that as soon as I registered my account I received lots of promotional codes via email and saw promo codes on Facebook. I’d definitely recommend searching around for a promo code, or waiting to receive one via email to grab yourself a discount on the normal price.
Does Cambly offer trial lessons?
No, Cambly does not offer trial lessons.
This means you have no chance to test out a tutor before paying for lessons. Other sites offer trial lessons at a discount or even free.
This is a disadvantage for Cambly and it also means you end up paying more, especially if you follow our recommendation and try a few different tutors before deciding.
What if you wish to try a few different tutoring sites? Once you pay for a Cambly subscription, you are “locked in” for a number of lessons. Once again, most other sites do not do this.
However, your subscription is not tied to one tutor. You can try a different tutor each class until you find one that you like.
Choosing an English tutor on Cambly
One good feature is that we can browse tutors before paying a subscription. Let’s do that now and meet some teachers.
Go back to the main page by clicking Tutors on the top left of the screen. Let’s use the search function to find the best tutor:
Let’s click on the first button: Cambly Course. You’ll see twenty choices, including these:
You can choose one or more than one course and Cambly will show you available tutors who teach these courses. (Later in the article, we will see how to book a tutor at a later time and date.)
I notice that most of the courses and topics are for conversational practice. It is clear that Cambly wants to be a site where you can ‘drop in’ and practice conversation.
If you wish to practice grammar or writing, you won’t find a course on this list. This is a disadvantage for more “serious” students or those preparing for tests, such as IELTS.
Keep in mind that you can always have a “free form” lesson if you do not choose any course. In a free form lesson, you and your tutor can decide what topics to cover.
Cambly promotes teachers who are online now. However, when I chose English conversation 101, I found that there were only three tutors available now.
When I chose Workshop: Practicing Presentations, I found only one tutor available and she was starting another class in 15 minutes.
At this point, the main disadvantage of Cambly is clear. Only a limited number of tutors are available and you may not be able to find one for a time and course that suits you.
As a teacher myself, I find this very strange because, with general topics such as Movies and Television, any experienced teacher should be able to teach them. So, why aren’t more tutors available?
It is clear that Cambly is better for casual conversation classes and less useful for guided, structured learning.
Refining your search for a Cambly tutor
The next button is Level. When I click this, I get the option of beginner, intermediate or advanced.
Again, if I select beginner for certain courses, there are no tutors available now.
In fact, limiting the choices to three levels is not helpful to students. You may be unsure whether you are still a beginner or you are intermediate.
Language schools commonly have classes for lower-intermediate and upper-intermediate. If you are upper-intermediate at a language school, does that make you intermediate or advanced on Cambly? It’s confusing.
Here is a fun feature. You can search for tutors with a particular accent:
As you can see, the choices are limited.
Also, don’t think that one accent is easier to understand than another.
If you think all British people speak like the Queen, then you’ve never spoken to someone from Glasgow!
And if you think all North Americans speak like Hollywood stars, then you’ve never spoken to someone from Boston!
This is another fun feature which I have not seen on other sites. You can choose from three personality types (or you could choose all three).
The word gregarious means sociable, by the way. A gregarious person is an extrovert.
What if you do not want a class right now? Click Availability to choose a date and a time.
You should find that if you schedule a class far in advance, there will be many more tutors available. However, there will still be fewer tutors than on other similar sites.
This means that, although Cambly promotes the “available now” feature, the best way to use the site is to schedule classes in advance.
Since Cambly allows you to set the number of classes/hours per week, you should use Cambly to help you learn English by a fixed schedule.
Search for a tutor by name, language or hobby
The search bar, to the right of the filters, provides different ways to search for a tutor.
The main ways to use this feature are:
1. To search by name for a tutor you have used before
2. To enter a second language that you want the tutor to speak
If you speak Spanish, for example, you may make the typical mistakes that a Spanish speaker makes when learning English. A teacher who speaks Spanish may already be familiar with these mistakes.
Simply enter Spanish in the search bar to find these teachers.
But remember, choosing a teacher who shares your mother tongue is more important for beginner and intermediate level learners.
Choosing a teacher from their Cambly profile
The most important thing when choosing a teacher is their profile. This is where you can find out all about their background, qualifications and teaching style. You can even watch a video introduction.
Let’s choose this profile.
From the profile card, we can see that he is available now – you can click CALL to begin a lesson. He’s American. He has good reviews. He has a teaching certificate and has given over 1000 lessons.
From his introduction, we can infer that he is friendly and patient.
To see his full details, either click on his name or the PROFILE button.
The first thing you will see on his profile page is his video introduction:
Watching this introduction is the best way to find out if you are comfortable with him. In particular, can you understand him when he speaks? Does he use advanced vocabulary? Does he seem like a nice guy?
Further down the profile page, you can read about his work experience, qualifications and hobbies.
Remember that Cambly charges the same price for any tutor – it is the only website that we reviewed that does this. So, a good strategy is to always look for the most experienced and qualified tutor.
Also on this page, you can read reviews from previous students and browse the tutor’s schedule:
You can see which courses he teaches:
Again, I notice he only teaches Caring for Our Planet. He has so much teaching experience – why doesn’t he teach other topics?
Of course, you can simply book a lesson with him for casual conversation.
You can also start the lesson directly from the profile page:
Are Cambly teachers all proficient in English?
A common problem on some tutoring sites is that you can find teachers who say they are proficient in English, but are not.
What about Cambly?
The majority of teachers that I found were native speakers. Only a small number were not native speakers and all of them could speak English proficiently.
This is a major advantage of using Cambly.
However, it could be a disadvantage too.
On the one hand, a native speaker is likely to have a better grasp of English and a more natural accent. On the other hand, a non-native speaker has gone through the process of learning the language, just like you.
In addition, some students may prefer a teacher from their own country or region, even if that teacher is not a native speaker.
If you’re interested in learning more about whether you should have a native or non-native English teacher, we’ve written a guide on it.
Are all the tutors professional teachers?
No, many of the tutors are not professional teachers. Always check their profile to see if they have a teaching certificate.
Note that some tutors do not have a teaching certificate, but do have many years of experience in teaching English. Check their full details to find out.
Remember that you will be paying the same price whether they have experience and qualifications or not.
If you are simply looking for conversation practice, you may not need a certified teacher. On the other hand, if you are working towards your IELTS test, for example, you should choose a professional teacher.
The word professional also describes someone who is serious about their work.
While most of the teachers I saw on Cambly seemed “serious”, I did find some with a strange approach, like “Mr Money”:
Mr Money’s profile video mainly shows pictures of him and his wife, him and money or him, his wife and his money.
Is Mr Money a serious teacher? He does have good reviews, but his profile made me wonder about the teachers on Cambly. Many language schools would not hire a teacher like Mr Money.
Some profiles also contained some spelling and grammar mistakes. If a teacher cannot write a profile without spelling mistakes, are they really professional?
Although most teachers on Cambly are professional, you still need to be careful when making your choice.
Making your final choice of tutor
Now that you have all of the information you need, it is time to make a final choice.
A smart plan is to look for a professional teacher with experience and qualifications. Also, look for the Supertutor label on their profile:
This means that they have had very good reviews from their students over a long time. Not many teachers are supertutors, so this is a very strong point.
You can try as many Cambly tutors as you like.
After taking your first lesson and before deciding to continue with a tutor, here are some more questions to consider:
- Was the tutor easy to understand?
- Did the tutor give you enough time to talk?
- Could the tutor explain grammar and vocabulary points clearly?
- Were you happy with the tutor’s answers to any questions that you asked?
- Was the tutor patient, or did they rush through the lesson?
How do the lessons work?
You can log in with any of the main browsers. You could also log in with a phone or tablet.
You begin a lesson by contacting the teacher using the START LESSON button on their profile page.
Cambly’s website allows you to see and speak to your teacher and send text messages. You can share your screen and your teacher can share their screen.
Teaching materials are provided by Cambly for their listed courses (e.g. Caring for Our Planet). But you may also choose a “free form” lesson where you practice conversation. In this case, the teacher may provide their own materials if they wish.
Remember that you are paying for the lesson, so you can choose what exactly to do. You can ask for more speaking practice or you can ask for feedback on your grammar or writing mistakes.
To get a good idea of how a lesson works, you can watch this video of an actual lesson:
There are two great features on Cambly that I want to share.
First, you can have a parent account and register your child as a learner. The teachers that you see will be able to teach kids. To use this feature, when you create an account, choose My child:
Cambly also offers business accounts, so companies can register their employees. For this service, you need to use the following link: https://organizations.cambly.com/
Aside from these two, there are not many special features on Cambly. There is no free content, no blog and no free exercises.
However, this can also be a good thing. Some websites try to add too many features and it becomes difficult to find your way around the site. Cambly is simpler and easier to use.
What is Cambly missing?
There are three things that I would like to see on Cambly.
The first is a community. When using Cambly, I could not see a way to interact and discuss things with other learners.
The second thing is a way to test your level of English. This is helpful to the tutor and could also identify your weak areas. Do you need practice with verb tenses? Are articles your weak area? You may not realise your weak areas and it will take time for your tutor to identify them.
The third thing is free exercises or support materials. Teachers could assign these as homework following your class. For example, if you ask about idioms, the tutor could direct you to an activity where you could learn some new idioms.
The bottom line
Cambly is simple and easy to use. The tutors are proficient in English and many of them are professional teachers with years of experience.
Unfortunately, some of Cambly’s “good points” are actually disappointing.
It is easy to search for a teacher available right now, but you may find there are not many available. If you choose certain subjects, you may even find no teachers available.
Cambly’s basic subscription system is easy, but you have to pay in advance and the choices are limited.
You can make it flexible by topping up “Anytime Minutes” or adding sessions together, but this quickly becomes confusing.
The payment system seems designed to earn Cambly more money and not to help students find an affordable learning strategy.
Cambly is easy to use, but it may not have the features that you want.
Are the best teachers on Cambly?
Remember that Cambly is not the only company that offers online language tuition. These companies offer good alternatives and have more teachers:
- italki (Read our detailed review of italki)
- Preply (Read our detailed review of Preply)
- Verbling (Read our detailed review of Verbling)
You should also consider whether the best teachers are online at all.
You pay approximately $20 per hour on Cambly. The teacher makes approximately $10 per hour (even “Mr Money”). This does not seem so fair to the teachers, especially when we compare it to italki.com, which charges the teacher a 15% commission.
In fact, the teachers are paid by the minute. So, they earn around $2.50 if a student only wants a 15-minute lesson.
Also, consider a teacher who is working at a language school in the day and Cambly in the evening. Most of his or her energy will go into the classroom lessons, especially if the school pays more.
Teachers on any of these platforms may be less experienced than a teacher at a local language school. Or they could be forced into earning less than they deserve. (See this video for more on the topic:
Some students prefer to study without a tutor. Some prefer to learn English in a group with other students.
It is good to keep all options open, including self-study, live classes at a language school and live classes with a personal tutor.
Or, you could consider a mixed learning strategy. For example, you could take IELTS classes at a language school and use Cambly for conversation practice.
Is Cambly a good choice for you?
Cambly is a basic tutoring service that offers fewer tutors than other sites.
Its main point of difference is its simple subscription package. The teachers are mostly from countries where English is a native language.
Cambly has the basic features that other tutoring sites have, but without many of the special features.
There is a lot of information on each teacher. Use this information carefully to find the best match for you. Don’t only watch the introductory video; remember to read the reviews and check the tutor’s experience and qualifications.
After considering these things, you should have a good idea if you wish to sign up to Cambly.
Want to see how Cambly compares against other English tutoring websites? Here's our guide: italki vs. Preply vs. Cambly vs. Verbling: The Battle Of The English Tutoring Websites