Jennifer Lebedev, also known as JenniferESL, has been teaching
English for nearly 20 years. She has been working exclusively online for
the past 9 years. Jennifer currently has more than 400,000 subscribers
to her YouTube
channel and millions of views on her videos, making her one of the
most popular instructors of the English language online today. Jennifer
loves the diversity of her work opportunities: aside from posting
instructional videos as JenniferESL, she shares teaching tips and
activities on her Pearson-sponsored blog, has works in print, creates digital content for
different organizations, and publishes additional learning materials as
part of English with Jennifer, website, a Facebook page, and Twitter.
Tell me about your teaching background. How did you get started?
I was originally certified to teach Russian at the high school
level. I completed my teaching practicum at an inner city school in
Pittsburgh [PA]. Later while living in Moscow, Russia, I began giving
private English language lessons to businessmen and children. Then at a
language school, I taught group classes. I must admit that the teens
presented the biggest challenge in terms of classroom management and
motivation. Back in the United States, I worked primarily with young
adults at a private intensive English program in Boston [MA]. Today my
online learners range from children to adults.
The work that you do in online teaching is really well
done, and you are a natural in front of the camera. It takes a special
skill to put yourself out there to the world and be open to unfiltered
feedback. Were you always this comfortable when you started off? How
have your video-making and teaching skills evolved since you began?
Thank you! Truthfully, even now I still feel a sense of
vulnerability when I put myself and my work out there, but I've always
received much more support than criticism. It's extremely rewarding to
know that each day someone in the world is learning from one of my
lessons. Teachers, too, have expressed their appreciation from the very
beginning, and having support from my peers has given me
There are many talented English teachers on YouTube (YT) today,
and my channel isn't the most visited one. However, I was among the
first who ventured onto this platform to deliver English lessons, and I'm happy that I've had the opportunity to grow as a videomaker and
build a loyal following. I knew little to nothing about producing videos
when I started, but I promised my viewers that if they continued to
show interest in my lessons, I'd make an effort to become a better
videomaker. As teachers we owe it to our students to continue our
professional development, and as a YouTuber I've had to invest the
time and money in order to create better videos.
I think part of the appeal to learners is my homemade brand.
Back in 2007, I was just a woman who turned on her camera in her home
and shared her knowledge of English. My videos looked very low budget,
but my teaching was solid. Early comments included questions like,
“You’re good at teaching. Are you a real teacher?” I didn’t introduce
myself as a teacher or published author. I was just someone inviting
viewers into my living room to study some English.
To this day, I film in my home and open up a bit of my life to
my audience. I speak to the camera like a friend or good neighbor. I
believe that no matter what the classroom looks like, the teacher has to
make a connection with her students. My sign-off has become “Happy
studies!” I want to set my audience at ease and make them feel
comfortable and confident enough to learn English.
One of my goals has been to remain professional, but establish a
friendly connection with my online audience. That extends beyond my
videos. Through email and comments, I've always been accessible. I've had countless exchanges with students and teachers. I want to be a
source of support, not just in terms of giving information, but also by
JenniferESL in her home studio.
How is your YouTube page organized? Also, what type of
English language learners are your videos most suitable for?
All my videos are grouped into
playlists. Once viewers understand this, the
large collection becomes much easier to navigate. My newer playlists
include a 20-day Fast Speech Challenge and a series on English
prepositions. The content is appropriate for all ages. I mainly have the
independent learner in mind. Most of my viewers are young adults.
Some of my most popular playlists are the series for beginners
(Learn English with Jennifer) and the series on verb tenses (Verb Tenses
in English with JenniferESL). Sometimes I create a playlist in response
to demand. But I've also created lessons based on needs that I
Are you able to gauge who your “students” (those who
view and comment on your videos) are in terms of age range and skill
level? Do you refer to them as your “students” or something else?
Most of my YT viewers are in their twenties, but I've had
viewers in elementary school as well as people studying English in their
retirement. Subscribers range in skill level, and that’s why I’ve
chosen to cover a broad range of topics. In a sense, they are all my
students, but they choose to receive different forms of instruction.
Some only watch my videos. Some watch and then comment. They may even
post questions or their own examples for me to correct. More dedicated
viewers interact with me on Facebook, taking advantage of tasks I post
for additional practice. We share more of our personal lives on my English with Jennifer Lebedev page. Then there are
viewers who want live interaction with me. They are the ones who either
take private lessons or enroll in my group classes.
It hasn't happened often, but people have recognized me
on the street as their teacher from YT. Once it happened in a
restaurant, when the server told me she studied with my lessons. Also,
when I went to NYC a few years back, I met two YT viewers:
one on top of the Empire State Building and another in Central Park. Recently at the airport a young man came up to me and introduced himself as one of my virtual students. It was a pleasant surprise.
You coauthored and contributed to several textbooks.
Any books for students in secondary education? What got you into
Power series (Longman) teaches words from the General Service
List and Academic Word List. It's very appropriate for those in
secondary schools. Also, Next
Generation Grammar (Longman) was designed to appeal to the
younger generation, the digital natives in our society today. It's a
hybrid grammar textbook series that engages learners through the digital
component and allows teachers the kind of flexibility needed. Much can
be done in a classroom, in a lab, or at home. I coauthored book 3 and I'm the series Video Grammar Coach.
Ever since I stepped into the classroom, I've created my own
materials. I like to modify what's given to me or create something from
scratch. I customize every lesson plan for my private students. I truly
enjoy writing. My first publication was in a children’s magazine in
Russia. I wrote a fable that contextualized reflexive pronouns. I
remember the thrill of seeing my work in print for the first time. What's great about publishing online is that I get direct feedback from my
audience. I never knew if my children’s story brought smiles to younger
learners or not!
Do you ever collaborate with live classroom teachers?
Yes, I've held Skype calls with some classroom teachers. My
YT viewers include English language teachers, and I've offered
professional development through private lessons. I've also interacted
with entire classes. Once I greeted a group of students who didn’t
believe my colleague knew me personally. A couple other times I was
invited to greet classes in South America and offer study tips.
What is your advice for secondary education teachers
who would like to (1) engage their students while (2) meeting the
demands of student learning outcomes in a limited time
The choices technology presents are overwhelming, but knowing a
few good tools can make a difference. For example, instructional videos
can save time. Let an ESL video help provide the explanation needed,
especially outside of class time. Then use class time for practice and
production. Listen to the recommendations of other teachers who are
already using technology. I learned about the voice messaging app, Zoobe, for instance, at the
last TESOL convention and then shared
it on my ELT blog. I don’t know any teacher who isn’t busy,
but if only once a month, I’d encourage teachers to visit my ELT blog and look over recent articles for topics that are relevant to
Elia is editor of Secondary Accents, the
newsletter of TESOL International Association’s Secondary Schools