Teaching English in China

Teaching in China: what it looks like?

Teaching English in ChinaSince China becomes more and more developed, no wonders it attracts more attention. Our image of China is no longer a poor country where people eat insects and sell cheap clothes, but a world leader country with many tourist attractions and job opportunities.

There is a debate whether English or Mandarin is the language of the future, but it seems obvious for Chinese to learn English right now to keep competitive with global commerce. English teachers are needed in China a lot and many people who look for a high-paid teaching job as well as tourists who travelled there out of interest are staying to teach in chinese language schools for years.

Where can you work as a teacher?

  • state: kindergarten, primary/middle/high school or university;
  • private: language school or any international educational organization.

Almost everywhere there are native speakers required and most likely you will need a teaching degree and at least 3 years of experience to work there.
However, in small cities, in kindergarten or at not world-recognized language schools the requirements are not that strong since demand on English teachers is huge. You might be non-native speaker and have no teaching degree but with teaching experience and CELTA/TESOL certificate  (https://www.tesol.org/docs/pdf/2466.pdf?sfvrsn=2) find a good job there.

Those, who want to teach in a big city like Shanghai and to work for an international language school, can find out more about requirements and FAQs about teaching in China at English First:

What are the conditions for teachers in China?

As for conditions, so it varies from contract to contract. Some schools provide meals, accommodation and even air-tickets, some not. You might work from Mo to Fr from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 2 times a week from 6 to 9 p.m., it always depends.
Chinese language is usually not required, Teaching English in Chinahowever, even if everyone around can communicate in English, you’d better learn Chinese for better understanding your students and culture you live in. Your salary can differ from 5000 RMB (kindergarten) to 30 000 RMB (international language school).

How to find a teaching job in China?

  • do CELTA/TESOL (TEFL) course and they usually offer a job opportunity afterwards;
  • if you are sure that you are experienced enough to teach, you might just google or look for it on Facebook “English teachers needed in...”, “Teach English in China”, “We are urgently looking for an English teacher in Beijing, Shanghai...”;
  • check out English First, Wall Street English, Teaching Nomad, Disney English and eChina Cities website for teaching jobs.

While choosing a school, you might follow next steps suggested by my American friend who’s teaching in China for more than 4 years

Step 1: research the area in China

  1. How’s the weather?
  2. How modern is the area?
  3. What’s the average PM2.5 (air-pollution)?
  4. How rich is the city? Are there many beggars and conmen? Are there lounge areas with low levels of harassment?
  5. How familiar is the local population with foreigners? And what kind of foreigners do they like?

In some cities, Chinese do not like African foreigners. This is not a city where I would go to. In other cities they may have a harsh history with Europeans. But this is rare especially among the younger population.

Step 2: Call foreigners who work or go to school at the location you desire to visit

Ask foreign teachers from there many questions, for example:

  1. How do the locals treat foreigners?
  2. Do you experience any corruption at your school or job?
  3. What specifically happened?
  4. How many foreigners go to the school?
  5. How united is the foreign community?
  6. Does the school have strict rules such as curfew, dress code and weekly meetings?
  7. Does the town or school invade your personal privacy?
  8. Do they hire spies?
  9. How’s the WiFi speed? Can I use VPN (to be able to use Facebook, Youtube and Google since they are blocked in China)?

Step 3

What kind of nightlife and daylife activities are there? Is there a metro in the city? How long does it take to get to the countryside or popular urban area?

Step 4

Make sure you have enough money for at least 2 months and a plane ticket (just in case something crazy happens). You don’t want to be stuck in a place that you hate. Have enough for an exit strategy.

I asked my friends who were and are teaching in China more for than a year about their impressions and comments on teaching there compared to other countries.

Here you can read what they think of it:


Travis Dean: “English teachers bring enthusiasm, luster, foreign perspective and high quality English pronunciation to average Chinese. English is the business language so Chinese want to make their country rich and adopt the enthusiasm and creativity from foreigners.
When I first came to China, I was expecting Chinese to act like American born Chinese. That is I thought their behavior would be strict, disciplined, honor driven very hard working. I was also expecting all schools to be the same caliber of intelligence and skill. This is because nationally Chinese score higher than Americans on the PISA test. However, to my surprise the quality of education in China is worse than in America. In America there are a lot more opportunities for all classes to go to school and get jobs, but in China, it is more strictly influenced by class and financial assets.

My first chinese city was near Harbin, a freaky cold place used to be Russian. I was planning my first day class  with 10 year olds for 2 days since I didn’t know what to expect. I prepared ice-breakers like playing music, singing song — but kids were confused and I didn’t really know how to get them involved. I had to use myself as example of what is acceptable since nobody told them they can speak out and ask questions, jump up from a seat and yellow an answer, and be spontaneous, do something crazy to entertain the class. After 3 weeks they got comfortable and used to new rules, so we had more free class.

I realized later working with adults that chinese people are so into studying and they are not into something outside that box of memorising that I had to rearrange all my classes. I wasn’t really expecting such shyness and that it might be rather difficult to teach English to a group. That was where I was really missing my personal education. Americans aren’t knowledgeable of other cultures outside of Europe and Western culture. We don’t get into details into cultural differences, weaknesses and strength of other culture. I had to really understand the culture before I could engage my students into activities.
Cultural education is essential.”  

Paul: “My impressions are as followings: the chinese are better motivated to learn — they attend classes, do homework, they pay attention in the class. They are cultural aware that doing well in education is good for them.

In US students are motivated mostly by grades than in learning, but are ready to engage — they want to share ideas, give an opinion which makes it more enjoyable for both teachers and students.
In China students are shy, it takes a lot of effort to take them to speak and to render their opinion. Engaging with teacher and participation is very difficult in China and for that reason teachers don’t like it here. They may stay a year and leave since it’s frustrating when students don’t participate in your class activities not because of lack of English.”

Pablo: “I really loved my teaching experience, because it is a unique way to be involved with a culture. Chinese culture is very open once you are in China. It is possible for us to really experience life and the chinese way of living. I consider chinese to be very friendly and always trying to show you their best. They have a different idea on how the world works, don't know much about westerns, so they are passionate to also know about your culture

I had a great time, also with the children. There is not much needed to become a teacher, just a 60 hours course certification is enough and an acceptable accent. Of course experience is valuable and depending on the school, the working hours can be demanding or very flexible. The salaries are good too for a good life in China. I pretty much loved living in Shanghai, an enormous metropolis that never sleeps and has uncountable options to kill boredom. There is a also a big international community and being part of that city made me quite happy.

There are many things to tell to people who want to become teachers and not all like children as well. So it is complicated and depends on what are the people expectations out of it. I would definitely go back to China, get married, have a family and live all my life there. Guess my own culture (Bolivia) doesn't allow me to do that or that I would have some personal reasons for not to choose that. But China is an amazing place to live, except for the pollution.”

My experiences

As for my personal experiences, I have worked only for one month in a Shenzhen language school as a language assistant and might only add that Chinese are indeed very difficult to get involved. Even in Germany, Chinese, who are studying together with me, never speak out while me, Ukrainian, and our German classmates always ask question and share opinions during a lecture.

I got used to grammar-translation method while learning English and German since communicative approach of teaching a foreign language is still not common in Ukraine. In China the situation seems to be the same – behavioristic relics of the past have a strong influence on modern education. Students are used to read and listen a lot whereas a teacher delivers a lecture remaining the only one who is allowed to speak. It takes a while to engage your chinese students and to make them talk, because they have never experienced such way of learning. Teachers are very respected in China and your students might consider it as impolite to argue with you or even to ask questions during your class.

If I could give myself an advice two years ago when I was trying to teach in Shenzhen, I would recommend me doing an accredited TESOL/CELTA certification with regular attendance to improve teaching skills and learn more about Chinese culture first. Even if English is one’s native language or learned to C1/C2 level, it doesn’t automatically mean that this person is a good teacher.

And what were your teaching experiences in China? Feel always free to comment and share your opinion!

You might be also interested to read more about chinese culture, language and people here.


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