The primary objective for writing this blog is to provide a glimpse into the life of a student studying abroad in China, as well as to provide an incentive for students thinking about studying abroad to give China a try.  But while China has its fare share of foreign students, a more popular choice for many foreigners who want to live in China is teaching English, so I figured it would be a good idea to cover a few items about teaching English as an alternative to studying.

What’s in it for them?

  • Second only to Mandarin, English is the most widely spoken language in the world, and due to the wide reaching influence of the British Empire from the 18th century as well as that of America since World War II it has become the lingua franca, meaning that it’s the most commonly used language between two people who don’t share a mother tongue.  Visit any hostel around the world and find you’ll a good example of this.  I played a round of pool in hostel in Beijing with a Chinese guy, a Belgian, and a Russian, and we were all conversing in English.
  • China understands the importance of learning English and thus requires all students to study the language as part of their regular curriculum.  In addition, there are a countless private schools that only teach English and nothing else.  These schools can range in age group from 8 to 80, though most students tend to be from the younger age bracket.
  • Though all Chinese school children must study English, it’s actually quite rare for their teacher to be an actual native speaker, especially as you drift farther away from some of the more popular foreigner destinations in China.  I visited an English school outside the city a few weekends ago and one the teachers there asked if I would like to have dinner with her and her family sometime so that she could practice her oral English.  This was an English teacher who had never had the opportunity to speak with another foreigner.  That’s just how desperate they are for native English speakers.

What’s in it for me?

  • While the salary might be considered rather low by Western standards, by Chinese standards its pretty substantial, often times in the vicinity of 3,000 to 5,000 RMB a month, more than enough to live comfortably, dare I say luxuriously.
  • In addition to a high salary most teaching jobs come with free rent and sometimes even free Chinese lessons.  All in all it’s quite the hookup, and a great way to get some cross cultural exposure as well as fill a chunk of otherwise unused time.  Can’t find a job in the states?  Taking a year off from college and don’t know what to do with yourself?  Recently retired and feeling a little restless? China’s always hiring, no matter what your interests are.
  • The generosity of Chinese people is astounding.  I’ve been living here for almost three months and there is hardly a day when I’m not offered some sort of opportunity to go out and spend time with my Chinese friends.  From taking me out to dinner, to showing me around the city, to helping me practice my Mandarin, Chinese people are here to help in any way they can.

How do I go about it?

  • Teaching English in China is a lot easier than you would think.  All that’s required is a basic knowledge of the English language and a certification for teaching English as a second language.
  • There are literally hundreds of organizations, both China and U.S. based, that bring English teachers to China.  These programs tend to take care of all the leg work for you, i.e. finding a job, getting the certification, organizing and paying for air fare and so on.
  • While going through one of these organizations tends to be the easier route, anyone who’s taught English in China for any length of time will tell you that it often times comes with a certain amount of caveats.  They might take into account where you would like to teach, but most likely they will end up placing you wherever you’re needed, and usually these programs deal solely with universities and private schools.
  • Most ESL veterans will tell you that a much better way of going about teaching in China is to take care of the certification and airfare yourself and then go about finding a job once you get to China.  While this might seem like somewhat of a risk, you’re far more likely to end up in a place where you actually want to be.  Some of the English teachers I’ve met in Liaocheng are sincerely unhappy about being placed in such a small city, and had it been up to them they would be teaching somewhere else.
  • Certifications for teaching include TEFL, TESOL, ESL, and a bunch of other annograms that pretty much mean all the same thing.  Most teaching jobs in China will accept any of them, and usually the only difference is how long the certification lasts for.  These certifications can be taken online or in person at any reputable community college.
  • If I had to give the perfect advice about teaching in China, it would be to arrive here a month or so before the semester begins, spend some time traveling around the country, find out where you want to live, and then go about finding a job in that village/city/province.

What’s the Catch?

  • The same set of cultural difficulties apply for teaching English in China as they do for studying in China.  It’s a culture that’s about as far away from our own as you can get, and the road will be fraught with strangeness, discomforts, and adversity.  It will be up to you to rise to the occasion.
  • This may not have occurred to you, but English is damn hard language to learn, especially for Eastern nationalities.  How do you explain articles to someone who has never heard of them?  Also, if you’re teaching little kids, they’re probably more excited to be in your presence than they are to learn anything, and so if you’re a strictly goal oriented person teaching English in China might not be the best choice.
  • For the most part public institutions such as colleges tend to keep their noses out of the classroom, but teaching certain materials that may or may not cast a negative light on authority, communism, or a plethora of other taboo subjects in China is generally frowned upon, so watch your back.

Spring has sprung here in Liaocheng and from everything I’ve heard it won’t last long before its sweltering hot.  I’ve never been a big fan of hot weather, but in all honesty it’s nice to get away from the cold weather that’s been haunting Liaocheng ever since I arrived (For a while there I was sleeping under my zero degree sleeping bag as well as a big comforter.)  If you have any more questions about teaching English in China please feel free to ask.  Until next time, mingtian jian! (See you tomorrow, or see you later.)