Teaching English in China

By Collins, Mac | Contemporary Review, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Teaching English in China


Collins, Mac, Contemporary Review


Anyone willing to teach English in China meets with a voracious demand for their skills. As the country steps further onto the world stage, its people seek to communicate in the leading international language. These are a few impressions and hints, necessarily selective, based on my year teaching English in Beijing.

My first direct impression of China was a pleasant surprise at the quick and efficient way the Chinese Embassy in London produced my 'Z' work visa in eight days. The further necessary documents were supplied shortly after arrival by the Foreign Affairs Office at my employers, the Beijing Second Foreign Language University, after they had provided new members of staff with an expenses-paid medical and x-ray examination. The most important document was the green passport-type residence permit. One is supposed to carry it at all times, although it must be said that checks on foreigners in major cities are rare, away from nightspots.

Guidebooks to China rapidly go out of date; formalities tend to be fewer and facilities better when one arrives. Especially if you plan to teach outside one of the main cities, you are well-advised to get up to date information from someone who has taught there recently, or to register with the US-China Educational Exchange. http://members.aol.com/eduexchange/USChinaEdExchange.html and get Yong Ho's excellent China File.

If you plan to teach in China, you first need to decide whether you want to serve as a volunteer or to be paid for your work. One source of volunteer recruitment is Britain's VSO. Another is the British Council Teach in China scheme. Guides to opportunities can be found in the EEL sections of libraries or on the internet.

You also need to examine your motives. If you are planning to leave behind a failed marriage, an unsuccessful career or money worries, forget it. Coming to such a different culture, where you are probably a complete stranger, will not solve your problems or make you rich, and your hosts, the Chinese students, have the right to expect that your mind is fully on the job in working hours. If you are a Christian Evangelical hoping to come to China to propagate your version of Christianity, you should know that proselytizing is forbidden under Chinese law, although it is permitted to discuss religion in class from a cultural point of view. Otherwise, there are only three subjects which you should avoid raising, or weigh your words about if they are raised with you: the status of Taiwan, the 'leading role' of the Communist Party, and alternative lifestyles. As in any country, common sense and common courtesy suggest that one should avoid offending the deeply-held beliefs of one's hosts.

You can certainly get teaching work without any qualifications or experience, although established institutions in the cities now generally expect at least one or the other. If you are new to teaching, you owe it to yourself and your prospective students to obtain either the RSA/UCLES Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (the Cambridge Certificate) or the equivalent Trinity Certificate. These are the only two basic qualifications for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language recognized by the UK government and are, incidentally, required for teaching in schools which are accredited by the British Council in the UK or overseas. Being a native speaker may make you a useful role model and source of cultural information, but is no guarantee that you will be a success as a teacher. Chinese students are generally cooperative and good-humoured but they have been known to protest against incompetent teachers and teachers are occasionally sacked. In particular there is good money to be made for the c ompetent teacher of Business English, but teachers who do not deliver can expect short shrift. RSA and Trinity courses are widely available in Britain. They take four or sometimes five weeks. They give an intensive grounding in teaching methods and an introduction to sources of information on teaching materials, grammar, vocabulary, and phonology. …

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