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The primary function of this blog is to introduce interesting and helpful tidbits about China – the culture, the places, the people, and of course, the language. Through open discussions on various social media platforms, people who take part in this online community can share tips, asks questions, and exchange ideas. We’ve got all the basics covered here, with this blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and a YouTube channel. As it was my interest in China that brought me here, I’m happy to share my experiences and introduce a bit of this fascinating country to people all around the world. While I spend quite a bit of my time writing articles, making videos, and managing the Facebook page here, it’s not my full-time job (though I wish it was!) On most days, you’ll find me out in Beijing working as an English teacher (英语老师 – yīng yǔ lǎo shī). In that job, my role is similar to what I do here, only it’s in person and not online! Every day, I help Chinese students learn English, while at the same time teaching about Western culture in general. As a foreigner in China working in these two jobs, I guess you could call me a “culture ambassador”; I teach my Chinese students about English and American culture, while at the same time helping people around the world learn about China, its language, and its culture. Having been doing this for a few years now, I often get questions about teaching ESL in China. Hopefully, this post will answer some of them.
There is a huge demand for ESL teachers here in China, and it far exceeds the supply. As such, it’s quite easy to find a job (找工作 – zhǎo gōng zuò). What’s not so easy, however, is finding a job that is the right fit for you. Take it from me, as I’ve held numerous jobs here through the years. While most people would obviously prefer to line up a job before arriving here, that is not entirely necessary. In fact, I’ve met several people through the years who were just traveling through China and ended up liking it so much that they decided to stick around and teach. Some of them are still here teaching, some have moved on, and others have remained in China but changed fields, and they now own restaurants, manage bars, or work in international companies. In short, if you want to teach English in China, there’s not much stopping you.
There are postings for thousands of ESL jobs online, but some of the best sites are:
The requirements vary from job to job. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to be a native English speaker to find an ESL job. I have friends from Sweden, Belgium, Russia, Romania, and many other countries working as ESL teachers here. Many schools simply want a foreigner who can speak English, and don’t have any requirements beyond that. That being said, higher paying and more stable jobs do tend to come with some basic requirements, such as:
If you meet those requirements, you should be able to land an ESL job in most schools or companies here. Regardless of what kind of job you want, it’s not a bad idea to get a TEFL certificate. I got mine with Bridge TEFL online, and it was reasonably priced, helpful, and pretty quick. If it’s your goal to work in a big international school here, though, you’ll most likely need to have a degree in Education with a bit more experience. That brings us to the different types of jobs you can have as an ESL teacher.
There are tons of different jobs you could possibly have as an ESL teacher. In my experience, I’ve held just about all of them, so here’s a basic rundown for you:
A great video from BON about the various jobs teaching English in Beijing.
Working in this type of job, you typically work from 8-11, have a long lunch/nap from 11-2, and then work again from 2-5. You are there mostly to train the kids not to be terrified of foreigners, to teach them basic vocabulary, sing songs, play games, and run around outside. You should have at least one Chinese assistant to help you manage the classes here. The children are adorable and it’s a lot of fun, but it can be draining at times, and you often feel more like a babysitter than a teacher (at least I did). That being said, it’s quite easy to find part-time jobs doing this just a few days a week, which is a good way to pad your income from another job.
Working in Chinese primary schools can be a lot of fun. The children look forward to your class all day, because their Chinese teachers tend to be strict and do things really by the book, whereas you have a lot more freedom as their ESL teacher. You tend to meet with each group for about 45 minutes once or twice a week, and you can do activities in their text book mixed in with some fun games, songs, etc. You will still have a Chinese teacher around to monitor the class here. The main requirement here is that the children like you and your class. If you are boring and no fun, they will complain to their parents, who will complain to the school, who will replace you. Don’t take your job too seriously here and try to have some fun.
By middle school, most students should have a pretty good level of English. At this stage, your main job is getting them active in class and speaking English to each other. Of course, with children at this age, keeping the classroom from being a total nuthouse is the number one job of the teacher. In most middle schools, the Chinese teacher will use the ESL class as the time to go drink tea and have a rest, so it’s on you to manage the class yourself. When I taught in a middle school, I often played pop music or watched cartoons with my students, and they loved it.
Jobs teaching ESL in high schools here are few and far between. That’s because, for the most part, Chinese high schools forget about English for a few years and just focus on getting students ready for the college entrance exam. The exam, called Gao Kao (高考 – gāo kǎo) in Chinese, is incredibly important and features no English, so most students tend to forget all of their English in high school.
When it comes to university jobs, you’ll most likely be their Oral English teacher. Chinese teachers help the students in grammar, listening, and writing classes, so it’s your job to get them speaking. Of course, at this age, most students would rather text away on their phones, play video games, or simply sleep, so the hardest thing to do is keep them engaged and motivated. In my experience, though, I’ve had a lot of fun teaching in universities. You are given a lot of freedom as their foreign teacher, so you can do fun activities like have them do a photo scavenger hunt, go outside to play sports, or have students do role-play activities in the class. If you work full time in some universities, they will offer you a visa, accommodation, and maybe even free Chinese lessons. Plus, it’s a good resume builder.
As more and more Chinese are trying to learn English, there are tons of private companies out there. Some are good, and some are terrible. Just make sure you get all the information you need before making a decision. From personal experience, I can recommend Wall Street English, as it is a foreign owned company with foreign management. Dealing with Chinese management can be difficult for many foreign teachers, so WSE is a good option for avoiding that. Plus, they have room for development, so you can actually turn your one-year teaching fling into a full-time career if you end up enjoying it. A similar job can be found with WSE’s biggest competitor, English First. I’ve never worked with them, but they are all over the place in China, so they must be doing something right.
A good video from EF teachers describing their experiences.
There are many different visas for China, and you can read about them in a recent post I made. Basically, it’s possible to work on any type of visa. Just keep in mind that if you get caught working on a Tourist (L) visa, you could be deported or even arrested. As such, it’s much better to try and get a Business (F) visa, or find a company that will provide you with a legitimate Work (Z) visa.
Of course, there is more to teaching ESL here in China. As such, I would like to open this up for discussion: