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Preparing to Teach English in China?

Since 1980 when I first went to teach at Shanxi Agricultural University, having just completed an MA TESOL, English language teaching in China has changed immensely. Exams and national curricula have been developed and revised. The age at which people study English has gotten lower and lower. Many Chinese teachers with excellent English and language teaching methodology have been trained. Standards for visas have been augmented.

Nevertheless there are still many opportunities for teachers from countries like the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand—the so-called Anglosphere. Teachers from these regions are still being recruited by education-focused agencies such as ELIC, ERRC, and ESECAcademics in Asia. Opportunities range from a few weeks serving in a summer camp, to a month working with English teachers, to a year playing with kindergartners, to a long-term contract teaching at a university.

People from the Anglosphere who are considering going to China to teach English should prepare in several ways. Of course, they should be ready for life in China, which can vary from location to location and from year to year. Secondly they should consider their options for working in China—which range from volunteer opportunities that require fund raising (but which usually come with wonderful support and chances to work in regions that have greater needs) to paid positions (which may not be easy for novices in either international travel or teaching). Thirdly, they should be familiar with the field of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). That is the focus of the rest of this post.

One way to get acquainted with the basics of TESOL is to do the low-cost non-credit course Essentials of TESOL through Biola LEARN. It’s self-paced, fully online, and consists of seventeen video lessons of about ten minutes each, with supporting material. In about four hours people can get a taste of everything from how to get to know one’s students, to how to teach pronunciation and conversation, to how to plan a lesson.

The next level up would be an entry-level TEFL or TESOL certificate. The gold standard is the 120-hour CELTA, but there are plenty of others. People should double-check with potential employers to see if they have any requirements for what kind of certificates they will accept. “Certificate” is an unregulated term, and they can range from 45 hours on up, with varying degrees of quality.

People who have tried English language teaching and like it well enough to want to do it more than short-term are often ready for the next level of training. That would probably be a year-long certificate or diploma. At the undergraduate level, certificates are often the equivalent of a minor. At the graduate level, certificates often consist of several courses, sometimes the first half of an MA.

Finally, for people who are certain they’re going to spend at least five years of their life teaching English, or who are being asked to take on more responsibility beyond teaching (such as materials development, curriculum design, assessment, and teacher training), or who face visa requirements that oblige them to upgrade their education, an MA TESOL is important. Many secular and Christian universities (including Biola) offer these degrees both on campus and online.

TESOL certificates and MA degrees have traditionally focused on teaching secondary, university, or adult students. People who are primarily interested in teaching younger learners might consider a teaching credential (regulated by states, in the U.S.).

Not everyone interested in Chinese students will go to China. Readers of this blog know that there are many Chinese students studying in universities and high schools in the English-speaking world. Those who want to work with them as teachers, tutors, or even home-stay parents or friends could also benefit from getting at least the first level of TESOL training.

China offers fantastic opportunities for Anglosphere citizens to share their language and, in turn, experience another wonderful culture. While TESOL isn’t the only way to spend significant time in China (of course, one could be a tourist or student, or one could work in a business), it’s still a good avenue for those who are well-prepared.

Image credit: Kitty Purgason
Kitty Purgason

Kitty Purgason

Kitty Barnhouse Purgason is on the faculty of Biola University. She taught EFL in China from 1980 to 1982, and has also taught in Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, and Spain. She has a PhD in Applied Linguistics from UCLA. She is the author of Professional Guidelines …View Full Bio

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