How to prepare to be an ESL Teacher in China (and be Successful)

life in China for foreign teachers

Moving to China to be an ESL teacher is one of the most exciting experiences one can have. 

However, we must all remember that China is a very different country than most of us are used to. The difference between, say, Britain and the United States of America is quite significant and pronounced. Compared to China, they are more or less identical!

That means if you want to make the most out your life in China as an ESL teacher, you need to know what to look out for in order to make the most out of your experiences. 

We’ve put together a list of some absolutely vital aspects of living in China. Make no mistake, living in China as an ESL teacher is a very challenging yet rewarding experience.

Prepare for the Culture Shock

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There is such a huge difference in day-to-day life in China than there is in the West.

When you first move here, getting used to the total change in your culinary options might be the hardest part to get right.

The second thing that you should look to do is pick up a translation guide. Though you can totally get by not speaking Chinese, it’s worth learning the language to better immerse yourself in the local life. 

Expats might feel they are disregarded from communities early on. What often changes this view of you is when you start to show a willingness to adapt to the culture of the nation. If you start to learn the language and make a more conscious effort to blend in, you will be accepted much quicker.

if persist with the language, people will appreciate the effort. They will be happily give you time and space to learn, and provide help when you need it. 

How to Prepare for Culture Shock in China

Overcome the Educational Chasms

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Another major part of teaching English in China is the cultural differences in educational systems.

First of all, the school system in China is quite different. People stay in ‘Primary School’ until around age 12, whereas in the UK and the US, they are usually closer to 10-11.

Chinese education is also far more competitive, with young people tested at a far higher level than they would be in a UK or US school.

There’s also a massive disparity between teaching in the cities versus teaching in the rural areas. While you might be used to a more state-specific curriculum that reaches everyone regardless of location, in China it is very different.

There is also far less of an open-minded approach to education in many ways. The sheer number of people in the country means that education is all about trying to stand out from a massive crowd. While Western schools are more about giving everyone a chance, Chinese school could be attested more to being like a talent show.

For this reason, you might find it very hard to devote your time across each of the students. This makes it a challenge for you to give out the same level of expertise that you could back home. The sheer scale of competition is far more intense, and you need to appreciate that all children are seen as the future of their families. They therefore are more demanding.

Once you get used to the more cut-throat educational culture in China, you’ll find the experience very rewarding, as you see your students learn and grow everyday. 

Public School vs Private School in China

Put into The Hard Work 

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You can usually go for a medium-term period of time without speaking too much Chinese. However, we recommend that you make an effort to fit in with Chinese culture, as well as putting in the effort to learn the language. The more that you can learn the language, the more you can integrate with and help those you care for. 

Life in China for English teachers can be very hectic. With the opportunity to teach as many as 500-1,000 students at any given time, as you might be taking multiple classes with many students, you need to get an organisational tool.

We recommend using some form of planning system on a tablet or laptop to build lesson plans, and try to keep up-to-date on who needs help and what their problems are. The more assistance you can give yourself to plan things like lessons, the more likely you are to handle this pressure.

A Bank of Resources for ESL Lesson Plans

Consider Your Locations

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While many people are familiar with cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, (Beijing vs Shanghai vs Shenzhen), they are not everyone’s best choice. If you arrive here and you find the language and culture tough, you will probably be better suited to a small city experience. 

You get more space to adapt to the culture, and you can find that life outside of working hours is easier to live within. If you find it hard to settle and to really understand what you are dealing with in the likes of Beijing, then it might be better to look at other options.

You’ll have more time to adapt, engage with your students on a more personal level, and the pace of life will be slower. At the same time, the smaller towns and cities often are in need of more specialist help, so working there helping people out will gain you more sense of fulfillment.

City Guides for Teaching in China

Get Out of Comfort Zone

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Getting out of your comfort zone is always hard. In a short period of time, though, you can easily adjust to understand just what you are up against.  

Teaching English in a foreign nation is a hugely exciting thing to do, and you should find it to be immensely enjoyable. You will find it tough at first, but so long as you get ready for consistent lesson planning and to make an effort to culturally integrate, there’s no reason why you cannot succeed here.

Make an effort, and you will be rewarded with a richer, more satisfying cultural experience.

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