Can I Teach English in China if I Can't Speak Chinese?

I know what you are thinking….. How can I go to China and teach Children if I can't even speak Chinese? Those were my exact thoughts when I was planning on teaching in China, but once I got there I realized one important thing: they were literally hiring me because I could speak English. My school did not want me to be able to speak Chinese. But, I still had some fears. When I started to tell people that I was going to teach English in China their first response would be, “wow, I didn’t know you spoke Chinese.” Yes, I definitely could not speak Chinese. Their second response following would be, “If you don’t know Chinese, how are you going to teach them?” At first, I didn’t really know how to respond to this question because I myself had those same questions. I think a lot of people have this fear of standing in front of your students and not being able to communicate with them because they don't know the language and you don't know their language. So many times I thought, wouldn't it be easier if schools hired someone who did know Chinese teach the students English? That way, if the students had questions, they could ask the teacher. There is nothing more discouraging than having your students stare at you with wide eyes and blank faces and not learn a thing. It would be a big failure all around. But fortunately, this is not the case.

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The statistics of English in China states that 67.4% of the population of China had studied at least one foreign language and 93.8% of that population had studied English. (Rining Wei and Jinzhi Su (2012). The statistics of English in China. English Today,28, pp 10­14).  This is great news because it tells us two things. First, there are a lot of people that will have a basic knowledge of English. They will know a little. Second, They have a big desire to learn so they will pay more attention and want to learn. Now take into account that these are adults and not children, so what does this mean for you? I think it still applies because I do feel that the children have a genuine desire to learn English. Their family and school will also want them to learn so there is a greater motivation.

Teaching the Little ones

At my first school, I taught 3-5-year-olds. Although they were the cutest kids in the world, I was terrified of teaching them only because I felt that they needed someone who could speak Chinese to be able to understand, but boy was I wrong! These kids were so smart and I just had to find ways to be able to teach them so that they could understand. I have always heard that full immersion into a language is the best way to learn. After all, that's how we all learn our native language. We hear mom and dad talk to us every day when we were little kids. It's the same concept! These kids need to be completely immersed to be able to learn the most. And many schools discourage the kids to use Chinese in the classroom so that is also great! The best way for the students to learn is to get them to speak the language.

That quickly became my new goal. Get the kids to speak as much English as possible! It took some time but I was finally able to get a good routine with my kids. The best way I found to engage the students was by modeling the language.  When learning a new word or language concept I would first say it to my myself. After showing the students how to say it, we would get right into a game or activity where they could use that new word or concept while having fun. The end goal for the activity or game was to try and get the students to repeat the new word or concept several times. Using these tips, I was able to let go of my fears because I was able to see all my students succeed in learning English. I can tell you for sure: You don’t need to be able to speak Chinese to teach English in China.  So... if you are still game, APPLY to become an English teacher in China and start this new journey in life!

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