Teaching in China: A Guide for the Uninitiated

What am I doing here again?

It’s surprisingly easy to forget the purpose of your existence here in China as an “English teacher.” Some people may be content with the rationalization that the school needs foreigners on staff to look good, and that by remaining on staff, you, as a foreigner, already have outstanding job performance. The slightly more conscientious, however, might feel some compulsion to do the actual job. So what is it?

Almost all foreign teachers in China teach Spoken English (which the Chinese frequently call “Oral English”). For the most part, the Chinese feel that they have a good handle on grammar and vocabulary, it’s just the real-time auditory usage that shuts them down. The actual speaking is hard for them. So the reason for hiring a foreigner is two-fold: (1) only a foreigner can provide the much-needed perfect model of spoken English for the students, and (2) many Chinese English teachers also suffer from the same malady as the students – their spoken English isn’t too hot.

OK, so you’re here to teach Spoken English. But what does that mean? To some Chinese students, it means in class you should watch movies, sing songs, and play games. Make no mistake, many Chinese students have extremely clear (and equally ridiculous) ideas on what should take place in a foreign teacher’s classroom. And more than a few foreign teachers in China have gone that route. But those activities, at least initially, stemmed from an original goal. This goal is to improve Chinese students’ spoken English.

Get that? As a spoken English teacher, your goal is to improve your students’ spoken English.

Even now, having taught spoken English in China for close to three years, I find it necessary at times to remind myself of this most fundamental fact. It’s very important to keep in mind, because everything you do in the classroom should stem from this purpose.

Don’t worry, though – it doesn’t have to be as serious and boring as it sounds.

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