Even though I never imagined myself to become an ESL teacher, I slipped into it and am really happy with the experience. I enjoy teaching and improving the future of my students. Teaching in a foreign country is a great opportunity to learn more about the culture and the way people think in the country.

1. Being a child in China isn’t easy

photo by James Kim
photo by James Kim

I teach at a private English training school which offers different classes that are organized as afternoon and weekend programs for students of different ages. That means, they come to our school in their free time. Very often, kids are forced to take many afternoon and weekend classes by their parents: from English over dancing to piano lessons. Some of my students even have up to 12 different afternoon programs per week. That’s simply insane. China has a reputation of a very strict up-bringing because parents want to make sure their child has the best possible future ahead. This also adds to the fact that the children take care of their parents when they are old. If their child can land a high paid job, their retirement will be more comfortable also.

The one-child policy adds pressure to the only child because they will be the only caretakers for their parents in the future.

2. Lots of bevahioral issues…

photo by Harald Groven
photo by Harald Groven

Due to the above mentioned reason, many children develop serious behavioral issues. Many children suffer from anxiety and experience complete freak-outs when they get bad grades or the pressure gets too high and they aren’t able to follow a topc in the class. Some of them throw huge fits, start crying or completely shut down because it all gets too much.This is one of the most difficult parts of teaching in China because it’s hard to deal with.

Personal problems cannot be solved by the teacher. We can only try to make them forget the pressure in the classroom and have a good time.

3. Red eyes, red hair… What?

photo by Ben Mortimer
photo by Ben Mortimer

One thing that I thought was really astonishing is that most Chinese kids don’t really know what hair colors and eye colors exist. Since Asians do all have dark/black hair and dark eyes, most of the kids have never seen other colors besides dyed hair or contact lenses. But they do know these aren’t real. However, when learning about how to describe people and distinguish them with their different hair and eye colors, confusion is certain.

When I asked my students what different eye colors there are, they often added red and yellow into the mix. It’s also hard for them to understand why foreigners have different eye colors than the Chinese. I often get asked “What eye color do people have in America?” or “What eye color do they have in Germany?”

It’s hard to comprehend that in the West, people can have all kinds of eye colors (blue, green, brown, gray…); Another thing is that they usually cannot distinguish blonde from ginger/auburn colored hair. It all looks the same to them.

4. Learning English isn’t a piece of cake

photo by Rex Pe
photo by Rex Pe

Growing up in Germany, children are expected to learn English as their second language very early on. It’s also true that for speakers of European languages, it’s fairly easy to pick up English – at least much easier than for Asians.

The fact that English uses a different alphabet than the Chinese and that the grammar is much more complex than in Chinese, it’s really hard for children to master the language. In Chinese, there aren’t past tenses like in English “go – went – gone”;  Another example are articles like “a”. “an” or “the”. There’s no such thing in Chinese.

How can a child comprehend such a concept if it doesn’t exist in their native language? It takes much more effort for Asian learners to become fluent in English.

5. Where are the manners?

Me with one of my classes in China
Me with one of my classes in China

Shockinly, many children I worked with didn’t treat us teachers politely or with respect. Homework books are simply thrown over the table to the teacher assistant for corrections, no hello or goodbye before and after class and thank you is almost non-existent.

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If you teach in China, you are also expected to teach Western manners because they are widely lacking in China today. It’s a serious problem the nation is facing and thus introduced things like a handbook for manners when traveling abroad or Western etiquette classes for the Chinese elite.

If you work in a private training school in China, the students mostly come from more wealthy Chinese families who have the money to put their children in extra-curricular classes. Therefore, a lot of children might be more spoilt and show rather impolite behavior.

At the same time, working in groups works really well with the kids here and a lot of them really take good care of each other and make sure everyone gets a chance to submit their answer and get rewards.

Of course not all the children are impolite and rude but overall speaking, manners could be much better in Chinese schools.

Teaching English in China is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I love being a teacher and seeing my students improve their English and grow as a person. I can really recommend to take a year or even longer and teach English abroad!

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5 Things I've Learned From Teaching In China | Linda Goes East

  • I’ve mostly had good experiences teaching in China. My first year, I taught high school and while my class was more or less a joke (I think just so the school could say they had a foreign teacher) the kids were pretty respectful and interested in English. The following year I taught in a number of kindergartens in Beijing and that was kind of a mixed bag. I did like teaching young kids, but there were behavioral issues in a couple of my classes. Since then, I’ve been privately tutoring and I am amazed at how hard working and enthusiastic most of my students are. They really have a lot of pressure and so many extra classes.

    • thanks for your comment R! They do have so much pressure with extra classes it’s unbelievable! my co-teacher told me, a 8-year old told him the other day “I don’t have a childhood”! very sad to hear!

  • I wonder how much of a problem the manners are. I know that there are plenty of kids and also grown ups in China without any real manner but so are also in other countries. Or is it so much more extreme there?

    • that’s very true! and i don’t have any teaching experience in other countries! i’m sure there are brats everywhere but i think because of the 1-child policy many more kids get spoilt rotten here 😀

  • Very interesting list! You’ve brought up some issues I hadn’t thought about. I’ve seen the same thing with distinguishing hair and eye colours of foreigners with Japanese students. It’s hard for them to distinguish blue and green eyes, brown and blonde hair. Even though they see it on foreign movies, it’s not an everyday thing.
    I think that sometimes students take advantage of foreign teachers, especially those who aren’t very experienced, because they are not the same nationality, and their perceptions of foreigners is different. Thus, they think that they can get away with certain things, or that foreign teachers are pushovers.

    • yes certainly! i agree with what you said 🙂 thanks for your comment!

  • Wow such an interesting post!! I am also a teacher and have taught ESL in the Maldives. It was also a very challenging experience but for reasons different than to in your post! I learnt so many things reading this and the pressure associated with study in Aisan countries, I agree causes lots of anxiety for children. Same thing in Maldives with children taking extra classes / tuition. Great thing you’re doing and really making a difference. Keep teaching those manners!
    Kristie – you.theworld.wandering