How to Teach English and Live in China?

People who want to teach English overseas are increasingly flocking to China, and it's for good reason. There is a growing need for English instructors in China because of the country's fast economic expansion. In addition, there is a comparatively cheap cost of living in the area. The question is, how does one go about getting a position as a teacher in China, and how does one live in that country?

Our buddy Chris, who has significant experience teaching English in China, will be here today to answer all of your questions.

Is there anything you'd want to tell us about yourself?

It was in 2007 that I initially embarked on a career in international education by moving to Gwangju, South Korea. The experience of living abroad as a first-time visitor really enchanted me. A friend encouraged me to come teach at his school in China after two and a half years there, and I leaped at the opportunity to try my hand at adulthood in Australia.

For the first two and a half years of my stay in Nanjing, I worked at the Jiangsu College of International Education. At the same time, it seemed like a return to a previous existence, and a new adventure. For two years, I worked as a brand ambassador for local companies, operated a pub crawl company, shot the pilot for a Chinese comedy, and experienced a lot of fantastic things while teaching in China. In addition to making money, teaching in China is a great way to see the country and meet new people.

What qualifications are needed to work as an English teacher in China?

China has lately taken a tougher stance on teacher standards. Applicants seeking a teaching visa must have a bachelor's degree in any area and a TEFL/CELTA certification. People with just one (or none) of these requirements may still be accepted by certain institutions, but doing so puts you and your family at danger of deportation.

While prior work experience isn't necessary, it does make it easier to find better-paying positions that provide more freedom in terms of vacation time and other perks.

What is it like to be an English teacher in China?

When teaching English in China, the kind of institution you work for has a significant impact on your experience. It's common for foreign instructors to be hired by IELTS (International English Language Testing Systems) training institutions for teens who want to study abroad as well as public and private schools.

During my time working at IELTS training institutions, I found them to be both challenging and gratifying. For the IELTS exam, which is needed by most overseas colleges, you're dealing with 16-20-year-olds with various motivation. For those who were planning to study in my native Australia, I not only helped them prepare for the exam (focusing on the writing and speaking portions), but I also gave seminars on terminology and Australian culture.

We worked 8-5 Monday through Friday, but only taught 10-20 hours a week, with some office time thrown in here and there. The work atmosphere was ideal for me since I had enough of time to go out and see the sights on my vacations.

I've spoken to several teachers who work in kindergartens and found that they put in the most time and get the least return. There are a lot of extra responsibilities, such as demo courses to attract new students, on the weekends, which demand 8-6 hours of labor every day. In contrast to an IELTS training facility, vacations are almost non-existent in this position.

You may be working fewer hours at a university (often only 10 a week), but the trade-off is that you get to take a lot of vacation time (2-3 months). They tend to be a little farther away from the excitement than other institutions, but they do provide on-campus housing as a benefit to their students. Also, you'll be working with students between the ages of 18 and 24, which is a great opportunity to meet and engage with locals.

I've only worked at a handful of elementary schools over the course of a few months each. In addition, they tend to be located in smaller regional areas rather than the major metropolises of the country. As a result of this, you may expect your pupils (and coworkers) to speak at a very low level of English. You'll be able to immerse yourself in studying Chinese without the distractions of bars and other foreigners.

Did cultural or linguistic differences make it difficult for you to connect with the pupils you worked with?

Again, this is a situation that relies on where you are. If you live in a large city, you're more likely to work with English-speaking colleagues and have pupils with a higher proficiency level. Children who had never spoken a word of English were taught by me, as well as children who talked like native speakers.

A new place and a new language might cause communication difficulties, but I've honed my frenetic mime skills throughout my time teaching in South Korea.

Is it possible to earn a good living while teaching English in China, and which positions are the most lucrative?

Salaries at colleges in China may vary from 5,000 RMB ($750 USD) a month up to 20,000 RMB ($3,000 USD) a month and more at prestigious private institutions. The 10,000 RMB (around $1,500 USD) threshold is becoming the new average, in my opinion. Most schools additionally include your return airfare (sometimes not paid until you've fulfilled your contract) and a housing allowance in the cost of tuition. Accommodation is often provided on campus by those who don't offer an allowance for it.

It is possible to live cheaply in China if you are willing to eat locally and give up some of the luxuries that you may be tempted to acquire, but for those who simply want to enjoy a comfortable life – it is absolutely reasonable to do so. For a fraction of the cost of western cuisine, Chinese food and goods are readily available.

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