Can I Teach English In China If I Don’t Speak Chinese? Yes!
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Can I teach English in China if I don’t speak Chinese? Yes!
Do you speak English? Congratulations! You can train to be an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher!
How can I teach without speaking the local language is one of the most common questions we at The TEFL Academy get asked. It seems future TEFL teachers are especially concerned about this when it comes to teaching English in China – a popular TEFL destination. Can I teach English in China if I don’t speak Chinese? you might be wondering.
Teaching in China but not being able to speak Mandarin (or Cantonese) is not only doable, it’s actually the norm. You might think Mandarin is a very challenging language to learn but when you think about it, living and working in China is the same as living and working in any country.
Just as most TEFL teachers don’t speak the local language of wherever they are teaching, so too the majority of TEFL teachers in China don’t speak Chinese. After all, we’re English teachers!
But let’s look at how you can teach in China if you don’t Chinese in more detail.
English in China
Research has shown that less than 1% of China’s population can speak English at a conversational level or above. EF’s English Proficiency report of 2021 rated China’s English proficiency as moderate, ranking them 49 out of 112 countries.
Despite the fact that English is mandatory in Chinese schools from Grade 1, this is not the case in many rural schools. At the same time, the English instruction is not of a high standard, and many Chinese students opt for vocational schools – where English is not taught – rather than mainstream high schools.
This is why there is such a huge demand for TEFL teachers!
What this means is that in China you are more likely to hear Mandarin than English spoken. Of course, while the level of English is higher in big cities, even in cities like Beijing and Shanghai you will still find yourself overwhelmed by Mandarin. Also don’t forget that there are many local dialects which are still spoken in different parts of the country, which are different to Mandarin or Cantonese.
So the question remains:
How can I teach English in China if I don’t speak Chinese?
The concept is the same as for living in any country where you don’t speak the local language. It won’t affect your teaching but it will affect your everyday living.
- You will generally find more English speakers in the bigger cities and more urban areas, especially places that are popular with tourists.
- Transportation hubs e.g. train stations, subway stations, and airports, should have signage in both Mandarin and English.
- Restaurants in cities should have menus in Chinese. Restaurants in smaller towns probably won’t, but they may have images next to the menu items. We can’t guarantee that the image is of the exact same dish but we can always hope!
When it comes to teaching English as a foreign language, immersion learning is the name of the game. This is when only the language being taught i.e. English, is used in the classroom, even when explaining concepts or giving instructions. Translation is used sparingly. For this reason, you don’t need to be able to speak Mandarin to be able to teach in China.
Bear in mind that our language learners largely want to be able to speak in English. Because of this, the focus of your lessons is on speaking in English!
You might need some Chinese to communicate with other teachers and staff members, but hopefully the teachers in the English department can speak English! For official business – a visit to a bank or government office, for example – your school will send someone with you.
Top tips for living in China if you don’t speak Chinese
- Have a business card or letterhead from where you are staying. You can show this to your taxi driver, rather than relying on your Chinese pronunciation or their English.
- If using hand gestures to communicate, don’t point with your finger as this is considered rude. Rather point with your whole hand.
- Make sure the translation app you want to use is available in China.
- WeChat has a translate function for messages.
- Learn a few basic phrases to help you get around.
Why you should learn Chinese
On the other hand, if you have the time and motivation, you should try as best you can to learn some Chinese. Being able to communicate in the local language, even at a basic level, shows respect for the person you are talking to. Knowing the language will help you understand the culture. Plus, it will give you empathy for your learners as you realise just how different the two languages are!
A TTA alumnus in China
Andreas is from the Netherlands and decided to go to China when he was 18, where is now a primary school teacher in Chengdu. He says:
In many ways China is completely different from my home country, The Netherlands. That’s what makes it so exciting to live here. The people are different, the culture is different, the food is different. When I first came to Chengdu I didn’t know anyone here. It’s like I was starting a new life.
When I first came to Chengdu (China), I started as a kindergarten teacher. At the school I started teaching I was the only foreigner. And only a few of the staff spoke English. On the first day they just put me into a classroom and told me to start teaching. They didn’t give me any instructions but […] I had a teaching assistant. Even though it was demanding, it was also a lot of fun. The students are sweet and lively, and the content was easy to teach.
I would really advise teaching abroad to people who would like some change or excitement in their lives. Teaching abroad is a really good way to give your life a new direction, and to have a new start.
Keen on teaching English in China? Sign up for one of our courses to get you started in teaching English as a foreign language. If you’re qualified already, keep an eye on our jobs boards and internships page for teaching opportunities in China.
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Students may test their English level here: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/content.
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LAST UPDATED: 19th July 2022
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- any information that we reasonably need to locate the information you have requested (for example details of the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD offices or staff that you have had contact with and when)
We will not start looking for your information until we receive all of the above. In order to submit your request, or for help making a request, please contact us.
Rights concerning the processing of your personal information
- Right to restrict processing of personal information
- In some situations, you have the right to require us to restrict the processing of your personal information. We may restrict your personal information by temporarily moving the information to another processing system, making the information unavailable to users, or temporarily removing published information from a website. We may also use technical methods to ensure the personal information is not subject to further processing and cannot be changed. When we have restricted processing of personal information, this will be clearly indicated on our systems.
- You can require us to restrict processing in the following circumstances:
- You are concerned that the information we hold about you is inaccurate. You can ask us to restrict the information until we can determine whether the information is accurate or inaccurate.
- We are processing your personal data unlawfully and you do not want us to delete the information but restrict it instead.
- We no longer need the information for the purposes for which we collected it, but they are needed by you for the establishment, exercise or defence of legal claims.
- You have objected to the processing (see below), and we need to decide whether the legitimate grounds we have to process the information override your legitimate interests.
Processing you think is unlawful
- If you tell us that you think we are processing your personal information unlawfully, but you do not want the information to be erased, you have the right to require us to restrict the processing of that information.
- We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the processing is unlawful, and may also ask that you provide evidence to support this view.
Processing of personal information you think is inaccurate
- You can tell us if you think the personal information we are processing about you is factually inaccurate. You can require us to restrict how we use your personal information until we can verify the accuracy of the information. We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the information is inaccurate, and may also ask that you provide some supporting evidence of the alleged inaccuracy.
- If we find that the personal information we are processing about you is inaccurate, we will take appropriate steps to correct the information.
Personal information is no longer needed by ELEARNING FUTURES LTD but needed by you in connection with a legal claim
- In most circumstances, we will securely delete or dispose of personal information when we no longer need it for our legitimate business purposes. Our approach to retention is outlined in our corporate retention schedules.
- However, if the personal information we no longer need would assist you in establishing, exercising or defending a legal claim, you can require us to keep the information for as long as necessary. We may ask you to provide an explanation and any available supporting evidence that a legal claim is ongoing or contemplated.
Right to erasure of personal data (“the right to be forgotten”)
In the following circumstances, you have the right to require that ELEARNING FUTURES LTD securely deletes or destroys your personal information:
- If the personal information we hold about you is no longer necessary for the purposes for which we originally collected it.
- The processing is based on consent – if you have previously given your consent to ELEARNING FUTURES LTD collecting and processing your personal information, and you notify us that you withdraw your consent. Please note: withdrawing your consent does not mean the processing of your personal data which occurred before the withdrawal was unlawful.
- We are processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes, and you want us to stop.
- If you think ELEARNING FUTURES LTD has processed your personal information unlawfully.
If you think any of the above situations apply, we may ask you for an explanation and further information to verify this.
Right to object to processing
You have the right to object to the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD processing your personal data in the following circumstances:
Personal information used for direct marketing
If we are using your personal information to send you direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time. If you exercise this right, we will stop processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes. However, we may keep your information on a “suppression list” to ensure your information is not added to any marketing lists at some point in the future.
Automated decision making and profiling
- ‘Profiling’ is the automated use of personal data held on a computer to analyse or predict things that have a legal effect, or other similarly significant effects, on the individual. Examples would include economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests and location. You have the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision (that is, a decision made electronically, with no human intervention), and this may include profiling (although there is no general right to object to profiling). If you are concerned the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD has made a solely automated decision about you, you can object.
- Please note, ELEARNING FUTURES LTD is allowed to carry out automated decisions with no human intervention where you have given your explicit consent to this processing (although you have the right to withdraw your consent).
- We are also permitted to make automated decisions with no human intervention in the following circumstances:
- The automated decision is necessary to enter into, or perform a contract, or complete a contract involving you and the ELEARNING FUTURES LTD.
- The automated decision is allowed under a law passed at the European Union level, or at the level of the European Union or EEA member state level (i.e., is allowed under national law). The law will provide safeguards to protect your rights and freedoms.
However, you still have a general right to object in both of the above circumstances, providing reasons why you think the processing is having a negative effect on you. If you do object, we will carefully consider your reasons, and decide whether to review the decision-making process in your specific case.
Right to data portability
- If you have provided your information to ELEARNING FUTURES LTD, you have the right to request and receive a copy of that information in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- You also have the right to ask us to send the information we hold about you to another organisation.
- There are some situations in which the right to data portability does not apply. For further information, please contact us.
Exercising your rights concerning the processing of your personal information
If you wish to exercise any of the above rights concerning the way in which we process your personal information, please contact:
Risk Management Team
ELEARNING FUTURES LTD,
21-22 Old Steine,
Email: [email protected]
Your right to complain to a national data protection regulator (data protection supervisory authority)
- If you think we have processed your personal information unfairly or unlawfully, or we have not complied with your rights under GDPR, you have the right to complain to a national data protection regulator.
- Complaints about how we process your personal information can be considered by the data protection regulator.