English Teachers in China

A great deal of attention has been paid to China’s increasingly prominent role in international education. This is particularly true in its capacity as a source for international students and important destination for English language instructors. Indeed, as the Institute of International Education’s “Open Doors” report aptly notes, in the 2009-2010 academic year China passed India to become the biggest source of foreign students in US. At the same time, tens of thousands of native English teachers from the US currently make China their home. While Chinese exchange students, raised in China, doubtless experience their fair share of culture shock when making that transition, less attention has been paid to the experience of English Language Teachers in China.

Thanks to mass media and the rise of globalization, Chinese students are more aware of American culture than ever before. For many, a study abroad opportunity is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of effort. The average English language teachers in China, however, has been significantly less exposed to the ins and outs of Chinese culture and, given the sheer number of them that teach English in China, the differences in teaching styles alone can have a profound effect on their effectiveness in the classroom.

Thus it is important to note that traditional teaching styles in Chinese and American schools are vast different. While America instructors focus on class discussions and student engagement, lessons in China are teacher-centered, exam-based, and place an emphasis on rote learning. English language teachers in China should also recognize that competition to get into a good college in China is so intense that most Chinese students spend a large proportion of each day studying and are rarely receptive to the nontraditional learning techniques used in the more relaxed American educational system. Lesson plans should therefore be designed with the student – and an awareness of these and other cultural differences – in mind. Such customization is the cornerstone of ESL success.

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