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China is not so much a country as a huge world in its own right. The ambition of the nation is to be the world’s largest economy, and most educated observers expect that it is only a matter of time before this aspiration is met. But it is not simply the economic dynamism and the strange contrast of cultures that draws the traveler. Thousands of years of history, philosophy and culture are clearly evident, and in a sense all of the political events of the 20th century, are merely a grain of sand on the beach of Chinese history.
Cantonese and Mandarin are the official languages; however, in a country of around one point three billion spread over nearly four million square miles, there is a cornucopia of different dialects and idioms. The reality is that Cantonese will serve you well in some parts of the country; however, only Mandarin is intelligible in other areas. Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism make up the majority of those observing religious practice. There is also a tiny minority orientated to Christianity and Islam.
The economic powerhouse facet of modern China has created huge demand for TESOL teachers. Some four-hundred and fifty million English learners exist in the country. This growing demand has meant in recent years that there are positions available for those without any specific qualifications other than being a native English speaker; however, those with a dedicated TESOL certificate will find they are in the best position to apply for the better paid jobs with good benefits.
China is one of the biggest TESOL markets in the world today, and the demand for TESOL-qualified teachers is growing on a daily basis. A TESOL certificate is all you will need - with a TESOL qualification you are likely to be offered a teaching position wherever you apply in China. The demand is huge!
With language institutes you can, in the main, expect to find yourself teaching those who work in business, less so those doing it just for fun. This ‘needs-driven’ market makes for sharp, well-motivated students. Don’t expect to find people dozing at the back of the class. Commensurately, these people are paying for the privilege, and will expect a respectable, well-turned out, professional teacher. Another thing to be aware of is that many students will have been studying English for a number of years, and may have considerable awareness of grammar, such as tenses. Be on your metal, and prepare well. You don’t want to have your knowledge of tenses tested by your students, who learned them all by heart before they were ten! One often finds a disparity between knowledge and oral and written dexterity. For example, students may be quite unused to hearing English spoken by a native speaker. Conversely, some, from experience in the tourist industry, speak and comprehend with great dexterity, but perform poorly in writing.
Many students will be working toward Cambridge Proficiency standards; hence an awareness of the curriculum for the various Cambridge exams is helpful. Because of the huge variety of standards in education you can expect a commensurately patchy student body. Some will have very little experience; however, others, privately educated, will have many years experience in studying English.
Your students are likely to be very motivated. It is the Chinese way for students to learn by rote, and repeat everything that the teacher says. Hence, work needs to be put in to ensure that students comprehend areas such as nuance, and the teacher’s task is to get the students thinking, rather than simply repeating what has been said to them.
Getting a work permit in China is relatively easy these days. Theoretically, the Chinese government classifies teachers as either Foreign Experts, or Foreign Teachers. Technically, in order to qualify as a Foreign Expert, one should have a Masters degree in something like English Linguistics; however, there are not too many people of this ilk wandering around China. Whatever one’s educational status, one should apply to be a Foreign Expert. The authorities can only say ‘no’, and if you have this status then your prospects of finding a really good job are much better. To apply to be a Foreign Teacher - again, very desirable status - one should have an undergraduate degree. Again, whatever one’s educational status, this should be applied for. Once again, the authorities can only say ‘no’.
Perhaps the wise job-seeker, in the best of all possible worlds directs their attention to their visa requirements and entitlements. This will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with China. You can find all about this from your local embassy. Think about also what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your tourist visa and whether you can apply for a work permit in the country?
Beijing has come a long way in recent years, and one can put to rest ideas of uniformed guards parading, Soviet style, around shrines to Mao. Simply put the capital is becoming ‘westernized’. English, foreigners and things western are all fashionable, and you can expect no shortage of curious natives asking you questions and wanting to be friendly.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, is a quite different experience. A place where a chaos of cultures has been going on for centuries, and a place where people have become accustomed to the ‘different’ being commonplace. The slick public transportation system allows you to move with ease through the hustle and bustle, and amidst all the hubbub, it permits easy access to quiet, contemplative oases such as public parks and temples. Truly a place to dive in and live the life, or rather ‘lives’.
Shanghai, on the other hand is the new hotspot of ‘lifestyle revolution’. It has a fantastic atmosphere of excitement and change, and boasts fabulous restaurants, and frenetic nightlife.
If you are after something a little different, then Tibet may capture your imagination. High in the Himalayas, regarded by natives as a different country to China, it’s a great place to get lost in the monasteries and culture, and to gather your thoughts amidst truly breath-taking scenery.
A modicum of preparation prior to setting out will pay dividends. Think of not one country, but the continent of Asia. You may come to value mobility once you hit this part of the world. Hence, it is a very good idea to contact all of the Asian embassies in your country of origin, enquiring about teaching and visas, and see what you get back. You will find that you have a nice big file folder of leads and information, but will vary from country of origin to country of origin, Asian embassy to Asian embassy.
There are avenues that can be utilized to gain a placement prior to setting out. Princeton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Stanford (email@example.com) Universities run volunteer programs in various countries, a component of which is TESOL teaching. Stanford’s program, for example, is open to graduates and graduating seniors, and charges a fee that covers the cost of flights, training, visas and insurance.
The Chinese Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE) has thirty-seven provincial offices and is in the business of placing teachers. Similarly, the British Council (firstname.lastname@example.org) is active in China and works in cooperation with the Chinese education authorities. Now that the law has changed in China, a plethora of private language institutes have sprung up, these can be accessed via www.chinaTESOL.com and http://jobchina.net.
For some, getting a job will mean knocking on doors - hence, the need to have your certificates at the ready. Highly-qualified, and more importantly, well-turned-out, organized and enthusiastic teachers are in short supply. If they like you they will most certainly find some teaching for you!
Hence with China it is perfectly feasible to get a good job, before setting out, and also to work with a work permit. For those who chose not to do this, then one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around constructing a portfolio a few hours here and a few hours there, bearing in mind that revenue from ‘privates’ can double a teacher’s income, one should always be on the lookout for private students, whatever one’s employment or visa status. The market for those wanting private tuition or conversation practice is huge, and potentially very lucrative, therefore, should not be neglected. Give yourself time to build a portfolio of work. This is the best safeguard to both your income, and employment status.
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