As many of you will have found out already, Chinese is a very difficult language to learn, especially for us native English speakers. The characters look confusing and speaking Chinese can be even trickier – there are four different tones that can completely change the meaning of words and sentences. Don't let this put you off from learning Chinese though; it'll take time, but once you've started to identify patterns in grammar and radicals in characters, you'll find it more straightforward.
Teaching English in China means you will be working with Chinese students whose first language is…Chinese, of course. Can you communicate effectively with them in Chinese? Probably not. Will it stop you from being able to teach English? Absolutely not. Remember, your job is to teach English, not Chinese! So don't worry if your Chinese skills are not up to standard. In fact, you are discouraged from using Chinese in the classroom. If you just speak Chinese with them, will they learn English? If students discover that you can speak their language, there is a risk of students choosing the ‘safer option' when it comes to answering questions and just speak Chinese. I work with many local teachers in my center, and they won't use Chinese in the classroom, even though it is their first language!
There are times where speaking Chinese may be very important. For example – a student could be sick or have a problem that he/she is unable to communicate with you in English. Don't worry though, most of the time you will have a Teaching Assistant who is local, and they can help with communication. A lot of teachers enforce a ‘No Chinese' rule where students are not allowed to say anything in Chinese during the lessons. Whilst I understand the reason behind it, I feel that it is something that you shouldn't be too harsh with, especially in the 2-hour sessions. If someone came up to you and said you can't speak English at all for a period of time, how would you find it? Discourage them from speaking Chinese and encourage English instead, but you don't need to be super strict with it. If students feel more comfortable in your classroom, they'll be more willing to cooperate with you and learn. You might find that they may even teach you a word or two in Chinese which may come in handy some time.
So, if you're thinking about teaching in China, but you're worried about your lack of Chinese skills, you'll be pleased to know that you do NOT need to know Chinese to teach English in China. But, I would still suggest to you try to learn Chinese, as it will go a long way in helping you settle down into life here. Don't know where to start? We offer beginner online classes to help you get to grips with the basics of the language. Also, feel free to practice with your local colleagues; your attempt to learn their language and culture will be highly appreciated.