How To Teach English As A Second Language In China (ESL)
In China, Guangzhou, on May 16, 2018, I prepared for my teaching job, to teach English as a second language (ESL) in World International English located in Tiyixi Lu （体育西路） for an English class full of Chinese youth who all want to learn spoken English.
Teaching English in China is an occupation I fell into in China. Today I had one spoken English class to teach in the evening.
World International English Class Cancellations
I came to Tiyuxi Lu （体育西路） and headed up the elevator into work on level 7. I was in a hurry. I put on all my work clothes in the bathroom. I came out in all my very sexy work clothes, and had a final check in the bathroom mirror.
Down the corridor I came into World International English, said hello to work colleagues as I passed reception, and came into the administration block to sit down. Because I am a part-time spoken English teacher still with no name-tag, I had to find an empty chair to sit down in.
When I checked my class schedule, I found out that my 7 pm class had been cancelled. Then I check my WeChat messages to see my teaching assistant (SA) tells me that the class had been cancelled. The two students cancelled. I wish I saw the message earlier, so I would not have wasted my time.
Soon my Teaching Assistant floats into the administration department and whispers,
“Sorry Tony. The class has been cancelled.”
Chat To World International English Work Colleagues
I said, “Okay. I still have a class at 8 pm. I will just come back after I go down and get something to eat.”
When I came outside, I stopped to talk to two World International English work colleagues standing outside handing out flyers with QR codes on them.
In the middle of our chat I noticed that the black pants I wore had a very long tear at the bottom of my pants. Once in a bathroom, I checked on the back of my pants just to see if the tear was really obvious. I just hope nobody in class notices, because I did not wear any underwear!
Later, when back in the World International English I got ready for my one spoken English class, which I have to show more pep and attitude in.
Discussing The Topic Of “Fame” In The English Class
The class today started at 8 pm and ended around 9:10 pm. This class was very interesting.
At the start, when I walked into the class with my handouts, only 3 students were in the room. I entered, saying,
“Hey everyone. I have had two of you students before.”
It was a very quiet class when we started. It was not very vibrant.
Then two more male English students came into the class. One of the male English students asked,
“How are we learning English today?”
I told the students, “Fame.”
Class Question: “Who Is Your Favorite Celebrity?”
Then I started to teach them about celebrities.
As more and more Chinese English students filed into class, I asked the question,
“Does anyone know what fame and celebrity is? Who is your favorite celebrity?”
One of the students said, “Donald Trump.”
I said, “Why is Donald Trump your favorite?”
He tells me why he likes him.
I went around the room and asked all the students one after the other for their favorite celebrity.
One student mentioned a Ping Pong Chinese celebrity, famous for his ping pong skills. A few years ago he had an affair with a woman, and this became something infamous about him.
This segway matched neatly with my next part of the lesson, which was about learning English words “infamous” and “famous”.
I asked everyone in class that same question about who was their favorite celebrity. They all told me their story. The students were all able to freely practice and learn English in this way.
A Classroom Full Of Males
Then two more English students suddenly came into the class.
I realized, “Wait a minute. Fuck me! This classroom today is just full of men.”
Then my mind ticked over and thought, “Remember that work colleague a few days ago who came up to me standing with a student near the elevator to ask, ‘Is that your English teacher?'” She was acting really suspicious trying to protect the girl from me.
Then I suspected the male-only class was designed as a countermeasure for the colleagues in World International English who believe I am a philanderer, so they have stuck me with male students in this class.
If they keep doing that, then it will become a trend, and a problem.
In class, my mind wandered for a second. I remembered how I had my previous class cancelled today. I don’t know the reasons why the English As A Second Language class was cancelled. My suspicion is that maybe there were some females in the class, they were uncomfortable with me, and they just cancelled it. I don’t know.
Anyway, this spoken English class was a full salon class full with 8 male students, so the students were much rowdier in learning English than usual.
Explaining The Group Activity To The English Students
Then I wrote something else on the board.
I said, “We are going to do an activity now.”
There was a handout with 20 questions on there. I had already read the handout and the questions beforehand, so I knew this time what the class was about. I was prepared. I was not going on the fly.
I told the students, “We are going to break up into groups of two. You two, you two, you two. The first group can focus on the first questions. The second group can focus on the middle part of the questions on the page. The third group can focus on the last part of the questions.”
“Just ask each other these questions, because we have already talked about who is your favorite celebrity. So, you can find out more things about what your group partner says about their celebrity. Then you can come back to me and share what you all said to each other.”
These teaching strategies worked well for the students to practice and learn English.
Providing Definitions To English Words
Then I got a chance to sit at the back of the class, and listen to them talking. I wrote down some words from the questionnaire that I thought they would not understand, like “pros and cons”, “adolescence” and a few other words like “paparazzi”.
Then I stood at the back of the class.
I said, “For everyone, the word paparazzi,” and then I would explain the meaning of the word.
Someone would ask me, “What does pros and cons mean?”
I said, “I thought you would have trouble with that. I wrote that word on the board too.”
I then explained that word to them as well.
“Pros and cons is the good and the bad of something. This classroom has air conditioning. That is a pro. But this classroom is a bit small. That is a con. If you buy a new car, the car can go really fast. That is a pro. But if you crash, the car will crumple up badly. That is a con.”
Asking Each Group What They Discussed
The students spent 15-20 minutes talking to each other. One of the better teaching strategies is to sit back in class and allow them to speak up and learn English from each other’s responses in group activities.
We got most rowdy when we were talking about Donald Trump.
When everyone finished, I went around the class to ask each student what they all think. I was quieter in this class, letting them carry on with their own way. I would come in every now and again with patience and ask them questions.
Sometimes they did not speak very clearly.
Providing A Definition For The English Word “Gossip”
For the word “gossip” for example, they asked,
“What does gossip mean?”
I replied, “唠叨. If there is a person that you are talking about but they are not in the room, that is gossip. So, for example…” and then I pointed to one of my work colleagues outside.
I continued in third-person, “Hey, I heard you had blonde hair before. Is that true?” I explained to everyone in the room, “That is gossip. We don’t know if it is true or not true, but I am talking about it to everyone else now. That is gossip.”
I repeated the same message 4-5 times, one of my better teaching strategies. Every time we came to a new part of the topic that related to pros and cons, or gossip, I would reference back to that English word, pointing to the whiteboard saying, “Gossip.”
An English Student Asks The Teacher A Question
I continued to walk around the room, providing each group assistance as they discussed this topic with each other. Then, one of the students turned backwards in his chair towards me and asked me a question.
He asked, “Do you think celebrity and beauty have a relationship?”
Then I went into my own opinion, because he asked me.
I said, “Yeah, I don’t think they have a relationship, maybe twenty percent. Because there is a woman called Susan Boyle. She was a famous celebrity that sold a lot of music, but she was not very attractive.”
“Maybe if you are attractive you can sell more things twenty percent more of the time, but also your skill and your ability can make you famous as well.”
Discussing Famous People On The Time Magazine Cover
Then I went back to the front of the class and told everyone,
“Time magazine. Does everyone know what Time magazine is about?”
One English student cracked a joke, “It is about money!”
I said, “Yeah, the magazine must make a lot of money. So, on the front of Time magazine, who is this guy?”
Confusing China’s Political Leaders
On the handout, one of the Time magazine covers had Deng Xiaoping （邓小平）.
I queried, “Is this Mao Zedong （毛泽东）?”
The older student from class angrily looked at me, saying,
“That is not Mao Zedong. That is Deng Xiaoping.”
I tried not to take him so seriously.
Knowing when to take tense energy and turn it into a lead question for other students is one of the better teaching strategies to use.
I continued, “What were some of the good things that they did?”
Discussing English Words “Famous” And “Infamous”
“Famous” and “Infamous” people is one of the big conversations we expanded on when I began to introduce the English words “famous” and “infamous” on the whiteboard.
I asked, “Why was he famous?”
The student that cut me down told me, “He is famous because he came up with a lot of reforms.”
I said, “That is right. If it was not for him, China would not have had the open-door policy, and I would probably not be here as a foreign teacher.”
Everyone went silent, nodding their head as if to silently say, that is true.
Using knowledge of Chinese culture to use in class activities is one of the better teaching strategies, especially when you know the topic well.
I continued, “China could have become more like Korea and Japan where you can walk around on a holiday and you would not see any foreigners at all. But China opened up. Now there are a lot of opportunities to meet different people from different cultures, and to be open (开放).”
Discussing All Time Magazine Covers
Then we talked about all the different, famous people on the cover. I got bored with the conversation too.
We talked about Steve Jobs. One student at the beginning of the class mentioned him as their example of a famous person.
We also talked about Mark Zuckerberg, about Facebook, VPNs, and how you can’t get online.
Discussing Facebook And VPNS
I asked the students, “Does anyone have Facebook?”
One student said, “Yeah.”
I asked, “Do you talk to your friends on Facebook?”
One student said, “No. I just use Facebook. It is there.”
I said, “I use WeChat because I can talk to all my friends in China, but I still use Facebook and VPN because my parents are on Facebook. I still need to talk to them. They don’t use WeChat. I have to use a VPN to be able to contact my family and all my friends in Australia. It is important to me.”
Consensus is one of the better teaching strategies to use in the classroom, especially when you are able to argue universally accepted truths, such as family.
The English Student’s Awkward Question About Australia
The question that the student asked me at the end of the class was,
“I heard that some people went to Australia and they said that Australian people do not like the Chinese people who go to Australia. Can you tell me about that?”
That is a very loaded question, but I told him as best I could.
I said, “Let me tell you something about the difference between our cultures.”
I wrote the word “direct （直接）”.
I said, “Australian people are very direct.”
I won’t go into this because I have already written an article on Western Directness (直接) verses Chinese Ambiguity (暧昧).
But I did tell him, “Australian people, if they don’t like something about you, they will tell you directly.”
He was looking at me with this puzzled, somewhat malicious look in his eye.
Then I gave him the example that is in my East vs West articles.
I said, “If you had tissue paper stuck on your ass, an Australian person would come up to you and say, ‘Hey, you have some tissue paper stuck on your ass. Get rid of it.’ That would make you feel embarrassed (尴尬), but you only get embarrassed temporarily, and then you fix the problem. That is very direct. That is what Australian people do.”
“Whereas in China, if you see someone with tissue stuck to their ass, you probably would not say anything, right? That is very subtle.”
“Chinese people are more subtle, whereas Australian people are more direct. That is the difference.”
“If Chinese people go to Australia or America for example and encounter this directness, they might feel offended by that directness, but it really is not directed at any one person. It is just the way we are in our culture. That is the way we deal with Australian people, or anybody that we talk with. We are just very direct.”
“You need to understand directness is part of our culture. Some people when they encounter this, they think we are rude. But we are just being honest and candid.”
Explaining Away Misconceptions About Australian Racism
A sense of humor is one of the essential teaching strategies in a classroom. I utilized humor well in these tenser moments.
Everyone else that I was talking to was joking and laughing, but this student was listening intently for that one word I was going to say that was wrong, the catch-you-out moment so he can say, “Ha, you are a racist.”
The funny thing is that I am not a racist. I have all my friends in China who are Chinese, most of my friends in Australia who are Chinese, and soon to have a mixed-Chinese baby. So, I have to admit that the Chinese people who come to Australia have it all wrong in their mind.
This student in my class cannot expect that the Chinese people who come to Australia are going to be treated like royalty, with a silver platter held out for them. Of course they are going to have to adapt to the way that Australian people think and do.
That is what you have to do when you go to a new culture, you have to adapt to that culture. But there are so many differences between Chinese and Australian culture, that it is just very hard to adapt.
The Facts About People In Australian Society
I guess what this student is trying to do is that he is trying to understand Australia, but he understands Australia as if Australian people are discriminatory, where it is actually not the case.
Lots of people in Australia use this tall-poppy syndrome to knock each other down. That is just the way Australia is.
I guess when this student realizes that nobody is immune in Australia, then he will understand Australia. We can’t just go around in Australia treating people with cotton wool, because you have to toughen up in Australia if you want to survive.
We don’t want people to come to Australia, go into their ethnic communities and just stay there. Australian people will shake people out of their communities and their comfort zones, because we want a harmonious society where all people live together as one.
That is what I was trying to tell that English student.
Final Question Time
Then we returned once more to talk about famous celebrities on the Time magazine cover. We pretty much finished the class there.
I continued the class until the end, when I said to everyone,
“I don’t think we have any more time. The class is finished. Question time. Does anyone have any questions?”
Then we started some very slow-fire questions.
The class soon finished up, as I thanked all eight students for turning up to the salon class in World International English.
Chatting With English Teacher Work Colleagues After Class
Then, when we all came to wait for an elevator, an American male English teacher colleague, a Canadian female English teacher colleague, and me, I kept quiet. I did not want to contribute too much or sound like I am excessively showing off to my work colleagues.
Once outside, I pulled up beside both the American male and Canadian female teacher. I found out from the Canadian woman that she does private tutoring, which was cool. I had a longer chat to the Californian American teacher.
I found out that the American English teacher also teaches at another school. He tries to balance both of them out. I also discovered that in World International English he is only a part-time teacher.
I told them I also have my private classes as well.
Discussing Teaching Job With American English Teacher
Then the American English teacher and I started walking together.
I said, “I am going to Starbucks now. Where are you guys going?”
He said, “I think I will go that way too.”
He wanted to find some more time to chat to me about our teaching job before he had to enter his metro station entrance.
I wanted to know some facts about our teaching job. What he told me was surprising.
He said, “It is very hard in World. I like to teach English as a second language here, but in February there are almost no English students that come to class. It would be very difficult to find a student to teach English as a second language. I found lately that there are almost no classes from 3 pm to 6 pm. It is only 7 pm to 9 pm that there are English classes. I don’t know why students are not attending earlier.”
I said, “You know, I heard the British English teacher saying – when I began to teach in World – that the English students do not want to come into the spoken English class. He does not know how he will force them to come into the English class to learn how to speak English as a second language. It is not his job.”
The British English teacher was already talking about how it is difficult to retain students and keep them coming to class.
He said, “Yes, that is a big problem.”
I asked the American English teacher, “Could you give me any advice about teaching at World International English?”
I also mentioned to him, “In today’s class I had eight students in there, and they were all male.”
He mulled, “It is common to have an even mix in the classes. But, the English classes have been getting smaller and smaller lately. I am not sure why.”
It sounds like World International English is suffering reputational damage, or people just don’t want to come to the spoken English classes anymore.
American English Teacher Recommends WeChat Teaching Group
We had a nice chat about our teaching jobs. He told me about a teaching group he can add me into.
He asked, “Do you use WeChat?”
I said, “Yeah, let me just give you my WeChat.”
Then we talked about the prices I charge students to teach them how to speak English as a second language (ESL).
I said, “I do private tutoring, but I charge a low price. I just charge 100 RMB per hour.”
He looked at me kind of shocked, asking, “You mean American dollars?”
I said, “No, RMB.”
He said, “That is too low.”
I asked, “What do you think would be a good price per hour to teach English?”
He said, “At least 200 RMB per hour to teach English as a second language.”
I said, “I think you are right, but this is a friend of a friend. I am charging her a low price.”
Headed For Starbucks
Then, we gave each other a shake of the hand, and I said to him,
“Good conversation. When are you coming in to teach English next?”
He said, “Next week I have some more classes.”
So him and I are in the same boat.
I said, “I still don’t have my schedule next week but I will probably see you next week if I come in.”
Then I came into Starbucks and bought a mocha coffee discounted for 31 RMB thanks to my World International English staff card.
The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.