When it comes to learning how to teach English, especially English as a Foreign Language, you’ll often find that you’re quite unprepared. There are no university classes that I know of which teach you how to teach ESL, and they certainly don’t prepare you for the environment and challenges you’ll face when you get to China.
So what are some things that you can do to learn how to teach English when you teach abroad? And how can you maintain your sanity throughout the year? Let’s take a look.
- Forget: Forget what you’ve learned back in college about English. Your students won’t know much about adverbs, prepositions, and past participles. At least they won’t know them by name. Past participles are referred to as “pp” here, by the way. You’ll really be lucky if they know how to use the grammar when you introduce it and you’ll most likely have to dumb it down quite substantially. I find that many new teacher of ESL don’t know how to teach English in China because their expectations weren’t low enough when they got here. If you think your students will be able to tell you what they had for lunch, think again. Most will be able to say “rice,” and that may be it.
- Adapt: So now that you’ve gotten over the shock of realizing that all of your expensive learning was for naught, now what? Well, you’re going to have to adapt if you want to get through that year-long contract you signed, and the sooner you can do that, the better your sanity will fare over the long months ahead. When it comes to teaching ESL in China, you’ve really got to understand that it’s not so much about education as it’s about entertainment. I like to call it “edutainment,” and I’ve heard others refer to it that way as well. So play games and do activities. Have fun, and by all means, try to adapt what you thought you knew about how to teach English into something that actually has a chance of working.
- Excel: If you’ve forgotten all the rubbish, adapted yourself to the realities, and chosen to excel in your new, and perhaps temporary, profession, you’re on the right track. When you begin to realize how to teach English in China, you’ll be so much better off. A lot of these ESL students are looking to improve their skills in an English environment, not converse with the head of a multinational corporation. And while they may not be able to converse that fluently, or at all, you can probably learn how to communicate with them over time. Learn gestures and start acting. My college drama class did a lot more to prepare me for how to teach English in China than my English classes ever did. And don’t give up; you can, and will, make it to the end of your contract.