Problems You Might Come Across While Teaching English in China

Problems You Might Come Across While Teaching English in China
Apr 19, 2018 By Lewis Schwinn ,

When you search for “jobs in China for foreigners” on the net, the vast majority of the listings are for English teachers… or creepy model listings... but mostly for English teachers. If you take up one of these abundant posts, you're likely to encounter several problems, both inside and outside the classroom. But don't worry, we've got it covered with a handy summary of possible problems and solutions for the bold and the brave teaching English in China.

Problems You Might Come Across While Teaching English in China
Photo: Zakeena

Finding a Decent School

First off, you've got a find yourself a decent school. Here are some red flag terms and their translations when you're looking for a teaching job in China:

Phrase 1: Need a teacher ASAP

Translation: Our company is either really poorly organised or the working conditions are so bad that someone up and left us in the middle of the night

Phrase 2: Fun and engaging atmosphere

Translation: We're not going to pay you well and are really stretching for things to list as benefits.

Phrase 3: Seeking adventure and fun teaching in China!

Translation: We don't want a real teacher. We just need a foreign face so we can charge more for tuition.

Phrase 4: Need a white teacher

Translation: We're really racist.

Phrase 5: Performance Bonus

Translation: Hell will freeze over before we give you any extra money.

The Student Mill

There is a gigantic and horrifying mill system at the college level between Chinese international schools and foreign universities. If you're working for one of the former, here's another problem you may encounter.

All international programs in China come with a mix of students. Some have parents that want their kids to have an education in a less restricted environment. These kids are generally hard-workers who genuinely want to learn so they can go abroad and succeed. There are also kids who, for whatever reason, have made enough mistakes to bar them from getting into one of the better middle schools in China. Their parents bought them a spot at an expensive international school which allows their child to avoid taking the Gaokao and the China college entry tests.

The international schools promise these parents that their children will gain entry to an overseas college. Some will then proceed to hire random foreigners without many or any qualifications just to justify high tuition costs. Some will enforce little or no academic standards whatsoever, and then forge the students' grades on their transcripts. Welcome to the shady world of teaching English in China!

Then these students, with absolutely none of the skills that they need to survive in a Western academic environment, are put in either a foundation program (for students whose English is not good enough for the regular program) or are put directly into classes with everyone else on arrival at university. Consequently, in some cases, parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to see their child return home without a degree.

Why do I mention this? If you're a real teacher or have a shred of morality, it's soul draining watching apathetic students fielded by incredulous institutions committing academic fraud. If you're thinking about teaching in one of these programs, you'll need to carefully investigate their practices. Otherwise you could find yourself teaching students who don't care and want to watch movies all day.

Admin Problems

If your school is not very organised or simply trying to fleece you, you may find yourself encountering “admin” (payment) problems while teaching in China. It seems obvious, but the best way of holding administration and support staff accountable is to make sure you have everything written down. WeChat messages, emails, meeting memos and contracts can help you prove exactly what was promised and when. Never rely on verbal promises for anything important.

Now, we're not saying you should kick down the office door and slap someone with your contract. Of course, you need to be polite but firmly insistent. But most importantly, you need to be willing to walk away.

It's common to see teachers staying in untenable work situations out of fear of having to traverse the ever-changing quicksand of Chinese visa regulations. Some employers will exploit this to make you work illegally or beyond the bounds of your agreement. If you're willing to quit, change jobs, or at least insinuate you'll cause more trouble than it's worth, you might just scare them into making an honest teacher of you.


“Just make it fun, interesting, exciting and make sure they learn a lot, okay?” This is the general speech given to new foreign teachers in China. Of course these are goals every teacher should have, but at the same time learning English is not always a picnic. There are occasions when you'll need to make the kids to shut up and study. How do we accomplish such a seemingly impossible feat? In-class discipline, of course.

Establish clear rules on the first day of class with clearly defined penalties for breaking said rules. Make sure the school will back up those penalties and then pull the trigger every time a kid steps over the line.

Do this for a month or two and then you can ease up and start to have more fun. But if you don't establish discipline at the start, your classes will probably become an uncontrollable exercise in anarchy that will make you hate your job.

Be warned, however, if your school is only driven by profit they will likely have no interest in disciplining the kids and consequently won't provide you any tools with which to do so.

Now for the most fun part to any article…

Technical grammatical points!

In case you haven't found this out already, Chinese is a very different language to English. You're therefore going to come across a unique set of problems when trying to teach the finer points of the language to Chinese students.

Articles; “a”, “an”, and “the”.

These three words often make the difference between a student speaking Chinglish and fluent English. The Chinese language doesn't use articles, and as a result it will require a massive amount of time and practice for a Chinese kid to be able to properly use them. Make sure you start drilling it in from the beginning.

Noun-verb agreement: John walks to the store.

The noun-verb agreement is simply whether or not you use an “s” at the end of a verb in the present simple tense. Most Chinese learners will have no problem with this when speaking but will absolutely make mistakes while writing. Look out for it when marking an don't let it slide.

Tenses: (specifically simple past, present perfect, past perfect)

Tenses just refer to the time indicated in a sentences. Almost all intermediate Chinese students will actually have a very strong grasp of these ideas grammatically. Where they tend to have problems is in using them correctly when speaking. If you listen carefully, most ESL students in China try to stay in safe territory by only using the simple past (with a few problems), present, and future tenses. If you want them to gain true fluency you need to make sure they get spoken practice using all tenses so they understand when to switch and why.


This is truly the Achilles heel of the vast majority of Chinese ESL learners. Writing, particularly essay writing, is an absolutely vital skill for students planning to study abroad. The traditional Chinese curriculum doesn't concentrate on justifying opinions with compelling reasons, and many international schools have poor standards and lazy teachers who avoid teaching writing due to the massive amount of time it requires for grading. As a result, many students are terrible at it.

When you begin teaching English in China, depending on the level, of course, you should focus on:

1. The difference between formal and informal English

2. The correct structure of an essay. A great place to start is with five-paragraph essays, reviled as they are by some in the educational world. Basic introduction, compare, contrast and conclusion patterns are the most vital as they appear on TOEFL, IELTS and SATs exams.

3. Plagiarism. How do you paraphrase, summarise, and quote other sources?

There's a good chance your students have absolutely no experience with any of these vital skills. Take nothing for granted and work from the ground up.

Any more typical English teacher in China problems? Leave them in the comments section below.

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on without written permission from constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.

Keywords: teaching English in China


All comments are subject to moderation by staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



And my comments are also based on experience. Annoying bums are annoying bums no matter where they come from. And thank you for proving my point for me.

Dec 05, 2018 23:06 Report Abuse



nice write up from someone who appears to have been a teacher for about 5 minutes. teaching problems in China? how about the fact that actually students look at foreign teachers as a release from normal classes and think it is time for a laugh and a joke. also big teaching problems in china - 'certified teachers' aka bums from Canada who cannot get a job coming over and lording it over everyone else. there are two major problems you obviously have not experienced yet. when you have come back and write part 2.

Apr 21, 2018 07:43 Report Abuse



"bums from Canada who cannot get a job coming over and lording over everyone else". Bums from anywhere else with the exact same inability to hold down a job and coming here to do exactly the same thing they accuse Canadians of are just as annoying if not more so, as they add to the previously mentioned character defects, the one of hypocrisy. Yes, this means the poster quoted above

Aug 17, 2018 13:09 Report Abuse



i don't care what you think. I know what I am talking about based on experience and yes that does mean bums from canada etc lording it.

Dec 05, 2018 12:57 Report Abuse