English teachers are always in high demand in China, with many commanding great salaries and benefits. But what if you’re a non-native English speaker wanting to work in China? Is it possible? That Ukrainian dude you have on WeChat seems to be doing alright, at least. Let’s have a look at the tough life non-native English teachers in China.
If you browse through the job listings on our website, you’ll come across a huge amount of English Teaching positions across China (over 80,000 at the time of writing). But you can also expect to see the phrase “native speaker” listed as a requirement on the majority of these listings. Being the non-native English speaker you are, how can you overcome this seemingly insurmountable obstacle?
Truth is, it’s not too difficult
Firstly, how’s your English? Are you able to differentiate between “your” and “you’re”? Can you say “howdy” while gracefully tipping a cowboy hat? Are you able to pronounce “tortoise”? Do you have the determination to pretend you’re not Nikolaj from Murmansk, but Nick from Manhattan? If you answered yes to most of these questions, you have the potential to be a perfectly adequate non-native-(native)-English teacher in China.
Jokes aside, if you're English is good, you can most certainly work in China as an English teacher. (And yes, that was an intentional typo. And yes, if you missed it you might want to reconsider your chosen profession.)
There’s a rather tiresome stereotype that English training centres in China only care about the skin color of their foreign teachers, i.e. the whiter the better. That’s not entirely true, however. If your English isn’t perfect but your fair skin is, you might still struggle to get a decent teaching job in China. Likewise, if you truly are Nick from Manhattan, but with dark skin, if you show those recruiters what a pro you are, you’re bound to land something good.
Don’t be put off by ‘requirements’
Firstly, do you absolutely, positively need to have all the listed requirements to apply for that 12,000 RMB-a-month kindergarten position in Tongzhou? No, and deep down you know it, the agent knows it, and the kindergarten, too.
The situation might be different if you’re aiming for a high-end training center, as they will have higher standards. It’s still possible though, as long as your English actually is good enough.
Pro tip: don’t make “I’m not a native speaker, BUT –” a phrase in your application. Leave it up to them to ask you during the interview. If they can’t guess your nationality based on your English level and accent, you just proved your point.
Naturally if you’re from a non-English speaking country and applying to work in China as an English teacher, don’t put your nationality on your resume.
Getting past the gatekeepers
Keep in mind that more often than not when you’re applying for a teaching position in China, you’ll first be contacted by an agent rather than the school itself.
If your CV and cover letter don’t contain too many spelling errors, you can expect there will be WeChat friend requests from whacky names like PerfectLady000022, Lingg784r5634 coming your way. They’re not bots, they’re the agents. Once you add them you can expect to get three questions immediately after “Hi”:
• Where are you now?
• What visa are you currently holding?
• What is your expected salary?
If you’re claiming to be a native speaker, they might require you to send a photocopy of your passport as well. If you tell them up front you’re a non-native speaker, however, you can expect a bonus question: can you send me an introduction video?
This is so the agent can make a judgement about whether your English is good enough to introduce you to the school. (Remember that these agents work on a commission-based salary, meaning that they will weed out weak applicants to have a higher chance of getting their commission.)
Once you get past the primary stage, here are some tips on how to ace your ESL interview.
Your salary vs. Joe the Yank’s
Rumor has it that native speakers will earn more than non-native speakers. This is not always the case, but it mostly has to do with whether the training centre is professional enough to look at your credentials rather than your passport.
If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher, teaching experience, a TESOL/TEFL or CELTA certificate and are above a certain age, you can be damned sure your salary will be higher than Unqualified Joe’s, even if you have a poster of Angela Merkel on your bedroom wall. If it’s not, negotiate for a higher salary or move on to another school.
Once you’ve been hired by a reputable training centre, you’ll immediately realise that everything is modeled after America (expect the toilets). That means American songs, American games, American English, American holidays, American fashion and American dreams. If you’re a real American, you’ll probably scoff at all the pretense. If you’re not American, this is now your new reality and perception of America. Congratulations!
Apart from the general uneasiness of celebrating 4th of July and Thanksgiving as a non-American, the real horror comes when you’re expected to explain what these holidays are all about and what you usually do with your family when celebrating them in America (because that’s where you’re from, right?).
Even worse, if your training centre is very highly priced and unscrupulous you might be asked to change your home country on WeChat to the Land of the Free and delete or hide posts proving otherwise. In fact, if your training centre is in the top three in China, you might even find yourself writing an entire backstory for your American alter ego.
This may be the exception rather than the norm, but don’t be surprised if it happens. Training centres tend to do this to avoid displeased parents, since the school brochure promised an all-American staff. It’s easy to feel a little offended by this, but the schools are simply adapting to survive and will do anything they can to please ill-informed and picky parents.
Yes, you can work in China as an English teacher if you’re not a native speaker. Just remember though, even if you look the part, don’t expect to get very far with broken or sub-par English. Work on your English, be honest, be professional and you might find yourself eventually climbing the ranks.
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Most schools prefer native speaker in order to meet the Visa requirement set the government. Based on my recent experience dealings with agents and schools, while the border remains close, most schools are unwilling to issue PU letter to non native speaker at least for the time being.
Sep 22, 2020 11:48 Report Abuse
Seems to me you're making the same inaccurate claims that many ESL recruiters and Chinese parents are doing. Sure enough, French people have a hard time scrubbing off their accent, but have you ever seen an Irishman attempting to communicate with Chinese students? It's ain pretty.
Jul 01, 2018 17:31 Report Abuse