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Teaching at a University in China

Teaching at a University in China | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In China, there is the option to teach in either private or public institutions. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Public institutions such as universities tend to be well resourced with time set aside for lesson planning but are less well paid than their private counterparts. Although this appears to be balanced, as those who work at the universities receive more benefits and a more generous holiday allowance that allows the university teachers to make the most of being in China with ample opportunity to explore.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Emma R. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Requirements for Teachers

To teach at a university in China as a foreign national. The minimum qualifications required are a university degree, such as a BA. You will also require a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) with a minimum of 120 hours of teaching. You will also need to be able to prove that you are a native speaker of English, for example by showing your passport from an English speaking country. Any higher qualifications would be advantageous. These are the minimum requirements, the more experience you have the better.

Also Read: The Specifics, Advantages, and Disadvantages of Teaching English One-to-One

Students’ Life

Student life at a university in China will differ from that in a Western university. As there is a different culture in the countries this too changes university life. One aspect of this is a mandatory exercise component which is generally present at most universities. This can range from a military-style introduction for a few weeks in place of the fresher's activities traditional in a Western university. There may be a more relaxed attitude with a minimum requirement of exercise to be signed off per term. Regardless of the level of exercise required there is likely to be some component of this for the students. This is unlikely to change any aspect of teaching but does illustrate that there are cultural differences that will be present compared to a western university.

Teaching Styles

Teaching styles in Chinese schools tend to be based on learning by rote, with heavy reliance on textbooks and much less involvement of debate, discussion or group work. Therefore the ESA (Engage, Study, Activate) structure of the TEFL course is likely to be quite an adjustment for students unless they have previous experience with a TEFL teacher. Additionally, students are likely to have a high level of respect for the teacher. This is due to the prevailing culture of respect for teachers and elders throughout China. It is considered impolite to question or disagree with the teacher, as a result, discipline problems are unlikely to cause too much of an issue initially, although, in order to engage students in asking questions and debating, you will need to demonstrate that this is something you welcome and not something that you find insulting.

Also Read: What does TEFL mean?


Entry to university for Chinese students is highly competitive and a component of application involves rigorous entrance exams. Part of this comprises an English exam that does not contain a speaking element. Consequently, students are likely to have focused on the skills tested in the entrance exams and therefore be more proficient in the skills of reading, writing and listening than of speaking. Speaking skills will, therefore, be very important to focus on to bring these up to a similar level. Due to the lack of speaking practice students are likely to be more apprehensive about speaking and may require motivation and lots of pair work to create a safe environment. This combined with the prevalence of teaching by rote learning could require some time and effort for students to gain confidence and fluency. To overcome this student will have to be introduced to the more active learning styles of Engage, Study, Activate and encouraged to speak and make mistakes. It is through making mistakes that we learn and this must be emphasized to students.

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As China is a large country the variety of places you could work as a TEFL teacher is wide. They range from small cities spread throughout China to the large metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai. Teaching in smaller cities would give a different experience than that of one of the larger metropolises. In a small more isolated area you would be able to enjoy almost complete cultural immersion, being surrounded by few other Westerners. On the other hand, there is the option to live in one of the large metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai. There is more opportunity to socialize with those with whom you have a common language, and also more opportunities to enjoy the nightlife. Whichever you decide it is sure to be a new and exciting experience.

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