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Teaching English AND Learning Chinese: How easy is to do both?


Mark K
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I’ve read a bunch of the sites and posts on teaching English in China, but I haven’t seen a lot of information talking about Teaching English AND Learning Chinese at the same time. Is it possible to do this? How easy is to do both? How difficult is to find a school which will pay for and provide enough time to study Chinese on a fairly intensive basis?

I would also like to avoid living in Shanghai and Beijing. Is it difficult to be both a teacher and a learner at the same time in these “smaller” cities, like Guanzhouu, Hangzhou, Chengdu or Dalian? Do you know of any schools that looking for teachers who want to learn Chinese and are willing to pay for these language classes?

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If you really want to learn Chinese then don't teach English, at least for the first few months. Chinese requires an incredible amount of dedication and it you want to be decent you really have to dedicate yourself.

My advice is to enrol in a language school for a semester and go hard core for that period. If at the end you feel you can afford to spend some time teaching then do that.

Taiwan (and I suspect China) is littered with English teachers who had grand plans of learning Chinese and teaching English at the same time. Years on, most of them are not at the point you'd be at after 3 months if you worked at it.

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It is doable yes, practical no.

I have yet to see one foreign teacher (that I have met or know of obviously not saying that the opposite doesn't exist) that tries to study yet after 3 months gives up, succumbing to the hardness of teaching hours, students continually trying to be with them for english practice etc. I was just talking to a guy yesterday and anytime he goes out with someone, it's one of his students calling him up and of course they then speak english leaving no room for him to really even begin to get a handle of the language.

Schools will tell you they will provide time for you to study but what that means is all your time NOT in class. And in my experience they try through you in with a foreign student class (you know the ones who are intensively studying 5 days a week) and of course in no time you can't follow anything because they have jumped so far ahead while you are busy teaching.

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Ah, I don't think it's as hard as all that. Make sure you've got a set number of hours per day / week to spend on your studies, minimize your teaching hours, be disciplined. I know I didn't do a lot of that, but after 2.5 years had an intermediate HSK pass - by no means spectacular, but nor was I a fanatic about studying. Just did more than the average ESL teacher, I think. I suspect anyone who does it right would be able to keep up with the average, just does what's required, student in the average full-time university Chinese course very easily.

I'd be wary of getting the school you teach at to pay for / provide classes. There's a very real chance they'll just get the least useful teacher they have, who won't have any experience of teaching Chinese to foreigners, to work with you a couple of hours a week. Find your own tutor or classes.

It's certainly not the best way to do it, and if it's at all possible to study full-time you should - even if just for a semester before you start teaching. But it's possible. Look for the university / government school jobs where you have 12-16 teaching hours a week, load yourself up with textbooks, be firm about speaking as little English outside the classroom as possible, and away you go.

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I plan to do this as well.

However... I am planning to learn Chinese on my own here (I am not finished with college anyways.. so I have time to do it).

Then, once I finish with my college and/or maybe work somewhere in here, I plan to teach English in Chinese.

And then.. Why would you speak with people in English if you are outside of class..

I hope I can learn decent Chinese during those 2 years (in 2 years I will graduate). Maybe then improving my Chinese and also teaching English would not be that hard.

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I have to second what Roddy posted. Don't teach anymore than 14-16 hours per week. If you're a newbie to teaching, I'd suggest even less hours. You'll also need to think about how much lesson planning you'll have to do (as a newbie, probably quite a bit). Even doing just the 1 lesson plan for all your classes may take up several hours that could of been used for studying.

Currently, I'm working (almost 30 classes per week) and trying to study a bit on my own. IT IS HARD! However, the one thing I have going for me is that I'm in a small town of about 60,000 and no one speaks English. I'd suggest doing what I am and living in a small town--- most of the students/teachers won't be able to speak English to you and the few that can will probably be too shy to try.

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If one can study part-time (like myself) in the evenings while doing full-time daytime job, why can't you do that in China? Of course, the progress is slower than if you just study full-time but it's still better to learn Chinese in China with lots of exposure and chances to practice.

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I agree with muyongshi. I actually know one woman who has learned decent Chinese in the past years while teaching English. Not high-level, but she gets by with her own Chinese, which is more than one can say of most people. Most ESL teachers I meet either don't bother at all, or plan to and then never get around to actually doing it.

Not so strange really, studying is hard when you're not in a class and there are enough other things to do.

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Fortunately I'm not a newbie to teaching English nor to the idea of learning a language on the side. I moved to France 3 years ago with a relatively weak level in French, but since then I was able to bring my level up by studying and reading on my own as well as going out, drinking and chatting it up with locals. I ended up the university (considering how cheap it is in comparison with the US) and I'm finishing a Master thesis in French.

Moreover, since I've got a good amount of teaching experience, my lesson planning time is relatively low, considering I can reuse a majority of a plans several times.

I'm seriously considering the idea of trying to do a semester "hard-core" of only chinese study. I think having a certain base in Chinese will help considerably in "self-study" and more "informal" studying and classes after I start working.

One additionally worry is about visas. Is there any difficulty switching from a student visa to a working visa, such that I start as a student and then transfer over in teaching?

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Given that background I think you've got a much better chance than . . . well, than someone without that background. And being able to speak some Chinese before you start teaching will be very helpful, as you should be able to avoid getting into the habit of speaking English with the people around you - administrators, neighbous, whatever.

Not sure what the state of play is on visas at the moment, and by the time you get here it could all have changed. Best advice is probably try to do it, but be prepared for a trip out of the country - maybe Hong Kong - if necessary.

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China is not France, and Chinese is not French :mrgreen:

Now before you thank me for stating the obvious, here are some things to consider:

1) Teaching experience will definitely be valuable, however it's important to remember that Chinese students behave very differently in class than western students, and typically require a lot more effort on your behalf to get them to participate in the lesson. Lessons that work well in a classroom in France might not work so well in China, in a room of 50 students, when the only resources at your disposal are blackboard and chalk.

2) French and English share a lot of common vocabulary and it's not so difficult to just pick stuff up. Written resources are also plentiful, and with only a rudimentary understanding of the language plus some guesswork, it's not so hard to pick up a paper or a magazine and try to figure stuff out. Chinese is the complete opposite. It takes a long time (a year or two) just to get to the point where things likes newspapers, magazines and other reading materials become a viable source of learning material. Likewise, when hanging out with locals, you won't have a common linguistic base, so you really are starting out from zero and it will take longer to get to a point where you can communicate with people.

That said, it is doable if you keep yourself disciplined, and is basically how I learnt most of my Chinese. In any event, it will almost certainly take longer than you think.

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Teaching English as a means to finance your study is VERY possible. I've been in China for 19 months now. I came in teaching, am still teaching, and started learning as soon as I got here. I passed the last Intermediate HSK with an 8.

It all comes down to two things: discipline and time management. If you have self-discipline, stick to a strict routine, and practice/study as much as possible, it will be very easy to progress. If you have good time management skills, you can find the time to study and do the above.

I think most English teachers fail in learning "excellent" Chinese because their priorities are not straight. Sure, we'd all love to speak flawless Chinese, but why bother when we have a ton of Chinese friends who can speak English for us? Or why learn when I'm just going to go home and not use it ever again? These are common excuses.

The English teacher who has come to China with the goal of mastering Chinese, is disciplined and has good time management skills and perseverance, will come out on top. Period.

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Well said, Kdavid.

Mark K, if you plan to work and study Chinese at the same time then do so. It may take a few times more to master Chinese than French. If you get basics of Chinese before going there, it will only be for your benefit. I heard that some schools offer free Chinese classes for their English teachers. I wish I could justify changing my profession for an English teacher job in China.

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KDAVID's mention of time management and money management is key.

I found my progress happened when I was a full time chinese student and a part-time english teacher.

I think 14 -16 is a lot of time for teaching unless you do it all on the weekend but monday's can be hard. I did 8-12 and tried to keep to ten or below as you only have a certain amount of mental energy.

I also found teaching small classes of college and adult students was least tiring. Playing games with elementary students who don't really want to be there was too draining.

Making time for studying and doing the homework was very important. Also making monetary decisions, having a flat mate, not eating western food much, biking vs. taking a Taxi. If you are stingier about your lifestyle that puts less pressure on working more hours. In Nanjing it was and still is about 100 hour. In BJ and SHanghai then the salaries could be higher, I had a friend studying full time and teaching just 6 hours a week. He said he worked hard in the summers though to build up spending money.

Also I want to say my social life suffered significantly during this period, and it was a conscious monetary and time decision to just go out on one night a weekend. So be ready for this situation.

Good luck,

Simon:)

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Thanks for all of your answers to my questions. It has helped put things in perspective.

I have an additional question: If I want to study on the side (perhaps at least in the morning or afternoon or evening), do you think it is easier to be a teacher in a private school or a university? With my experience, I think I could probably find work in either sector.

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A university job or training center will typically be what is considered a "full time" job. I would suggest going with tutoring or contacting local recruiting agencies to do one-off or temp jobs filling in at some school a couple hours a week.

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Universities (at least here in Harbin) hold classes throughout the day, from as early as 8 am to as late as 7:30 pm. While you may be able to find a university that will only give you night / morning classes, more than likely you'll find one will want flexibility.

Private schools, on the other hand, seem to be a lot better about working with people's schedules. The school I'm working for currently has a number of teachers studying at HIT during the week / mornings and teaching during the evenings / weekends. I've heard from other teacher's in the city that they get similar schedules due to their study schedules.

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It's certainly possible, though you'll need some discipline. First of, being known as an English teacher you'll get lots of offers to spend time teaching each other English / Chinese. These deals never really work out because 1) They won't have any expereince at teaching and 2) Their English will be better than your Chinese, which means you'll be talking a lot in English.

My reccomendations:

1) Make sure you know *at least* how pinyin and the tones work before you come here. You should be able to say all the sounds before you arrive, as you'll save a whole bunch of time.

2) Get a private teacher, or enrol in evening class

3) Don't bother to much learning the characters at first. Make sure you spend time *talking* to your teacher, because that's the only way you'll pick up the language properly.

And be prepared for a lot of hard work!

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