ESL Job Tips

Can Non-Native English Speakers Teach in China?

Non-native speakers of English who want to teach in China will find their options are more limited.

Sad but true, foreign teachers in China are often hired based on looks with a much lower emphasis placed on actual teaching skill.

Many schools will only hire teachers who look like they are from the West (or Australia and New Zealand). In the school administration’s way of thinking, employing a blue eyed, blonde hair foreigner is going to garner more attention for the school than hiring someone from Africa, Central and South America, or elsewhere in Asia. In addition, schools are wary of hiring non native speakers because they want their students to learn the native accent of a Western Country.

There is however, some hope for non-native English speakers teachers in China. If you have a good degree and can demonstrate that your English is comparable to a native speaker’s, you do have a fighting chance. 

Just today, I was talking to a senior in high-school who told me her private English school recently hired two Filipinos.

Schools may also hire non-native English speakers from European countries. A school I worked for some years ago employed teachers from Spain and Germany.

In my observation, non-native English teachers have the best chance of finding jobs at universities and schools in big cities. A school in a small city which is only hiring one foreign teacher will probably not employ a non-native speaker.  Big schools in larger cities often employ multiple foreign teachers from various countries as they want their students to be exposed to all different varieties of English.

If you are applying for an English job as a non-native speaker, it is important to be upfront about where you are from.  It is equally important to be confident and to remind the school that your English grammar is probably better than that of a native English teacher. You should also emphasize any teaching experience you have had in your own country.

Another suggestion is to go to China on a tourist visa and hunt for jobs by talking to schools directly. Schools which might be otherwise nervous about hiring a non-native speaker may be more comfortable if they can meet you in person. Make sure you speak slowly because if prospective employers can’t understand you, they will assume their students won’t be able to understand you either. 

While I can understand the “business aspect” of hiring a native English teacher, I do know many great non-native teachers are passed up every year. I myself have talked with prospective non-native teachers who have near perfect English skills. In my opinion, a school should be more concerned about the teaching ability of a person as opposed to the color of their hair or their eyes. If you are looking for a job and having trouble, don’t give up! There are schools in China which hire non-native speakers so keep trying!

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