Tag Archives: oral English

Teaching in China – early days

I had not been a teacher before – well not like this – so this was a totally new experience for me but one I did not feel uncomfortable with. I generally feel comfortable working with people and teaching oral English gave me a real outlet for my creativity, something previous jobs had never done. However it was a little daunting in those first few days to see sixty-five expectant faces looking curiously at me; all trying to work out what I was saying but the welcome of the children was fantastic and this helped me soon to feel at ease.

New routines

The start of any new job is always going to a difficult period, a time when you are settling into new routines and finding your feet, and the first few months for me were no different. The most difficult part however was for me to regulate my voice so the children had a chance of understanding me, and for them to get used to my voice. In the early days they probably understood very little but as time went by, they got much better at it and now I am constantly surprised about what they pick up on, often when I make a throwaway remark. However, I still use the practice of writing down my questions on the board and any other words or sentences I am dealing with; to add to this I will quite often ask students individually if they understand.

A steep learning curve

I must admit, I don’t think I made a very good job of teaching in those early months because it was a period when I was finding out what worked and what didn’t. I made loads of mistakes but I always to tried analyse what I was doing in an effort improve my teaching.

Large classes

Of the many things I have come to know about teaching in a classroom with such large student numbers, is the number of students who will not be paying attention at any one time. There are the obvious ones who are playing with their mobile phones, doing their homework, reading books or looking at themselves in a mirror and then there are the few who see the classroom as an opportunity to sleep. To add to this number there the talkers, who are clearly not listening to you but conversing with their friends and then there are the less obvious ones, who are gazing into space and perhaps looking totally bored. These are the obvious non-listeners but there are also those who look like they are listening but are really away with their own thoughts. So the number who are actually listening at any one time can easily be less than half, especially for the low ability classes.

Oral English

The problem is that for many students, they either have no interest in oral English or find it so difficult to understand all of what is being said and therefore cannot keep up, and this can easily cause their mind to wander. Of the former there is really nothing that can be done, except to try to make the lessons as interesting as possible and hope that perhaps they take an interest. Regarding the latter group, those whose English ability is poor and so cannot keep up; this is a difficult problem for the teacher. It is not possible to pace the lesson for the sake of the slowest, nor is it good to pace it for the brightest; the answer is to find a level which is somewhere in the middle but it can be difficult to know exactly where is the middle. The certain thing is, as an English teacher in junior or middle school; you are never going to capture the attention or interest of all, especially with such large numbers. What’s more in the situation where there is only one forty-five minutes session a week for each class, you have little chance of really helping them improve their spoken English. I believe the best you can hope for is to fuel their desire to not only keep learning but to take a real interest in the countries where English is the first language. I think this is such an important point because language in isolation is really meaningless. Language requires a country and countries are made up of people with their particular ways and habits. Introducing customs, traditions, sports, games and idiosyncrasies of English-speaking people into a language lesson will bring the lesson to life and grab the attention of the students.

So this is a brief account of my experience of teaching oral English in China but what about your experiences as a student being taught by a native speaker? I’d love to hear from you; whether your account is good or bad. Perhaps even if you’ve been taught by me? Let me know what you thought – good or bad!


Without communication, there is no life.

Red Army Mountain, Zunyi - 335 steps!!

I have been living and working in China for over two and a half years and by far the most difficult part was not being able to communicate with other people. However, at the beginning it didn’t really matter too much because I had my new wife (now my ex-wife) to do all the communicating for me; she is a local girl from Zunyi but as time wore on, I began to get lonelier and lonelier. Now of course, at this early stage I should have started learning Chinese but I didn’t. From time to time my wife would try to teach me some words but often ended up laughing at my attempts and so I never got into it seriously.

Teaching oral English

After being here two months, I started teaching oral English at Hangtian Middle School (Aerospace School) but most of the teachers kept away from me and so I didn’t make any new friends. In hindsight I feel that many of them were not confident in speaking English and perhaps did not wish to ‘lose face’ by not speaking well to me. Of course the students were delighted to talk with me as best they could and some wanted to be my friends but as any teacher will know, you can’t really be a close friend with a student; at least not on the same level as you can be with an adult. Because of this I remained without friends and anyone to talk to; so life got even more difficult for me.

Life in Zunyi

National Day, Zunyi 2009

Now I need to point out that Zunyi where I have lived all this time is a classed as a small city with a population of over a million living in the actual city. And working in this city, there were only around ten or twelve foreigners. There were of course no western bars and as I couldn’t sing Chinese karaoke or play mah-jong, I did not develop a real social life. I did manage to make friends with one American guy and we socialised from time to time, and he too was struggling to learn Chinese.


As time went by I felt even more isolated. I felt that people were very cold toward me (no one ever seemed to smile) and this was not helped by the fact that I was not accepted by my wife’s parents who would have nothing to do with me because I was a foreigner. I did not feel comfortable living in China because I felt invisible and so often I wanted to return home for good. From time to time I thought about learning Chinese but the prospect seemed all too much because the language was so difficult for me and I had no proper teacher. One Chinese person offered to teach me but she was not a proper teacher and it came to nothing. The truth is I didn’t feel motivated to learn because I wasn’t happy here. I knew it would take many years for me to be able to communicate effectively and make friends with locals and because I felt I didn’t want to stay, what was the point?

Struggling to survive

Being so isolated here put a strain on my married life and small cracks began to show. I was desperate to see my family and went home during the winter and summer holidays but even this did not seem enough for me. Can you believe that in two years of living here, I didn’t have one Chinese friend? Strangely enough, it wasn’t until I was on my own again that I began to find Chinese friends, mostly English college students, who were all too willing to speak to me in English.

Visit to Houshuihe with friends

New friends – new optimism

At the time of writing, I have been living in Zunyi for two and a half years and now have quite a lot Chinese friends, and life seems almost normal. My dilemma now however, is that I must go home in the summer. The reason for this is that my daughter and my son never wanted me to come to China in the first place and were not happy with my decision. Even though they are adults and have families of their own, I know they want me home and so home I must go. As you know, family is very important! But I will be leaving behind so many kind friends now. China’s heart has finally opened up to me but now I must go. There will be some sad farewells I am sure. I hope I can come back to China some day and renew old friendships or make new ones.
So that is a brief account of my life in China so far. At times it has felt that I had lost over two years of my life and worse than that I would have to start a new life again back in England. I gave up my home, my friends, my car, motorcycle and hobbies etc. to come here, now I will have to start over. However, living in China despite all its difficulties has been a wonderful part of my life and I don’t really regret the time here, I just hope I can come back sometime. Have you got any suggestions for me?

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Hi, my name is Geof, I currently live and teach oral English in Zunyi, Guizhou province, China. I teach in a Middle school. I have been here for two and a half years.