How Chinese Parents and Schools See Foreign Teachers
In a recent piece, I addressed how expats and employers see foreign instructors. I thought there was a large hole missing: the impression of foreign instructors by the people who pay for the service. China has five times more English learners than the UK. ESL is popular in China, and more parents are paying for English classes.
In six years of teaching in China and Singapore, I've interacted with hundreds of primary school parents. I've noticed two things about parents' expectations for their child's English lessons: an expectation of "authenticity" and radically different standards for Chinese and international instructors.
I was terrible in biology in school, but osmosis stayed with me. It depicts how molecules travel across membranes, but it also describes how Chinese parents want their kid to learn English. Many believe that by placing their kid in a room with an English speaker, their youngster will learn English without trying.
Creating a totally immersive English-language environment in China is almost difficult. Once a kid is put in a class with a native English speaker, the pieces are expected to fall into place, despite the reality that 1-3 hours per week of English teaching, even in a highly immersive atmosphere, is not enough to establish a true English environment. The child's English-language surroundings fades as they leave class.
"Authentic" English Speaker:
Chinese adult students or parents of children taking English lessons feel native speakers are best at teaching the language and that the experience is more "genuine" with a native instructor. Many Chinese people think an English speaker is a white person from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. This explains why white looks are great for business and why I mentioned race and ethnicity in my earlier essay.
I taught an 8-year-old with excellent English. I didn't know why his mother engaged me to educate him since his English was so outstanding. Since he was a kid, he'd spoken English with his Filipino nanny. "She was nice, but her accent wasn't particularly realistic," she said. His accent was good, yet many hold this view. People from India, the Philippines, and several English-speaking African nations like Kenya have spoken English from childhood. If you were to take Spanish classes tomorrow, would you pick a native speaker from Mexico, Spain, Chile, or Argentina?
Fun vs. Grammar
What do Chinese English teachers do? The language school owner wants to generate money, but parents want an English-speaking atmosphere. All agree that the best way to achieve this is to have a fun, lively class with games, interactive activities, and humor. Foreign teachers in China must be engaging and instructive. Your performance is assessed by your pupils' approval. This contrasts with how Chinese instructors are assessed, which is based on their pupils' exam results.
The typical view is that foreign teacher courses are for fun and games while Chinese teacher classes are for serious study. This is why foreign instructors are allocated "Oral English" lessons while Chinese teachers are almost entirely allotted grammar, syntax, and word use instruction. "Good" foreign instructors in China are popular with their pupils, keep them coming back, and adhere to their expectations.
Foreign instructors are understandably cautious and endeavor to please their kids and parents. Until then, this impression won't alter.
Foreign instructors are there to enable an English-language environment in the perspective of parents and school owners or administrators, not to educate. This impression is the major reason many foreign instructors feel underappreciated, and why the ESL market has so many dubious business practices. Foreign instructors are despised for being given a high pay for an easy profession.