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What We Use in China


Section I: Teaching English in China continued...
Teaching Qualifications and Requirements

EFL Teacher Certification Programs

There is a great deal of debate on various China EFL teachers' forums about the necessity and usefulness of EFL certificate training programs for teaching English in China. This chapter will discuss those issues as well as what we think you should look for when exploring various options.

Assuming the program is a legitimate one that has been in existence for some time and adheres to the basic standards outlined below, we believe that EFL teacher training is most certainly useful for those who have never taught English as a foreign or second language before. Acquiring some knowledge of second language acquisition theory and specific EFL teaching methodologies will prove to be invaluable once you are actually inside the classroom. Such training will be less critical for teachers who are assigned EFL textbooks in which the teaching methodology is already built into the curriculum, as is the case with the New Interchange Series (see chapter on China Oral English Curriculum), but those who are thrown into less structured situations—especially at the university level in China where there is often no assigned course textbook, in addition to very little structure, feedback, and guidance—may very well feel lost without this type of preliminary preparation.

EFL teaching certificates can realistically be thought of as a necessity for Westerners who would like to teach in China but do not already have a degree in hand. Most private English language schools in China will accept these certificates in lieu of a university degree and, more to the point, so too will most municipal public security bureaus (PSBs) for issuing Z-visas and residency permits. For those who have degrees and especially some teaching experience, the possession of an EFL teaching certificate might make you more competitive for your first teaching position—all things equal—but you'll definitely be able to find employment as an EFL teacher in China without one.

Your three basic choices are TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), and CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults). Some have argued that, of the three, the CELTA credential is the most standardized with the greatest degree of worldwide recognition as it is administered by Cambridge, so all training programs much be accredited (it is apparently the most desirable certification to have in Europe). The reality is that the three programs have far more in common than otherwise. Having just written this, it is also true that the absence of any accrediting body for TEFL and TESOL programs creates an opportunity for just about anyone to start and promote a new TEFL training school. In China, all that would be required is a simple business license.

Due to the absence of an accreditation body that can enforce minimum requirements, TEFL and TESOL programs come in all shapes and sizes designed to meet just about anyone's budget—including online programs, the least expensive of all. Tuition commonly ranges in price from $495, for an online course, to over $6,000 at an Ivy League School, i.e., tuition varies considerably by institution and certification type, and especially program duration. If all you are seeking is a piece of paper that allows you to obtain employment as an English teacher in China, then, quite frankly, it doesn't matter at all which program you choose. On the other hand, if you hope to acquire some practical knowledge and the opportunity to gain supervised teaching experience so that you may actually know what you are doing before you start getting paid to do it, then the certificate training program you eventually select makes a great deal of difference.

Recommended Criteria for Selecting a TEFL Training Program

There are hordes of programs out there competing for your business and it is very difficult to know which program is best. Although it is true that there is no official accrediting body that monitors TEFL certification, industry standards state that internationally recognized TEFL courses should meet the following criteria:

  1. Minimum 4 weeks in duration
  2. Minimum of 120 hours of training
  3. Principal instructor should have a minimum of a field-related master's degree and 6 years of TEFL experience.
  4. Minimum of 6 hours of observed practice teaching with real and representative students
  5. Input sessions on teaching methodology and grammar
  6. Continuous assessment throughout the TEFL course

For schools operating in China, it would also be a good idea for you to check whether the course is registered with the Ministry of Education or if it is simply licensed to run as a local business and, in addition to the above criteria, you should always inquire about how long the school has been in existence.

A very safe bet would be to check for TEFL and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) programs that are offered by local universities in your area (as opposed to tertiary institutions that simply rent space to free-standing programs). Most local colleges and universities that have English language and education departments usually offer these types of certification programs and the curricula are typically first-rate. An excellent example of such a program is the intensive 6-week summer TESOL certificate training program at Columbia University's Teachers College. We know of one English teacher in China who can't stop raving about it. Of course, at a total tuition fee of just over $6,000 ($1,000 per week), it should be excellent.

Two useful resources for learning more about EFL teacher training programs and advanced degree programs in TESOL are ESL Base and TESOL Certification, respectively.


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Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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