Thinking about teaching English in Taiwan? Teaching overseas, as anyone who has done so will tell you, is quite an experience. You move to a new place, discover a completely different culture and way of life, work with amazing people from around the world, meet children who inspire you, and learn more about your native language than you ever have before (even after doing an English degree!)
But, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is different. Though I enjoyed my time living and teaching in Taiwan, there are people who don’t. Moving miles away from home, being in completely new territory and, of course, the language barrier make the whole idea of being an expat really daunting. What makes that feeling even worse, is hearing a lot of rumours about what ESL teaching in Taiwan is really like.
During the year I spent teaching English in Taiwan, I realised that there are a lot of common misconceptions about how teaching works out there. Here are five common myths about teaching in English in Taiwan that need to be dispelled:
1. I’ve heard bad things about teaching in China
Mention Taiwan to someone and there are three very likely outcomes: 1) They’ll think you’re talking about Thailand, 2) They’ll have heard of Taiwan but have no idea where it is on a map, or 3) They’ll have heard of it and think it’s in China.
Taiwan is a little, sweet potato shaped island which sits in the Pacific Ocean to the east of mainland China, but is not in China. In fact, China does not control Taiwan, though is does ‘claim’ Taiwan as part of its territory. This means that Taiwan has its own separate government and is a very different place from mainland China.
Teaching English in China and teaching English in Taiwan are completely different experiences. If you’ve heard bad things about teaching in China, it’s probably not going to be the same in Taiwan!
2. I can’t speak Chinese, so I can’t be a teacher
This is totally not a problem. To teach English in Taiwan, and in fact in most of Asia, you don’t need to be bilingual. As long as you’re a native English speaker (i.e. American, British, Canadian, Aussie, a New Zealander or South African) then you can be an English teacher. In Taiwan, there is a definite preference for the American accent, but being from elsewhere won’t count against you. I’m British and getting a teaching job was absolutely no problem.
Worried about children speaking to you in Chinese? In the language schools, there is usually an ‘English-only’ environment, meaning that in the classroom, no Chinese is allowed. The idea is that children get used to speaking and thinking only in English and that the teacher doesn’t have to worry about the class nattering away in Chinese. For the most-part, this method works.
3. I can’t afford to move overseas to teach
If you can afford the cost of the flight, once you’re in Taiwan everything is extremely cheap. We’re talking about 70p ($1.20) for a big bowl of noodles. Of course, setting yourself up in an apartment can be a stretch, but the bigger language schools in Taiwan (also the schools where most first time ESL teachers will work) offer an interest free loan to cover your first month or two.
This isn’t a con! There is a high demand for native speaking teachers in Taiwan, and for the schools, an interest free loan is a good incentive to encourage foreigners to come and teach. After two months of teaching, you’ll probably be in the clear (unless you’re a wild spendthrift) and beginning to start saving money. Compared to the cost of living, the wages for native English teachers are good, so it might not cost as much as you think to move overseas to teach.
4. Teaching Kindergarten in Taiwan is illegal
Actually, this is technically true. It is currently illegal for native English teachers to be teaching children under the age of 5. However, English kindergartens are everywhere – I’m not kidding, they are on practically every street corner. The law on teaching kindergarten in Taiwan is very changeable and the whole issue is often considered a bit of a grey area.
Despite it currently being illegal, there is an incredibly high demand – from parents especially – for native English kindergarten teachers. Many Taiwanese kids begin learning English at the age of 2 or 3, if not earlier, and often parents are keen for their children to have perfect English to further their career prospects and also as a point of pride. As such, the government tends to turn a blind eye. However, if you do choose to take on a kindy job, check to see if there is a relevant clause in your teaching contract before signing.
5. All Taiwanese children are angels
Teachers can dream! There is no such thing as the perfect class, and all children have off days. That said, many of the Taiwanese kids are super well-behaved – certainly more so than their British counterparts – which is mostly due to parental expectations. Many of the kids attend buxibans (or cram schools) where they work really hard to do well academically. Naturally this means that kids are tired and sometimes cagey by the time they crawl into your classroom, bag dragging on the floor behind them.
That said, I would say that 90% of my students were well-behaved. The other 10% consisted of kids who were considered to be ‘under-achieving’ no matter how hard they worked, those that found speaking in English all the time really challenging, and a minority of tearaways. Being a teacher is about finding ways to engage children of all levels, if you can do that then classroom behaviour is usually under control. At the end of the day, you will probably learn as much from your students as they do from you.
Do these myths sound familiar to you? Are there any other rumours you’ve heard about teaching English in Taiwan?