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How to Become a Chinese Teacher

By Jon, published on 21/02/2018 Blog > Tutoring > Advice for Tutors > Teaching Mandarin Chinese

Is becoming a Chinese teacher your dream job? It’s definitely a job with growing demand!

High school and college students, professionals and precocious children…Chinese is a language that’s popular with every age and the statistics speak for themselves…

  • Almost a quarter of a million k-12 students in the US are currently studying Mandarin
  • Chinese immersion programmes have increased enrollment by 700% in Delaware since 2012
  • In Utah, 2.2% of all K-12 students are learning Mandarin
  • Chinese is the most popular language for dual-enrollment programs after Spanish, edging out French!

China also has the second largest economy in the world, and Mandarin is the most spoken language worldwide. Set against that background, it seems clear that the demand for Chinese classes and teachers is only set to grow.

Have you set your heart on teaching a complex modern language?

Of course, the first step is gaining perfect mastery over the language that you want to teach, and then looking at the different routes to teacher certification.

Now let’s get serious, and have a look at the best way to become a Mandarin Chinese teacher.

The perfect academic background to become a Chinese teacher

If you want to become a licensed teacher, studying Chinese first is a must.

Most modern language teachers in the United States follow the same academic route, no matter which state they’re hoping to teach in. If you’ve decided to become a Chinese teacher, but have only just started learning the language in middle or high school, here’s what we’d recommend.

The key stages in your journey to becoming a Mandarin Chinese teacher will see you go as far as a Masters!

  • AP exam in Chinese if possible, but certainly a full four years of studying Chinese in high school at a minimum,
  • Major in Chinese at college (with a double major or a minor in education if possible)
  • Preliminary teacher certification exam in your state
  • Masters in Education

And, if you want to teach at a college, maybe a Ph.D.! (Although certainly not required to teach Chinese in high school)

Here are a few more details for your academic preparations:

  • In high school, it’s ideal to take the AP Exam in Chinese (or perhaps take an intermediate level HSK exam if your school doesn’t offer it). Although there’s nothing to stop you studying Chinese in college even if you haven’t studied the language before, if you’ve at least studied Chinese in high school you’ll be better prepared for university-level study, and perhaps even spending a year studying abroad in China.
  • Once you’ve graduated from high school, and hopefully gotten a bit of AP credit to speed you on your way, you need to choose your major in college. You could theoretically major in Chinese or East Asian studies as well as the language, but we’d strongly recommend getting at least a minor in education in too. If you focus on your language and education studies, that should also give you the space academically to spend at least a semester abroad, which will help you get the cultural exposure (and fluency!) you need too.
  • A Masters in Education isn’t always necessary to become a teacher initially, especially for a private school and if you are really bringing expertise in the language. However, most public school systems in almost every state will ask their teachers to get a Masters in Education eventually – usually within their first 2-5 years teaching. If you weren’t able to do a double major or minor in education at undergrad, it’s probably a good idea to go straight into the masters to help you get the experience and teaching knowledge you need in order to prepare for your state’s teacher certification exam.
  • And for those who want to go on to become a full-fledged professor of Chinese at a university, you’ll need to continue your studies at the doctorate level.

Can you become a Chinese teacher without a degree?

Did you decide to become a Chinese teacher at a later stage and missed following our suggested program of study?

There’s nothing to stop you from still becoming a Chinese teacher, there are plenty of other options. They might be a bit more indirect, but it’s totally still possible to teach Mandarin Chinese without a college degree.

  • Take the teacher certification exam
  • Become a substitute teacher (short or long term)
  • Give private lessons
  • Find a job at a tutoring or language center.

Learning the Chinese language will also expose you to a civilization that has lasted for millennia.

The first thing to do if you’ve already gotten a college degree (just not in a related subject), but are fluent in Mandarin Chinese – think about if there’s a way for you to get some teaching and classroom experience and prepare to take your state’s teacher certification exam. There’s generally no rule that you need to have majored in a certain subject, just that you have a degree, so if you’re qualified to teach and just lack the certification, you just need to do a bit of self-study.

However, if you’d struggle to pass the teacher certification exam (and even some students who’ve majored in education often need several tries to pass), you can still sign up with your local school district to become a substitute teacher. Given that you want to focus on a specific subject, you’re probably best off looking for long-term sub jobs (covering for extended illness or maternity leave) in several school districts in your area.

If neither of the first two solutions seems like an option, you can always still become a private tutor and begin offering independent Chinese lessons.

It’s a fairly unregulated option – there’s no set background, certification, or degree required in order to be a tutor. However, you will need self-discipline, organization and a good sense of teaching methods and learning styles in order to serve your students well.

Setting yourself up as a private tutor can definitely seem like an attractive option. You can avoid overcrowded classrooms and focus on one student at a time – it’s a great way to start out at your own pace.

And finally, if you’re looking for a salaried job with benefits, you might want to have a look at jobs with local learning and language centers. If you’re bilingual in Mandarin or a native speaker, you may be just what they’re looking for.

What do you need to be a private tutor in Chinese?

Do you want to teach Chinese as a private tutor?

You will almost certainly recognize yourself in one of our common profiles below…

Among all the experts we see on our site, we often see a wide range of backgrounds among Chinese teachers!

  • Chinese language experts- these people are often either native speakers, or second generation Chinese growing up in America. Mandarin is their mother tongue, and they have a thorough understanding of Chinese culture at home and abroad. Their courses are able to offer a rich variety of linguistic and cultural information which showcases their expertise.
  • Certified teachers – these are certified Chinese teachers who have studied the language (and teaching practices) and have a thorough knowledge of the language and learning styles that is perfectly adjusted for high school and college students. They know how to help students improve and tackle their trouble areas, whether it’s the 4 tones and their pronunciation, learning the Chinese characters and how to write them, drafting sentences, or finding the right words.
  • Chinese students – there are many college students who need a job to earn a bit of money to help keep their student loans down. Even if they’re still studying themselves, they’re advanced enough to offer tutoring for high school students just beginning to learn Chinese. And if they intend to teach when they graduate, tutoring is also a good way for them to work on their teaching skills.
  • Enthusiasts – these people aren’t teachers, students, or Chinese, but they’ve learned the language to a t and are enthusiastic about all things China. They’ve often spent a significant amount of time traveling or living in China. The advantage of hiring an enthusiast as a tutor is that they can share their experiences living in China as an expat with their students.

You can teach your students Chinese calligraphy

Depending on your background, you just need to define your strengths (and weaknesses) to identify which students you are best prepared to help in their quest to learn Chinese. As well as college and high school students, there are also many professional adults who choose to take up Mandarin or who want to refresh rusty language skills ahead of a business project, travel plans, or simple interest.

What qualities are important to become a Chinese teacher?

Before you start offering Chinese classes in New York City (or elsewhere) spend some time thinking about this question!

Teaching often takes skills and knowledge far beyond a linguistic mastery of the language. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses will prepare you to improve the quality of your Chinese classes (and to recognize if perhaps it just isn’t the career for you).

Of course, the foundation is having a perfect mastery of the Chinese language – written as well as spoken – and a wealth of knowledge to share about Chinese history, culture, and art. It’s absolutely essential to be bilingual, and also to have a good level of general knowledge about the country and its culture.

Teaching is also a state of being. Among the most important qualities to have if you want to become an excellent Chinese teacher, the most important are:

  • Patient,
  • Sympathetic,
  • Positive
  • Empathetic
  • Passionate
  • Dedicated

This list isn’t exhaustive, but in order to be a good teacher, it’s crucial that you know how to listen to your students and be motivated to help them improve as well as keep them encouraged as they struggle. A good professor doesn’t only have the knowledge to impart but also needs charisma and the skill of a good orator in order to share their passion for the language.

You’ll be much more successful as a Mandarin teacher with some charisma and a passion for sharing knowledge!

Some of these qualities are innate, while others are ones that you can work on. But in every case, there’ll be some areas you need to work on, whether it’s teaching skills or the finer points of the Chinese language.

You’ll need to become experienced at finding the right materials and adapting your classes to your students, depending on their:

  • Age
  • Level
  • Pre-existing knowledge and personality
  • Ability to memorize and remember things quickly

Your ability to offer your students multiple ways to learn the same thing will give them a better chance of absorbing the lesson.

Teaching methods are often taught at the undergraduate and masters levels, but it’s also possible to work independently to improve your teaching skills, and we’d strongly recommend that you do. While you can’t change your innate personality, a good teacher can learn about the many different learning styles and teaching methods which will make teaching a Chinese class better structured and more effective.

A good pedagogic background will help a tutor organize their classes, and adapt their lessons to the level and personal objectives of the students.

Regarding teaching the Chinese language specifically, it is important to be rigorous on the fine points of the language and make sure your students master the details of this complicated language. It’s easy to feel discouraged when faced with the enormity of this task.

Becoming a private tutor for Chinese requires an important investment in classes and an outside of them.

In order to teach Chinese, there are multiple options out there for you, but the most important thing is to have a realistic idea of the job, both its positives and the difficulties you will face.

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