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Posted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 03:06 PM

Fri Oct 27, 2006
Good language, bad language!

Global Times
By Liao Fangzhou

Behind glass doors on the third floor of a book mall in Huangpu district, six teenagers are sitting around a table. Standing by a whiteboard is their English teacher for the summer, 42-year-old Kirk Fernandes from Montreal, Canada.

This is a classroom at the flagship venue of a homegrown English language school. Pupils and teachers have been meeting here from 9 am to 11:30 am four days a week since July 1, the beginning of the summer vacation. By July 25, they will have completed 16 lessons.

It's a scene being replicated hundreds of times across the city and country. In Shanghai, a range of courses target school students with English-language classes being delivered by foreign teachers. One course at Global Education is packed with 26 students about to take their IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. They take their classes for two and a half hours at night. At Web International English, the 12-student classes for children aged from 8 to 10 and the four-person classes for students aged from 14 to 16 are also proving popular.

The foreign teachers who work at these schools are not always formally trained teachers. Fernandes, who has a Foreign Experts Certificate authorized by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs to teach at Shanghai World Foreign Language Middle School, is spending his summer vacation here because he was asked to help out - and he collects 25,000 yuan ($4,073) for the work. The 18 students he coaches each pay 6,000 yuan.

Real language

Fernandes' job is to teach the third level of a six-level English communications course that purportedly uses "the language that people really speak," according to the English textbook publisher. Having taught English as a second language in Asia since 1995 and in China for four years, and having a background in psychology and education, Fernandes is confident in his work.

"I always start with the students - talking about who they are and why they are here. This course is using course books, so I follow the themes and lessons but make adjustments - I copy what I think young teenagers might need and take out what they don't need," Fernandes told the Global Times.

The students are taking the classes for the similar reason - they plan to study in an English-speaking country in the future and want a native speaker to coach them so that they will find it easy to talk and understand people when they go abroad.

For some, the future is very near. Right after the summer vacation, 15-year-old Ling Weiyi and 16-year-old Wang Luju will fly to the UK to go to high school there. The other students all plan to study at universities in English-speaking countries. They see the lessons with Fernandes as an essential class that Chinese-born English teachers cannot offer.

"I attend this class just to practice spoken English. The teaching style is very different from Chinese English teachers. Here the important point is talking, whereas in schools and other classes given by Chinese teachers, it is about reciting and writing," Ling said. "In this class I can talk freely and talk about many things outside the textbook. By practicing with Kirk, I now feel confident and more at ease when I am using the language."

Twelve-year-old Wang Zekai agreed. "In the Chinese teachers' English classes, we just learn grammar and do written exercises. But with Kirk we spend almost every minute talking, chatting, and communicating. So we are really speaking the language and trying to express ourselves, instead of focusing on grammar."

They also found that the teacher's foreignness itself was a big help for them in learning how to adjust to a different culture. "Kirk has been to lots of places in Europe, the US and Canada," Wang Luju said. "He tells us interesting stories around this and we learn more about the West."

As well as the conversations, the students try role-playing in groups of two or three. The importance in this class is to speak English as much as they can.


While some students attend these classes to gain a fluency in English that will be useful later, others have a short-term goal - they want to improve their scores for language examinations. At Global Education, the teachers who run the IELTS oral exam preparation course are IELTS-certified examiners. Students pay 1,880 yuan for 15 sessions to interact with someone familiar with the exam and the way it is administered.

Some go further and take one-on-one lessons with English teachers from abroad. According to a receptionist at the Global Education's office in Xuhui district, students can pay 650 yuan an hour for a former IELTS-certified examiner and 1,500 yuan an hour for a current IELTS-certified examiner. "Over the summer vacation, two or three students each month book these lessons," she said.

Unlike Fernandes who works only as a part-time summer school teacher, these IELTS teachers at Global Education are all full-time employees of the institute. Another English school, EF, which offers seven different courses over the summer vacation, recruits its staff from the 2,000 foreign teachers it employs in China.

Stephen Farley, the senior vice president of EF Teacher Recruitment and Training, told the Global Times that his staff were recruited overseas at career fairs and in professional social media sites like LinkedIn. He said the institute made sure its teachers had developed skills in teaching English to Chinese students through references and contact with previous employers.

Teenage clients

While some foreign staff make a living from working full time for an institute, many others do it part time. Michael (not his real name) came to China 11 years ago after graduating from a law school in the US and works at a law firm in Lujiazui. The American has been teaching English over the last decade.

For the last five years, the 30-something Californian has worked with Lingua Tutor, an agency that claims to have registered 90 percent of the Shanghai-based foreign English teachers and offers face-to-face English lessons. While Michael and his colleagues have taught adults and children as young as 18 months over the years, during the summer most of their customers are teenagers.

Michael has a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate, one of the most internationally recognized accreditations for teaching English abroad. He keeps a copy on his mobile phone. He studied for an intensive TESOL course at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

"At the end, there was not only a written test, but five presentations. I had to deliver presentations at a kindergarten, a primary school, a junior high school, a senior high school and a university. I had to do all of them to get the certificate," he said.

He offers two-hour lessons to train his students in spoken English. Without a specific course book, he brings reading material for his students to study and discuss. The material can be brochures from the Harvard Law School or news reports on the San Francisco plane crash. "Basically I come up with what interests me and hopefully that interest my students as well. If they don't, I just change," he said.

Students pay 350 yuan an hour to the agency for these lessons. The agency demands a down payment of 80 hours before students can begin. One receptionist said: "Training in a language takes time." It also means a deposit of 28,000 yuan.

But properly qualified teachers could be in the minority in Shanghai. Fernandes has been watching the English teaching scene for some time and he believes that there are three types of English-speaking teachers here.

"The majority of those who teach English here are well-meaning, but have no knowledge or training in how to teach, especially second language teaching methodology and linguistics. There is a second small group of people that comes here with no intention of doing any sort of service or helping others. And then there is the smallest group, the people with qualifications who can do it properly," he said.

Lacking qualifications

Violet Lawson is one of the teachers who falls into the well-meaning but unqualified and inexperienced category. She was being paid 15,000 yuan monthly at Web International English. Many of her colleagues lacked degrees and qualifications.

Some aren't even native English speakers. Aglae Ornelas, who said he had a heavy Spanish accent, got a teaching job through an agency easily and was paid 200 yuan each hour for little more than "talking with the students in English."

He agreed with Lawson in pointing out that it was extremely easy to get an English teaching job here if the applicant had a foreign face. At Lingua Tutor, students pay the agency over 200 yuan an hour for English teachers who come from India or the Philippines.

Insiders say the situation exists because of profit-driven English schools. Zhang Teng, the deputy director of Global Education in South China, told the news website Qianlong that 90 percent of the foreign English teachers in the country were unqualified because the schools and agencies wanted to make quick profits and lacked basic procedures when it came to recruitment.

In June, a 32-year-old American teacher at a French school in Pudong New Area was detained by the Shanghai police for sexually %*$aulting children. The case has stirred public disquiet at the employment of unsuitable teachers. "It is ridiculous that these so-called English teachers who would find themselves jobless elsewhere come to China and make quick bucks by speaking their mother tongue and get a pedestal for that," one social media user, "Gumeng," commented on Sina Weibo.

But staff at the city's English-language schools and agencies have not reported that parents are being more cautious about handing their children over to foreign teachers. It is commonplace still for them to accept the reported qualifications and experience of foreign English teachers without asking for proof.

Fernandes believes this is an Asian phenomenon. "On the side of the parents, they are clueless. It is not happening everywhere, it is just the industry in Asia where the parents don't have a knowledge of English or the industry. It's just the drive for education that Asia has, and they find it a good way to spend their newfound money."

While it is true that most parents initially have little understanding about the competence of the teachers, many learned over time and some have begun complaining about teachers failing to show up, or being late or that their children were still struggling with English.

Others seem content. Shanghai mother Zhang Hongbo sent her 5-year-old daughter for English lessons from a foreigner two years ago. Expat friends have now begun to compliment the little girl on her pronunciation. "Foreign teachers might not teach a lot of vocabulary but they really teach the kids how to speak. When my daughter speaks in English, she always speaks in complete sentences - most Chinese children can only use the simplest words or phrases when they speak English," Zhang said.

Assistant professor Tao Qing, who has taught English in Shanghai Jiao Tong University for the last two decades, believes that younger children and middle school students are best suited for conversational English classes. He felt that foreigners having regular lighthearted conversations with students as a way of teaching English could be quite effective in developing basic language skills.

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