Thursday, January 12, 2012

Choosing a Chinese Teacher

Previously I have written in broad terms about how I use a Chinese teacher as part of my self-study regime, and following that I'd like to describe how I choose teachers who are consistent with those goals. If you've used a different basis for making your own decision, please feel free to leave some comments below.

learning online

Although this is not really for me, there are many websites where you can get online teachers, ad hoc or pre-booked with them, and learn via Skype or other video software. A couple sites which I have previously bookmarked that provide this service include ChineseTeachers, TutorChinese and eChineseLearning- and there are a lot more.

I believe this type of site is quite popular, and maybe depending on your lifestyle or location this would be the only reasonable option. But I like the human contact of sitting opposite someone in a coffee shop, drinking a hot latte, and sharing Chinese. I like watching them write on paper rather than type on a screen, and I like their being able to underline words, use arrows to show where my verb should have gone, and cross things out.

So I choose live teaching for myself. For others I recommend whatever words best for *you*.

choosing a Real! Live! teacher  

I started off searching the web for Chinese teachers in my area. Especially in Hong Kong, a number of nearby language-specialist schools appear in the results, but I focus on those offering lessons as individuals. This choice was discussed in a previous post - I don't want to be constrained by attending pre-planned lessons or even have to wait my turn to ask a question in small group. And although these school do offer 1-to-1 lessons, they are materially more expensive than 1-to-1 lessons with private teachers.

Then I corresponded with each of the potential teachers I found, asking about costs, and possible times (weekdays/weekends, mornings/afternoons/evenings, and flexibility - because of my travel schedule). Additionally, I filtered out teachers for other reasons:
  • There were some teachers who were insisting that they'd take me chapter-by-chapter through a text book - but that would have bored me to death so I rejected them. 
  • There were others who insisted on a minimum number of hours a week - I rejected them too, because I'm in charge of my time, not them.
  • For my most recent choice, I loved the fact that in addition to knowing English, Mandarin & Cantonese - she is currently learning French & Spanish herself, so truly understands the challenges of language learning.  
I tried one or two lessons with the 'finalists' :-) and rejected some of those for a variety of reasons:
  • their inability to speak at a speed that I was happy with
  • the fact that their pronunciation wasn't always 'standard' enough (one claimed to speak Putonghua but I struggled to get even half of her simple sentences)
  • the quality of their explanations when I asked questions.
And that is how I decided.

As always, these thoughts reflect what works for me. Make sure you focus on what works for you - and follow that through. Good luck!

I would love to hear from you how you chose a teacher, or chose not to have a teacher. What things does a teacher do that bothers you? What do you really appreciate? And if you're a fan of online teaching, let us know how it works for you.


  1. Hey, thanks for the ideas. I'm trying two different private teachers this weekend, for the first time. This gives me some things to think about.

  2. Hey Brandon, thanks for stopping by. Good luck with your teacher selection, and let us know how the 'interview' goes, and what the deciding factor is.

    I see from your profile you've lived in China. What (roughly) is your level of Chinese, and how do you intend to use your teacher.

  3. Hello Friends,
    Really, this is a very useful concept about Choosing a Chinese Teacher. Generally, a qualified Chinese teacher needs to study at least one course of Teaching Chinese as Second Language Certificate. Of course, a teacher with more teaching experience is better. He has to Above Bachelor Degree of Chinese Literature, Teaching Chinese as Second Language or Foreign Language (English, Japanese, etc.). At least fluent in one foreign language, such as English, French, etc. And also Teaching Chinese as Second Language Certificate is an asset. Thanks a lot.....

    Study Mandarin In China

  4. Choosing a tutor is a difficult task. But the most important thing is to decide first whether you want to learn Chinese online or in a classroom. Some people are comfortable with online learning while some are not. But personally I would prefer online learning as it saves time and money. Great post though.

  5. Hi Maria, thanks for your thoughts. As I said in the post "Make sure you focus on what works for you - and follow that through."

    I note that you're in the US - for your online learning do you use (online) Chinese teachers in the US too? Otherwise I imagine time zones would make it very difficult!

  6. Michael, we appreciate your detailed criteria for a teacher's qualifications.

    Actually, your comment has really got me thinking, because it had never entered my mind to ask about qualifications from prospective teachers I have met. And I think it might be because I use teachers as part of my self-study regime, rather than sitting back and letting them teach *at* me, if that makes sense.

    If they are a native Chinese speaker, then automatically I can learn from them. If I ask question to them, and I'm happy with the answers that I get - accurate, clear, logical, memorable, consistent, understandable ... then I'm happy.

    I don't mind whether they are qualified or not, but it could be inadvertant, in that the ones I meet who have the qualifications you list, are actually the ones whose explanations I have found most useful in the past.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

  7. Hi,

    Chinese teachers compile lesson plans, lectures and exercises designed to teach students the Chinese language. A person cannot become a Chinese teacher without spending at least four years in college and becoming certified. Thanks...
    Vivir En China

  8. Thanks for clarifying the teaching qualifications. I think that must certainly apply to people teaching at schools, who will of course have to be qualified teachers. However, for 1-to-1 teaching, or even at specialist language schools, I don't think anything is imposed qualification-wise.

    Thank you for your input.