Teaching English in mainland China and Taiwan

An important part of a being a cross-cultural witness of Christ is forming relationships with people and gaining their trust. English teachers in China have found that their position allows them to accomplish that essential first step of relationship-building, making them excellent ambassadors for Christ in this foreign country. Their daily presence in the classroom gives them the opportunity to influence their students, who in turn carry these new ideas and values home to their families, spreading the gospel even further. We learn more about the importance of teaching English in China through the book, Saving Grandmother’s Face and other Tales from Christian Teachers in China (see the review posted at globalchinacenter.org), and through the Taiwan Mission Quarterly issue on “Teaching English in Taiwan.” [1]

Being an English teacher in China (or Taiwan) opens the door to starting relationships and gaining trust, which then enables the teachers to be able to share the gospel with their students. A teacher’s office hours can give students the opportunity to meet with the teacher one-on-one outside of the classroom, and conversations can transition from school assignments to personal lives, as trust develops. As a friendship forms, the conversations can move from the office into homes. Eventually, students begin to learn more and more about the gospel. They are often curious about this faith that sets their Christian teacher apart from other foreign instructors. According to many people in the Taiwanese community, there is an easily recognizable difference between Christian teachers and non-Christian teachers in their character and actions. One Taiwanese student who became a Christian through her English teachers says that students can see the love of Jesus through their Christian teachers, and that love is effective in moving them towards Christ. [2]

Teaching English also provides an easy way to reach a great number of people. The Chinese are eager to learn and use more English, so providing a place for them to do that draws in many interested students. One missionary in Taiwan explains how his ministry offers an English-speaking Bible study and estimates that over eighty percent of those who attend are not Christians and come primarily to practice their English.[3] In the process of improving their ability in English, however, they are exposed to the gospel of Christ and a loving God. Often, they become Christians through this forum.

An additional advantage that teachers have in spreading Christianity is that they are able to reach young students. Students who have positive interactions with Christians in their youth are often much more receptive to Christianity when they are older.[4] The English teachers plant seeds which grow through the rest of the students’ lives, as they travel to other countries and hear more and more about the gospel. Through the teachers, the younger generations in China and Taiwan are learning about the Kingdom of Christ.

The ministry of English teachers is less formal than that of traditional missionaries, but it is significant and effective nevertheless. Theirs is a process of friendship and relationship, sharing their lives and the hope of Christ with their Chinese friends. By simply spending time with their students and caring for them, making people a priority, teachers demonstrate the love of Christ.

Additional English teachers are needed in both mainland China and in Taiwan, two places which could desperately use more Christian influence. In China, of course, traditional missionary work is illegal, and even foreign teachers must be careful to obey the laws and conduct themselves in a strictly professional manner, earning respect through the quality of their pedagogy and the integrity of their conduct.

There are several important points to note before heading off to teach English in China or Taiwan.

  1. It is imperative for Western English teachers to begin to try to learn as much as they can about Chinese culture and society.[5] This demonstrates respect for the Chinese. For an introduction to both traditional Chinese culture and current conditions in society, seeChina: Ancient Culture, Modern Society, by G. Wright Doyle and Peter Yu.
  2. Learning Chinese poses considerable difficulties, but experience has shown that the more we know about their language, the more effectively we can teach them ours. A prospective English teacher can start the process in the West, but there is a great danger that large college classes will result in such poor pronunciation that a great deal will have to be unlearned later. It’s probably better to plan to spend a year or two in Asia concentrating upon disciplined language learning, preferably in a one-on-one situation, so that correct pronunciation can be acquired at the beginning.
  3. In addition, someone wanting to serve as an English teacher should become acquainted with fundamental principles of being an effective witness among Chinese. Reaching Chinese Worldwide, by G. Wright Doyle, provides both basic concepts and practical suggestions for making the most helpful impact. By taking note of the experiences of others, you can save a lot of trouble and avoid many unnecessary mistakes.
  4. English teachers should be prepared to spend their free time with locals. This is how they will become well-accepted in China and how they will learn more about the culture and the language. Otherwise, teachers will find themselves becoming lonely and disconnected from others.[6]
  5. Necessary characteristics for English teachers to possess include a humble spirit and a willingness to learn. No matter how much research a Westerner has done before traveling to China, he or she will soon discover that there is still a lot to learn about this foreign culture and people. The teachers will also find that many of their preconceptions may not be accurate.

The Chinese (and people in general) want to know that they are respected and accepted as equals, and they want to know that you understand (or at least are trying to understand) their views without judging them. Studying the Chinese culture and language, spending time with the locals, and demonstrating humility shows the Chinese that you care about them and value their lifestyle. Respecting them opens the doors to communication and relationship, and cannot be overemphasized.

You do not have to be a trained missionary to minister to the Chinese. English teachers are doing it every day, in their classrooms and in the homes of their students. All it requires is a willingness to serve and to enter into relationship with those of a different culture from your own. It is an important method of spreading the gospel, and it has proven to be successful and to have far-reaching benefits.

In the opinion of many, this is the most effective way for foreigners to share the love and truth of God among Chinese.

-Martha Stockment

NOTES

  1. The Taiwan Missionary Quarterly is now defunct, but a few copies of this valuable issue are available from China Institute, PO Box 7312, Charlottesville, VA 22906.
  2. Ratu, Tania. “Their Stories.” Taiwan Missionary Quarterly, Winter 2005, 31-32.
  3. Ulmer, Woody. “Making an Impact in Kaohsiung.” Taiwan Missionary Quarterly, Winter 2005, 25.
  4. Bowyer, Beth. “Diary of an English Teacher in Taiwan.” Taiwan Missionary Quarterly, Winter 2005, 10. 
  5. Barnard, Les and Thelma. “Doris Brougham.” Taiwan Missionary Quarterly, Winter 2005, 18-19.
  6. Ibid., 20.