Do I need to speak Chinese to teach English in China? By TeachDiscoverChina’s TEFL teacher Adam (UK).

If you are like me before I came to teach English in China, who picked up a few Chinese learning books and audio CDs, and only briefly glanced at some articles on the web, and came out with a few mispronounced Chinese sentences – you’re probably thinking what the heck is that squiggly line in the Teach Discover China logo that kind of looks like a ying and yang symbol. Well, it means ‘teacher’ of course.

Nowadays in China, they like to use two syllable words. So the word for teacher is lǎoshī (老师), you can see that the character in our TDC logo is similar but different to the shī (师) in Lǎoshī, but actually, they are the same character – shī traditionally meaning teacher or master. The character depicted in our logo is the ancient form of the shī Chinese character which is now simplified. If you want to know about the history of the Mandarin Chinese language, check out this link: A brief history of Mandarin

Do these Chinese characters look daunting?

Don’t worry.

So the question really is ‘ Do you need to speak Chinese to teach English in China? The simple answer is no!

China is one of the world’s most popular destinations for teaching English because of the countries soaring economy and endless beauty, but all the more attractive because speaking Chinese is definitely not a requirement. At the end of the day, you’re here to teach English. And here at TDC, we will give you all the support to do that.

Speaking from experience Chinese people are humble and very friendly and are always willing to help, especially those from Chengdu and the rest of Sichuan, considered the most welcoming. And with the advent of technology living in China has become pretty convenient with multipurpose apps such as WeChat (watch out for our article top 5 apps you should download whilst in China) making the language barrier less of an obstacle than 20 years ago.

However, will learning Chinese help? It will help you settle in a lot easier and faster. Of course, you will be able to order food from the store or restaurant more smoothly rather than looking at the pictures (succulent as they maybe) or resorting to your translation app.

And then the next question is why not?

Some Chinese phrases

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to speak Chinese, to be bilingual or multilingual? Don’t you want to be able to go back to your country and say to your friends:

“Nǐ yīnggāi zài zhōngguó jiāo yīngyǔ. Zhōngguó tài hǎole!”


“You should teach English in China. China is awesome!”

And see the look on their faces.

Don’t you want to be able to walk into a Sichuanese restaurant in the UK or US and say:

“Wǒ xiǎng yào mápó dòufu.”


“I want Mapo tofu.”

And get the response from the waiter:

“Nǐ de zhōngwén bùcuò.”


“Your Chinese is not bad.”


While it’s not absolutely necessary we’d encourage you to learn the basics of the language. After all, we are ‘Teach Discover China’ and it is important that we also place emphasis on the ‘discover’. As this is not just a chance for you to make a difference in people’s lives but also a chance for China to make a positive and lasting impression on you. This is your chance to discover China and Chinese culture, and what better way to do that than through language. Don’t forget, you’re in China, what better chance and environment will you get to absorb the native tongue. It is not as hard as it seems. You can start with the speaking first and then challenge yourself with the characters later on.

I’ve been here for over two and a half years and have picked up some of the lingoes, it’s been a great learning experience and a great adventure.

Kudos to our friends over at Instant Mandarin, now each participant on our program gets the opportunity to learn real Chinese online with professional native Chinese tutors. We really do have all the bases covered.

China is truly a country worth embracing.

Just ask our teachers or simply APPLY NOW we have plenty of government-supported TEFL jobs for you here. Remember, it’s always the ideal situation to learn the language in the country itself and on top of that you will be able to save quite a lot of money while mastering Chinese!

Unsure if you are eligible to teach English in China? Check here in just a minute

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