Teaching English in Thailand versus China: Which is Better?

Readers sometimes ask about teaching English in China versus teaching English in Thailand and we will try to help sort that out for you here.

As two of the three largest EFL markets in the world, it is a good idea to understand the differences between these two countries.

What are the differences and advantages/disadvantages of China versus Thailand?

Basic Requirements for Teaching English in China and Thailand

For China – a TEFL certificate is generally required (sometimes not if you have previous teaching experience) and often a degree is NOT required.

For Thailand – a degree AND a TEFL certification is required.  You’ll also need to provide a criminal background check (not a bad thing!).

Wages and Benefits Compared for Teaching English in China and Thailand

Wages for entry level positions are about the same between the two countries.  You can earn about US$1000 per month.  But benefits differ greatly. There is, of course, quite a bit of variation in wages in both countries depending on location, type of school and the qualifications and experience that you bring to the tabel

In China you will usually get free accommodation and reimbursed airfare.  Big expenses that Thailand does not usually offer to cover.

Contracts in China also often offer free internet in your apartment, plus a computer in the apartment as well as subsidized utilities (usually about 200RMB per month – sometimes enough to cover all the costs).  That is not going to happen in Thailand where you will need to find, rent and pay for your own apartment, utilities, internet and computer.  Sometimes though, a computer with internet connection is provided at work, but you will sometimes need to share that computer with other teachers.

Though wages are modest in both countries, because of the benefits provided you can probably save about US$2-300 a month in China, but it will be difficult to save anything in Thailand.  For Thailand, you should consider bringing with you enough money for your flight home.  You’ll earn enough in Thailand though, to have a good look around the country and travel a bit regionally.

Hiring Procedure

Thailand interviews will almost always require you to be on the scene and often to present a demonstration lesson before you will be offered a position.  China usually hires you directly from abroad after a Skype or telephone interview.

Teaching Conditions

Because Thailand requires a degree and TEFL certification, they tend to expect more of their newbie teachers.  Classroom numbers tend to be high and if you are teaching at a public school, you might have as many as 50 students in your class.   Really a tough way to get started.

China seems to be a bit more ready to accept totally newbie teachers, probably because even the TEFL certification requirement is fairly new and they were quite used to taking teachers literally off the street.  Because of this they tend to offer smaller classes, fewer teaching hours and (very often) a Chinese teacher assistant in the classroom with you.

Living Conditions and Culture: Thailand versus China

Thailand is know as probably one of the easiest places to live and adapt to the culture and lifestyle.  It truly is a wonderful place to live and enjoy life.  Thailand has a long history with foreigners in the country and easily accepts them and you can find yourself quite comfortable there – from day one.

China is often a bit more difficult for people to adapt to as foreigners.  Especially in out of the way cities, foreigners have not been around much.  You can easily find people staring at you and they can be quite curious about you – though in a polite way.  Thais, will tend to not pay you much attention unless you are in a very rural area.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  In almost every category, China offers better options for the new teacher. BUT, most people find Thailand a more enjoyable and easier place to live.  You’ll need to decide for yourself what works best for you.  If you need to save a bit of money and are not confident about your teaching skills (yet), then China is probably a better option for you.

Teaching Internships in China

Western Teachers are Bad Because they Force Western Culture on their Students ?

A poster on another website wrote:

I read somewhere that in some ways Western teachers are bad because they (inadvertently) force Western culture onto their students.

Yes, but . . .  Culture is deeply embedded in language, even at a subconscious level. When you learn language – you, to some degree, learn culture.

Let your students decide what part of it to accept or reject. Assume some level of intelligence on their part to know what is good for them and what is bad.

Don’t assume that Western liberal thinking knows what is best for them. It doesn’t.  And certainly don’t assume they they think Western culture is better than or superior to theirs – they usually DON’T.

Students in non-Western countries often have great familiarity with Western culture due to movies, TV shows and even internet sites like FaceBook, Twitter and many others.  They usually know MUCH more about our culture than we know about theirs.  You’ll also be amazed to find that they know that Western crime rates are horrendous, that we often don’t personally take care of our elderly parents and many other things they will think terrible.

So – just because they are learning a bit about English language and Western culture does not mean they accept and adopt it.  Your students are usually MUCH smarter than you think.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Most countries in Asia and Latin America are much more conservative than our “Western developed” countries. They treasure their parents and families and most of Asia (certainly) has much lower crime rates than our countries.   Don’t worry that they idealize what we have.  Usually they don’t.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  I can tell you from personal experience that, for example, my students at Korean university found truly abhorrent the American TV shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” which had very young girls dressing up in “sexy” make-up and outfits with their mothers encouraging them to behave in a sexually provocative manner.

I have been embarrassed numerous times when my students gave presentations and projects reviewing parts of American culture that would obviously lead to the victimization of children.  And that is only ONE part of what they see and wonder about, evaluate and usually just don’t buy.

Teaching Internships in China

TEFL Interview Tips – Interviewing for Teaching English Abroad

This post is one of several on the topic of TEFL interviews from the ESL EFL Road Show hosted this month over at TEFL Tips.

Fortunately, interviewing for TEFL positions is usually a much more friendly and positive event than the typical demeaning and degrading interview in the Western world.

This isn’t going to be the typical list of questions and suggested generic responses that you will read elsewhere and that employers know are canned and don’t mean anything anyway, so . . . if that is what you are looking for, it ain’t here.  We have something MUCH more helpful for you here.  Some insight and understanding about what a school is looking for in a new teacher and how you might honestly fit into that without memorizing answers that just aren’t real for you.

WHY this Approach to a TEFL Interview?

I did a Google search this morning for “TEFL Interview Tips” and found lots of great information about meaningful and insightful questions your interviewers will ask you and how you might give back certain meaningful and insightful answers.  The problem is/was . . . of the 40-50-60-100+ questions I saw, only five or six had ever shown up in an interview with me when I was looking for a job.  And I have done a lot of interviewing over the  last twenty years as I enjoy “fishing” for jobs and checking to see if something might be different or special.

Here’s the Problem

Most people approach TEFL Interviews the same way they would an interview back in their home country.    Two problems with that.  First, many of us are hoping to escape that uncomfortable and degrading process in a new world overseas.  Second, more often than not your interviewer is not from that Western world and has distinctly different ideas about who they want to hire and why (and that’s a GOOD thing for you and me!).

Here’s the Solution

Take a deep breath and relax a moment and realize that the working world (yes, TEFL is work) overseas is significantly different from that in your home country.   Many cultures put great emphasis on harmony in the workplace.  Essentially: Can we all get along together?  And that is the #1 thing they want to know about you.  If we can’t get along – no need to hire you – even in the Western world, no?  Of course, they want to know you meet all the minimum qualifications for the job, but you wouldn’t land the interview if you didn’t.

So the first thing on your potential employer’s mind is if you will fit in.   Will you work well with her other employees.   The best way you can demonstrate that is with a good friendly attitude and a smile.  Those two things are far better than memorizing 40-50 good answers to tough interview questions.   Easier too.  I promise!  Smile even if it is a telephone interview – it does come across the line.

The second issue in your interviewer’s thinking is if their students will like you and if your interaction with them – in and out of the classroom – will be a positive experience for them.  These days even in the developing world and even in university and college settings, not to mention private language schools . . . students are seen as consumers/customers.   As drivers of the business.  Yes, even colleges and universities are businesses and need to please their customers.   And, doesn’t it just make sense that if your students like and enjoy you – they will be more motivated in your classroom?  I think so.

So what your interviewer wants to figure out in this case is if you are friendly and outgoing.  If you aren’t, you probably won’t be much of a good teacher anyway.  Believe it or not, you will actually see unfriendly teachers out in the TEFL world!  How do you address that issue?  Put on a big smile and a friendly attitude in your interview.

Big Smile and Friendly works for TEFL Interviews

I am not suggesting that you BS your way through an interview with a big friendly smile.  I am saying be genuinely friendly and it will likely take you where you want to go.  Most of the other stuff will take care of itself.

There is excellent research in the Business Management field that demonstrates that 80% of people fired from their jobs are fired for reasons NOT related to their skill level.  In other words, personal and social skills.

Can’t get along with others.  Is rude to customers.  Doesn’t bathe.  Comes to work smelling of booze.  It’s not just do you have the technical skills, but such research raises the question about if can you get along in the work place.

One more thing about TEFL Interviews

Yeah, don’t forget your appearance.

Koreans have a great saying: First impressions are everything.  They don’t say they are important – they say they are everything!

Much of the non-Western world puts great stock in grooming and appearance.  Arrive at your interview clean and sharp, well groomed and well dressed.  If sending a photo, make sure you are well groomed and look sharp in it.

Many newbies to TEFL view it as something of an informal occupation.  Some even show up for interviews in shorts and flip-flops!  Those are the ones you read about on the internet that just couldn’t find a job and often write how bad the TEFL world is . . .

TED’s Tips™ #1: There you have it: Be friendly, put on a big smile and dress and groom yourself immaculately.   Do those three simple and very easy things and you are already 90% of the way to being hired.  Yeah!  Isn’t that great!

Teaching Internships in China


Things I REFUSE to do at Work

In the world of teaching, as in that of any occupation, there is usually a specific topic that gets people to puff up their chests and prove just how big their cojones are.

In the teaching business it is usually the long list (the longer the list, the bigger the cojones!) of things a teacher WON’T do outside of specifically standing in a classroom and teaching.

Those of you who have read this blog or the sister blog to this at  TEFL Teacher Training – probably already know that my list is VERY short.  Thus small cojones, I guess . . .   🙁  ??

This post is inspired by a recent article I read at a popular EFL Teacher website listing the long list of things the author would refuse to do at work.

I am not going to list out and counter the things the author of that post listed, because most were very reasonable, but I will comment on one – just as an example.

The author refuses to make photocopies outside the school (if no way to do it there) unless reimbursed for doing so.  Now – I agree to some extent, but I have always done it if need be.  Two reasons why.  Who suffers?  The students and the teacher.  To me, it is far easier to teach the class with useful and relevant handouts and exercises.

The argument goes that if you do it, the school will never give in and take care of it.   Okay – but there are certainly places where I have worked and paid for the photocopies out of my pocket.  Not really worth getting too stressed about.  I like teaching and I like doing it right.  When considering renewing my contract for another year, I might have to consider the photocopy issue – but if it is not such a big deal . . . then it’s not a big deal.

So the bottom line on these things is who gets hurt.  What works, what doesn’t.  What makes life in the classroom more productive and enjoyable.

But what drew you to this article in the first place?

The negative title?  The idea of puffing up in outrage at difficult employers taking advantage of you?

Be careful about that kind of thinking.  Attitude makes a big difference in life and I think it makes an even bigger difference abroad.  If you read back through this blog, you will see repeated references to dealing with situations with an open mind, being helpful, being a team player – and how that can create benefits that are unexpected and positive.

Do you remember the post here about how I got a nice raise the very next day after going out singing (karaoke) with people from my school?  Read about it HERE.  There is also a good post here about Solving Problems in a Foreign Culture.   I’ve been fortunate enough – I guess because I paid for the photocopies . . . to get raises and bonuses and extra paid time off – at a variety of schools – that weren’t even in my contract!

Am I God’s Greatest Teacher – or what?  Well . . . I am not.  But just having a good attitude and doing a little bit extra to get along, goes a long long long way overseas.  Partly because there are so many teachers already saying NO NO NO NO NO – to everything – while pointing to their contract as if it were a Bible (or other holy book – not wanting to exclude anyone . . .).

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Now . . . I agree that you probably didn’t sign on to clean the bathroom and I can’t say that I would happily do such a thing – at any job (although far in the past . . .).  But it kind of depends on the circumstances and if we are all team players – or not.   Attitude is 90% of the Game.

Teaching Internships in China