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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Magazine, Volume Two Nov-Dec 2023.
Teaching English in Asia by Devinder Raj.
Teaching English in an Asian country is a journey that offers a blend of personal and professional rewards while presenting unique challenges. This venture provides an unparalleled opportunity for cultural immersion, allowing you to experience local customs, traditions, and ways of life firsthand. Embracing these cultural differences, rather than being critical of them, can be a remarkable advantage. Additionally, teaching English in Asia can enhance your language skills, not only in English but also in the local language. It requires delving deep into your linguistic toolbox to convey messages effectively.
The challenge lies in working with students who may have limited proficiency in English, making it difficult to convey complex ideas and concepts that may be unfamiliar to them. However, this experience is a valuable addition to your resume, demonstrating your ability to communicate adeptly and adapt to diverse teaching.
In some countries, classrooms can be overcrowded, making it challenging to provide individualized attention and feedback. With proper training, you can utilise group activities and educational apps if available, to reach out to your students effectively. Some Asian countries offer a low cost of living, allowing you to save money for travel adventures within the country and neighbouring regions. Nevertheless, in some places, suitable living accommodations near your workplace may be scarce, as I experienced when teaching in the outskirts of Beijing. I was provided with an apartment on the fifth floor that did not have a lift and inadequate heating.
The experience of teaching English in a foreign country can make your resume stand out to potential employers. It showcases your ability to work independently, adapt to new environments, and communicate effectively across cultural boundaries. For instance, my experience teaching at a college in Beijing and volunteering at the National University of Laos helped me secure a job with City & Guilds as an External Verifier for language-related programs in Southeast Asia when I returned to my hometown in Malaya.
To be an effective English teacher in Asia, you must localise your teaching materials by incorporating local names, issues, and stories relevant to your students. Use visual aids, gestures, and simplified language to help students connect with your lessons, especially if they struggle with cultural references and idiomatic expressions. Encourage students to practice speaking and listening outside the classroom, providing opportunities for them to communicate during group and pair work activities.
Adopt a variety of teaching styles to cater to different learning preferences among your students, utilizing visual, auditory, and kinesthetic activities. As a teacher ensure that the lesson time in the classroom is not dominated by the teacher talk. Time must be provided for the students to ask questions and present their views and some writing work.
Encourage students to watch English language media at home to improve their listening skills and pronunciation. In cases where classes are crowded, take the learning experience outside the classroom with activities like treasure hunts, role playing and project work.
In some countries, rote learning is prevalent, as seen in China. It is not uncommon for students to memorise and reproduce essays in exams, which can pose challenges for teachers and administrators in ensuring fair assessment. Cultural differences may also lead to students seldom asking questions in class, creating an interesting dynamic to navigate.
Some schools in Asia may lack suitable resources, requiring teachers to create their own materials. Additionally, traditional assessment methods in some countries may not effectively gauge students’ communication skills, making it necessary for teachers to engage in constructive dialogue with administrators.
Navigating administrative requirements and red tape within Asian education systems can be time-consuming and frustrating. Despite these challenges, English teachers can take several steps to succeed: staying updated on language trends, employing effective teaching methods, and establishing a positive classroom environment. Building strong rapport with students, adapting to their specific needs, and emphasizing clear and effective communication are keys to success in the dynamic world of teaching English in Asia.
© Devinder Raj
Devinder Raj grew up in Malacca (Melaka), where he attended Malacca High School. He furthered his education by completing his Teacher Training at the Malayan Teachers College in Kuala Lumpur. Subsequently, in 1970, he earned a degree in Chinese Studies from The University of Malaya. In 1982, he pursued a Diploma in TEFL at the University of Sydney. Devinder Raj has enriched his educational journey with extensive international experiences. He participated in four, 4-week courses on teaching English in the United Kingdom, supported by the British Council.
Throughout his career, Devinder Raj has been dedicated to education. He began his teaching career in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaya, where he taught English and geography. He later transitioned into roles at the Ministry of Education in Malaya, serving as a Language Officer in the Schools Division, and at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur, where he worked as an English Language Projects Officer. He also contributed to education in Beijing, China, at Beijing Inti Management College, and at the National University of Laos, where he volunteered for two years.
His professional journey culminated in his role as an External Verifier for Language programs for City & Guilds in Kuala Lumpur, covering the Asia- Pacific Region. Presently, Devinder Raj dedicates his time to writing books on Malayan history. His published works include “Where Eighty-Four Languages Were Once Spoken: An Account of the History of Melaka from 1400 to 1824,” “The Influences of Early History on Multicultural Melaka,” and “Linkages: A Brief Description of the Kingdoms of the Malay Peninsula and the Kingdoms of Southeast Asia.