Chinese Teacher Career Profile

Chinese teachers have one of the most interesting jobs of all language teachers. The many spoken dialects of Chinese are quite different. In many cases, dialect speakers can't understand each other. Chinese teachers usually teach the official language of China, Putonghua, ("Common speech") aka Mandarin. They also teach the written language, and in some cases calligraphy.

The work environment

Chinese teachers commonly work in special language classes in community colleges, tertiary colleges, and in some cases as private tutors. The work is complex, involving pronunciation, character recognition, vocabulary and grammar. Chinese is said to be one of the most difficult languages to learn. In the West, one of the anomalies confronting Chinese teachers is that many of their students are overseas Chinese, all speaking different dialects, and non-Chinese speaking languages which have nothing in common with Chinese.

These are the primary elements of learning to speak Chinese:

Pronunciation: The highly enunciated form of Chinese is true, well-spoken, Chinese. Correct pronunciation of some elements of a word is essential. Different pronunciations of the same word can mean quite different things. Learning "tones" is particularly important. Tones are different pronunciations of vowels. In Mandarin, there can be four tones to any vowel, with four different pronunciations of the same basic word.

Character recognition: Traditionally, students learn characters progressively, in order of complexity, starting with one and two stroke characters and advancing in stages. It's also necessary to learn phonetic characters, which have a special role in pronunciation. A vocabulary of 2000-3000 characters is required to be able to read Chinese with sufficient fluency.

Vocabulary: Chinese is an idiomatic language, in which words are combined to form another word. "Telephone", for example, is "dian hua", or literally, "electric speech". Combination of elements can produce words with quite different meanings, and in sentences may be further modified by context.

Grammar: Traditional Chinese teaching involves rote learning, although in many cases that's being replaced by sentence structure learning, explaining the grammar and sentence construction while developing the vocabulary.

Calligraphy: For literacy in Chinese, calligraphy and character recognition are inseparable. In ancient Chinese culture, and to some extent today, calligraphy is regarded as an art. Brush strokes are particularly important, and good definition of formal characters is the defining element of good calligraphy. Many Chinese words are compounds of several words, and clarity of brush strokes is an important part of legibility.

The career environment

The demand for Chinese language teachers is steadily increasing. The booming Chinese economy has created a need for Chinese speakers around the world for business purposes. Other demands for Chinese language teaching come from the large overseas Chinese population, many of whom return to China to see their family's traditional homes, or for other cultural reasons.

Career progression in Chinese language teaching is based on proficiency and experience. To teach advanced Chinese requires excellent cultural and literary knowledge, as well as good diction and an understanding of the current etymology of Chinese words. Far from being a static language, modern Chinese is creating new words all the time, particularly in the sciences.