Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

The English Teaching Market in Taiwan

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on February 7, 2009

This post is not meant to be comprehensive. I’m just trying to give outside readers a description of the different kinds of jobs available here and how they can find out more about them. Some of what I’m about to say I do not know from first hand experience and so I invite more knowledgeable readers to correct me and provide further information. If you want to post the URL of sites that help find jobs, I will permit this for this post.

Buxibans

Buxibans are commercial language schools. They are run either as chain businesses or as individual outlets. Students in this type of school generally register as individuals and can range in age from infant to adult. Some buxibans specialize in a particular age range. The children’s market is the largest of these. If you go back to the 1980s or early 1990s, large chain schools like Kojen and GRAM dealt entirely with adults. These days, very few schools specialize only in adults. In these generalized school, it is not unusual for instructors to teach a wide range of students.

Money in this kind of work generally follows a standard formula: the younger the students, the higher the pay. Depending on the age, a lot of this work involves really bad hours. This means either before school or after school work and may run as late as 10:00 pm.

Legally, foreign teachers are not permitted to teach pre-school children. There are some large chain schools that are able to navigate this issue. Others operate illegally. Generally in this market, teachers are local teachers or overseas Chinese. In fact, it is one end of the market where ethnic Chinese have a hiring edge.

Company Classes

In Taiwan, a large number of companies hold classes for employees. The conditions of these classes vary enormously. Some of them are run as welfare for employees. Some are run as serious training that involves demonstrated performance. Some students pay for all or part of their instruction. Others are paid for entirely by the company. Depending on such factors as ability or the school you work for, company classes could mean instruction of groups of secretaries, salesmen, or even CEOs of major international companies.

The money for company training is generally better than teaching in buxibans, but that’s because it has to be. Much of this teaching involves travel to and from company locations, some of which may be very far away. Generally, classes are short, with the longest ones being 2 hours, and very occasionally 3 hours. It’s difficult to get block hours and teaching a whole day may mean starting at 700 am and finishing at 900 or 1000 pm.

I taught company classes for years, both here and in Japan. I think it’s fantastic work. The people you meet are generally older and very interesting. Most of my Taiwanese friends are former students from this time. The problem with this kind of work is that the hours and the travel do not fit well into family life.

Public and Private Schools

High schools and elementary schools in Taiwan can now hire foreign teachers. Most of these positions are really assistant teachers. This means there will be a local English teacher present in the classroom and you’ll probably just be doing what they tell you to do.

Much of the hiring for these positions is done through agents. Some of these agents work on contract for an individual school and I have heard complaints about these sorts of jobs. On the other hand, friends have been offered jobs like this that were quite satisfactory. At one time, all the school teaching in Taoyuan County was being hired through one single agent. I don’t know if this is still the case. I spoke with them about the positions they were hiring for, and they sounded quite professional.

I have cautioned readers against these positions in Tainan County. I don’t know if they’re still recruiting this way, but I remember reading the same ad in the Taipei Times last year.

Teaching in a school has the obvious advantage of standard working hours and paid holidays. I taught public school in Japan, but have no personal experience in Taiwan. It’s not unusual to be asked to assist with activities outside the classroom. There is also the serious issue of curriculum. Most foreign teachers here will be assisting a local teacher in an institutional setting that follows national curriculum. The claim is that foreign teachers are in Taiwan to develop communicative ability, but this is not really the case. Despite the fact that national high school admissions test English section now contains communicative skills and no grammar, public schools have not modified their teaching methods. As 2 extremely fluent public high school teachers said to me, “We only speak Chinese in class.”

Universities

I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere. I consider work in a university the most realistic option for long-term life in Taiwan. The minimum qualification for these jobs is graduate education from a school approved by the MOE. There is no combination of other qualifications or experience that can be used to make up for this.

International Schools

I know very little about these jobs.

There is a wide range of international schools in Taiwan. The most prestigious of these is the Taipei American School (TAS). I know TAS to be outstanding. I think this is obvious from my post and links describing the school. Strangely some readers appear confused about this. Anyone who doubts I think TAS is excellent should reread the post and links.

I understand TAS pays very well and at least some teachers receive subsidized housing. But not all international schools are TAS. Occasionally, I come across advertisements for foreign teachers at other schools. The advertized wages have not been impressive. These schools will all advertize that applicants need a teacher’s certificate or some similar qualification from their home country. I know this is not true for some of these schools, and they may be willing to hire any native-speaker applicants with a bachelor’s degree.

People I know who have gone on to work at other international schools have described pretty grim teaching situations. The pay was not better than standard university wages and the work is very hard. Some of these schools offer 10-month contracts for the first year. I am not sure if this is legal, but clearly the aim is to give the school the option of firing the individual before the summer holidays if the first year doesn’t work out. In 2001, I was interviewed for a university language center job with a man who was leaving a position at Lincoln American School in Taichung (now American School in Taichung 台中美國學校)). I can only assume it was because the language center job was better. The salary offered by Morrison Christian Academy is considerably lower than market. I suspect the only reason anyone works at most of these schools is for the presumed effect this will have on their resume when they return to their home country.

Test Preparation Schools

Taiwan is inundated with test preparation schools. Most of the tests being prepared for are local tests conducted in Chinese languages. This includes high school admissions tests. I know of no foreign teachers involved in the preparation of junior high school students for the Basic Competency Tests (BC Tests). Even preparation for locally-developed English proficiency tests, such as the GEPT, is dominated by local instructors.

Some number of schools involved in TOEIC, TOEFL, and IELTS preparation do hire foreign teachers. It is this market that offers one of the few commercial opportunities for those with specialized qualification in English teaching. I have several acquaintances who have taught at IELTS preparation schools. One of them holds a DELTA, the other is a certified IELTS examiner. Their jobs are particularly aimed at preparing students for the IELTS and education in Britain or Australia. I suspect that most of the teaching done for TOEFL preparation is done by local teachers.

Overview of Qualifications

To work legally as an English teacher in Taiwan, you need to have a bachelor’s degree from a university that the Taiwan government recognizes. Apparently there is another way to get a work visa using other forms of English teaching certification. I think I know someone who got his visa this way, but even though I have known him for years he has never talked it. This is not something I recommend trying.

English teaching certificates such as CELTA, DELTA, and comparable courses from organizations like TEFL International are not very useful in Taiwan. As I said, it is possible they help otherwise unqualified people to get a work permit. Outside of the very limited market I discussed above, they have little power in helping one get a better job. I understand there was once a company in Taiwan that tried to operate hiring only teachers with Cambridge certificates. They are no longer open. Universities and colleges may consider these to be useful qualifications, but they do not qualify otherwise unqualified people to work in these institutions.

Aside from positions in international schools, teacher qualifications from a foreign nation is not very useful. Employers in Taiwan do not automatically assume such qualifications have better prepared someone to teach here. Universities and colleges can not accept these in the place of graduate education.

By far, the most useful qualification in Taiwan is graduate education and previous teaching experience with similar students.

Money

I haven’t worked in commercial teaching for a long time, so I can only speculate on this. Judging from the number of discussions I’ve seen about stagnating wages and a declining market, I guess that my experience is still accurate.

This is Taiwan. The economy is not nearly as strong as European or North American economies. Wages are a lot lower. On the other hand, taxes are also much, much lower, but then so is government support for pensions and working conditions. My estimate is that wages here are about half of a comparable job in Canada.

Typical wages for inexperienced and unconnected teachers are between $NT600 and $800 an hour. Some people can make a lot more, especially those doing company English teaching. A lot depends on the schedule. If you have block hours or work during the regular day, you can expect to make the low end of the scale. One of things an avid researcher is bound to come across is claims of huge earning power. It’s not unusual to read claims from teachers that they make almost as much as they could make in their home country. This might be true. There is significant earning potential here and some jobs do pay very well. My experience is that it takes a lot of time and development to get yourself in this position. A more likely explanation for extremely high earnings is extremely long working  hours.

More Information

Information about teaching in Taiwan is everywhere. There is so much information that it’s really information overload. Some of what looks like information is really commercial in nature. Usually this is pretty transparent, but readers should be warned.

There are a number of forums that provide useful information for people interested in coming here. I usually read

http://www.forumosa.com

Forumosa is large and many of the people who post on it are very experienced. I know a sizable number of these people personally and I think the forum is a lot of fun and very useful. On the other hand, there are a lot of crazy people living in Taiwan and some of them post on forumosa. But it is a good place to start.

I generally don’t recommend Dave’s ESL Cafe

http://www.eslcafe.com

It’s a good place to look for work, but the Taiwan forum is dominated by a very small group of people, and I generally steer away from it unless I’m looking for gossip.

There are many, many websites that post job information. The only ones I know are Dave’s and

http://www.tealit.com

These are the oldest and the fact that they’ve survived so long says something about their usefulness. Many others have come and gone. Since I’m no longer in that market, I don’t know if there are others that are widely used. If there are any readers with good information about this, let me know.

Other Language Related Work

There is also work available editing and proofreading. Typically, this means work on advertsing and information distributed through commercial companies and government. I have done some of this kind of work for companies where I was teaching English. Some companies have so much of this kind of work they have full-time staff to handle it. More generally, it’s handled by freelancers or as a side business in a larger test prep school or translation house. I know people who have never taught English and instead work for translations houses editing material and writing letters in English.

The shortage of adequate proofreading is one of the impediments facing Taiwanese professors in their quest for international publishing. While many foreign residents have the English skills to do this, they lack the academic knowledge or field knowledge to handle the manuscripts. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to see people with strong academic skills unable to do this kind of work because they lack knowledge of proofreading or even the basic English language skills. Some universities, as well as the Academia Sinica, now have budget to pay for this. It is this kind of work being done by Q Book, the English teaching resource site operated by my friend Clyde Warden.

Q Book

I personally find this kind f work very difficult and while I have done lots of it, my philosophy now is that I won’t read any manuscripts that I am not personally interested in reading.

Conclusion

These are my thoughts on the English teaching market. If you have any disagreements, additions, or clarifications to make, please feel free to let me know.

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One Response

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  1. Justin said, on November 4, 2009 at 3:54 am

    Scott,

    I am studying English language testing for the business environment and just came across your blog. There is a small section here where you talk about past experience teaching company classes. Would you happen to know any tests other than TOEIC and BULATS that companies use to assess applicants/employees in the recruiting, training, or promotion processes.

    I haven’t gotten a real good understanding of how or if the GEPT is used outside of academia. Please enlighten me if you can


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