Being a graduate Language Assistant in China

Being a graduate Language Assistant in China

This article was written by James Coop, published on 18th February 2014 and has been read 5828 times.

Seeking a rewarding challenge to combine his academic competence with personal and professional skills, James Coop realised that the English Language Assistants programme offered the perfect opportunity. The Cardiff University graduate spent ten months teaching class sizes of up to 50 students in Suzhou, in one of China’s richest major cities.

1. Tell us about your first few weeks in China.

I arrived with other English Language Assistants and was greeted at Beijing airport by the British Council’s partner organisation, CEAIE, before taking part in a two-week induction course.
We received training on lesson planning techniques and taught groups of 30 Chinese students at a summer school to put what we’d learnt into practice. We observed each other, gave feedback and shared teaching ideas in preparation for the assistantship. In the second week, everyone took Mandarin lessons – there were several classes, pitched to suit all abilities. On arrival in Suzhou, I was given yet more training on lesson planning along with textbooks and resources to help me get started.

2. Describe your role in the Chinese school.

Although I was assigned a mentor teacher, I was expected to take responsibility for teaching whole classes and develop lesson plans independently. The Chinese teachers often used learning through repetition in their classes, so I decided to complement their approach with a focus on contemporary cultural topics and discussion in the classroom. The interactive environment helped me to get to know my students’ language ability and learning styles. They were fascinated by the latest British popstars and football players, and were eager to find out about school life in the UK. For most of them, I was one of the few foreigners they’d ever met, so they were interested in me as a person and asked lots of questions.

3. What about life outside of the classroom?

I lived with an assistant and there were others living nearby. We developed a strong support network, sharing teaching tips and lesson plans. This was invaluable, particularly at the beginning of the year. I also made friends with the Chinese teachers at my school and joined a local football team, made up of players from all over the world. The biggest challenge to overcome was the language barrier. Getting the tones right was tough, and sometimes locals didn’t understand me, which I found frustrating at the beginning. But I persevered with the pronunciation and tried to use my basic language skills as much as I could.

4. How has the experience helped you in the graduate job market?

I work for an international music publishing company and my role involves relationship building and liaison with organisations all over the world. After I was appointed to the position, the manager explained that my experience of living and working in another country was what made me stand out at interview and ultimately got me the job.


Awareness of cultural difference and the ability to adapt to different environments and people form an intrinsic part of everything I do. Teaching mixed ability students really helped me hone my communication skills. I developed creative ways of using language to make myself understood and ensure that everyone had the opportunity to participate in my classes. I know that the personal and professional skills I gained as an English Language Assistant will stand me in good stead for whatever I choose to do next.

Visit the British Council website to find out how you can apply to China by 21st February 2014.

If you would like to comment, please login or register.