Poor pay and a lack of regulation is ensuring the vast majority of people capable of teaching Chinese as a foreign language are not doing so.
A young man teaches Chinese to an overseas student at a language training institute. (Photo source: China Daily)
Delegates at a seminar held by the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) recently heard that more than 40 percent of graduates nationwide who majored in teaching Chinese as a foreign language end up taking government jobs.
Another 40 percent choose to start postgraduate studies.
And most of the remaining students end up working, mainly as translators or in the banking and media sectors.
The seminar was attended by 200 professors from across China.
BLCU, which was the first university to offer a degree in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, sees few of its grads ending up using the skills they learned, said a teacher surnamed Feng, who works at the university's employment center.
Feng said 80 to 90 students enroll to take the degree each year.
Locally at BLCU, about two-thirds continue with postgraduate studies, Feng said.
Most of the others take jobs with companies while only around three to five each year end up teaching Chinese to foreigners.
Teachers of Chinese to foreigners without any teaching experience can only earn around 30 to 40 yuan per hour if they work out of a training center.
That compares with a newly graduated English teacher who can earn 120 yuan an hour out of the same training centers, said Erin Chen, academic director of the Chinese language training department at Bell Beijing International Training Center.
Beijing has around 100 training centers that offer Chinese language classes. Very few hire full-time formal teachers.
University students are their preference, because they charge less and do not tend to ask for social security benefits.
"However, since university students don't have any teaching experience, they can't offer high-quality teaching," she said.
"But many foreigners especially foreign students - the main customers - don't care as long as tuition is cheap."
Yuan Bo, who studied teaching Chinese as a foreign language at BLCU, received a postgraduate admission offer from the linguistics department at Tsinghua University in July.
He said he felt regretful that he would not be going on to teach Chinese to foreigners but he said demand for Chinese teachers was not as strong as he thought it would be when he was a freshman.
Yuan said most jobs available in private training centers are not stable and do not offer the chance for career development.
"I earn 40 yuan an hour teaching Chinese to a foreigner but I have to pay 200 yuan to study English from a foreigner who probably doesn't have any educational background in teaching," he said.
"It is just not fair."
(China Daily January 12, 2011)