“What are the challenges of being a non-native teacher of English in Taiwan?”

I started my career as a high school EFL teacher in Taiwan in my mid 20s. As with other careers, this job has its ups and downs. In the past 20 years, seeing my students’ progress and their confidence that comes with the progress always gives me the most joy. On the other hand, the ever-changing nature of languages, students’ diverse levels of proficiency, the adaptation of curriculum, and the advancement of technology all pose more challenges to my role as an English teacher.

More and more time spent on preparation

First of all, languages keep evolving, and in order to stay updated with the latest teaching materials and methodologies, I have to spend substantial amounts of time on class preparation. I am expected to help elevate my students’ English skills in all aspects not only for college application and entrance exams, but also for practical use of English in life. But given the limited time available for teaching under the current curriculum policy, I find the goals more and more difficult to achieve.

Multi levels of English in the same class

Students’ different levels of English proficiency add to the challenge. Within a single class, some students are very advanced, while some struggle with even basic language skills.

Phone distractions

Another difficult part is about convincing students to properly and responsibly use technology, especially their cellphones and other devices, so that they become an aid to language learning instead of a distraction. Students’ reluctance and resistance often present a challenge to classroom management.

The pros of being a non-native speaker

For a non-native speaker to be an EFL teacher in high school is demanding. However, sharing a mother language with my students also gives me an advantage. In times of need, it facilitates communication, enabling me to effectively explain complex concepts or offer guidance. I also can more easily relate to their struggles and difficulties. Speaking the same mother language also creates a sense of security in class, especially for students struggling with English learning.

Ying-Chuan Chen has a PhD in Education from the University of Ottowa. She live in Canada for six years and is now a high school teacher of English in Taiwan. Her students call her ‘Amy’ which is her adopted name in English.