- Ian, please tell us about your education background.
My educational background reflects my interests and work history. I have a Phd, Masters, and Honours degree in ancient history from the University of Western Australia. Ancient history has been an interest of mine since primary school. Secondly, reflecting my employment career, two graduate diplomas in Information Technology from Edith Cowan University. I put these to good use, having been a programmer for three decades in Australia. Both institutions are found in my home city of Perth, Australia.
- How long have you been teaching at 51Talk and how did you land the job?
I have been teaching with 51Talk for two years. The job was recommended to me by one of my education students in Bangkok. I will admit that at first I was reluctant, as I believed that online teaching would be too distant and too impersonal to be effective. Until two years ago all of my teaching had been face to face. Now, I am pleased to say that I have found online teaching to be a wonderful experience. It has a student to teacher intimacy, greater in some ways than face to face teaching.
- You recently went to China and met some of your students in person. Can you tell us about that experience and how did it change you?
First, as an experience is was truly moving to meet my students. To hear them speak directly to me, to hear them thank me for my lessons (blush), and to hear them discuss what they gained from their lessons was personally rewarding.
Visiting and taking to my students has made me fully realise the importance of English. Certainly for the adult students, who see English not merely as an aid to their job, but as an ability that can enhance their life. Chinese citizens wish to join the global community, English is the key means to achieve this.
- You stated the levels of English speakers varied throughout different places and occupations within the country. Can you tell us more about that experience?
English language proficiency is not widespread in China and varies widely by region and social class. By this I mean, in the big cities, yes, most middle-class people knew basic plus English or better, however, in these same cities talk to a taxi driver, a blue-collar worker, or older people, and you will find little or no English. Outside the big cities, close to zero for most people.
About half my travels were in smaller cities and towns. I had to interact with local staff, which meant I had to rely on my mime skills and my downloaded google translate. So—there is lots of work in front of us!
English is viewed as important, and prestigious by a large majority of Chinese. Most Chinese, I perceived, want greater contact and knowledge of the world—they feel hemmed in by a somewhat closed state. English is key to this ambition, however, Chinese citizens are hampered largely by opportunity. There is a significant shortage of native English teachers in China. Even in the larger cities there are shortages. For the smaller cities finding staff is near impossible.
Another discouragement for many is time. Most Chinese work long hours, even unpredictable hours. Flexibility in lesson times is essential for adults.
- Now that you’ve returned from China, do you have a different outlook on how 51Talk can bring positive to change to the country? If so, how?
Yes. My suggestion to 51Talk is to provide more challenging, more difficult, and more profound lessons for our adult students. Many adults want a greater challenge, certainly higher level English, but many also want to learn of controversial and contentious subjects. Lets say politics, economics, and personal life (dating, friendships, and social problems). They want to go beyond work and travel, and learn about real and individual life in the west. Many wish to understand the realities of the western world so as to work, study, and live in the west.
I would also suggest 51Talk provide academic English courses. The high school aged students I met want to study in the west. For this they need academic English.
- How has your teaching changed since you’ve returned home?
Since I have returned I would not say my teaching has specifically changed, but I do now have a greater awareness and understanding of the significance of our teaching to our students. I now believe the majority of adult students see English as a way of enriching their lives.
- Given this new hands-on experience, please provide one new tip you would give to your co-teachers.
I would advise my fellow teachers that their students are indeed, real people, most of whom greatly appreciate the opportunity we and 51Talk provide.
- Finally, what’s your favorite part of teaching at 51Talk?
My favourite part is meeting new students. As much as I enjoy classes with my regular students, when I see a new student in my schedule I am always intrigued as to who it will be, what he or she will be interested in, and what I will learn from that student. By this, something about their hometown, their goals, or their background. Their story!