MM- You speak many languages and have been into teaching ESL in Asia. How do you feel towards this industry? Do you think Asians really need all of this focus on learning the English language?
Countries in Asia fall into two broad categories: Chinese sphere of influence countries, and all of the others. Chinese sphere of influence countries or Chinese culture countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have an incredible dedication to studies. Children attend school six or seven days per week sometimes as much as 16 hours per day. They value education to the point that when the financial tsunami hit and many parents became unemployed, they didn’t pull their kids out of school. They would sooner do without food.
Thailand, Lao, Malaysia (the Malay ethnics) Burmese, Indonesia…. Put much less emphasis on education. If you look at Malaysia or Cambodia or even the Philippines, non-Chinese families try to send their kids to the Chinese schools because they are the best.Having said all of this, the Chinese education system relies almost exclusively on rote memorization, which doesn’t help you to learn to be fluent in English or any other language. The students are able to pass their exams but they can’t communicate or use the language. And this is across the board in Asia. Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have a better education ethic than Malaysia or Philippines. But Filipinos and Malays, particularly Chinese Malays, speak much better English because of their colonial history.
My answer to your question is: Yes, the students in Asia, students everywhere, absolutely need to learn to speak English well to get a good job and help their country develop. BUT the way they go about learning is counter productive. The BEST Asian translators I have worked with wouldn’t even have been admitted to the university I attended in Germany. Their command of the language is so superficial. If your French translator spoke English that badly you would fire him. But there are so few people on the Asian side who speak native like English or on the western side, who speak an Asian language native-like, so we tolerate incredibly bad translations and incredibly bad translators. And given the way education is conducted, this situation will not change.
But, the benefit to you and me, which is all that matters, is that we can ALWAYS find a well-paying job as a teacher.
MM- Always about this, I am a non native teacher of English with high qualifications, and I found myself in trouble many times when a prospective Asian employer just plainly refuses to even check my application if I state I don’t hold a native speaking country passport. What do you think about this, seen the high number of unqualified native individuals ruining the educational system in some countries, especially in SE Asia and China?
In addition to BA with English as a minor, I studied applied linguistics for four years in Germany and then completed a one year, post graduate diploma in TESOL. I hate the unqualified teachers in Asia. But anyone with a white face can get a job.
In your case, and not just yours, even more extreme is people from Malta, Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Israel, Jordan, Brunei, India and other countries where English is one of the official languages, and is the ONLY language for education. These people also can’t get teaching Visas.
Part of the issue is justified. The schools can’t get visas for people unless they are from approved countries. In Korea and Taiwan the countries that are included are: UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa I think I heard that Japan doesn’t allow south Africans to have teaching visas. And the Republic of Ireland is not on the list, so I think Irish people have to jump through a few extra hoops to get the teaching visa. That is a government regulation and the employer can’t do anything about it. But Thailand and Cambodia, for example don’t have such rules. In their case they either don’t hire these other near-native speakers because of racism or because of their own inability to evaluate how good your English is.
There are Filipino school teachers, with years of experience as English teachers at government schools, and they can’t get a visa to teach in Taiwan, so they teach in Thailand for $500 a month.
In Vietnam and Cambodia, however, where things are a little looser, I worked for western companies which evaluated individuals and occasionally hired people outside of the list of six countries if they felt these people were good enough.
MM- How do you perceive the status of SE Asian travel and tourism these days? Don’t you think it became easier and easier and less adventurous every coming year passing by?
On the one hand I agree with you. You could come here by plane with the Lonely Planet and see the same things and have the same experiences as everyone else. So, the adventure is gone.
But if your adventure is learning languages, cultures and martial arts, that hasn’t got any easier. So, the challenge and adventure is still there.
TO BE CONTINUED