The Lowdown on Teaching English in Taiwan (2017 version)

I wrote the original version of this article in 2005 in order to share some of my experiences working as a foreigner teaching English in Taiwan. Since that time, I’ve taught at a wider variety of schools, designed a curriculum, done sales, managed and then later run a school as a 50% partner. Now that I have moved on from life in Taiwan and EFL, it’s time to share what I can to make the journey a bit easier for the current crop of foreigners moving to Taiwan. That way maybe they won’t have the same bumpy ride I did.

Are you here mostly to make money?

If your main reason for coming to Taiwan was to learn Chinese then obviously you won’t have the same goals as you would if you just finished liberal arts degree and came over here to pay off massive college loans. The same would be true if you came here to get to know your grandparents who didn’t move to immigrate to California with the rest of your family, or if you came because you’ve seen a TV show in Canada that made you want to teach in Taiwan.

I came to Taiwan with the goal of learning Chinese really well. It was slow going at first, but I never gave up. Like many others, I ran out of funds and had to become an English teacher. Like many others, I started at

Big Chain Schools

There are a few really dominant buxibans, or cram schools, in Taiwan. The biggest bŭxíbān is Hess (何嘉仁). Close behind are Kojen, Giraffe (長頸鹿), and Joy (佳音). Sesame Street (芝麻街) isn’t the force that it once was, but they’re still around. Most foreigners start out at one of these schools, and more than half leave within the first year. All of these schools are pretty similar.

Curriculum

They all have a decent curriculum despite some occasional English errors. On the whole, I’d say they’ve improved a fair amount in the past decade. For example, Hess books used to confuse the past participle “gotten” with the past tense form “got”. It would be ok if they were teaching British English, but they claim to be teaching American English (美語). As a north American, I can say it used to sound really weird when kids said things like, “He has already got back from the store.” After having spent most my adult life in Asia and having gotten a lot of exposure to people from England and the commonwealth, it doesn’t so much any more. Aside from these kinds of minor issues, outright Taiwanese Chinglish errors show up in texts from time to time, too. I’ll never forget the time I had at Joy English school when we came across the common Taiwanese mistaken translation of “toast”. According to their books, once bread is sliced, it’s toast. The idea of actually toasting it was alien… and worse yet since the kids had been misinformed by their local teacher, they didn’t believe me when I told them what toast actually means to English speakers! I also remember another mistake in a book for a GEPT prep class that had some passage about a bird escaping its cage during a birthday and “creating a small chaos”. Obviously this passage was not written by a native English speaker. One thing about the big chains is that they usually correct these kinds of mistakes within a couple of years. The problem is that the majority of their curriculum designers are Taiwanese natives who have majored in English. Unfortunately the correlation between a degree and a person’s ability in a foreign language are slim. A P.H.D. in the hands of someone who grew up speaking Chinese rarely means that they can write better ESL materials than native speakers could. So, while the curriculum mistakes are corrected as they’re found, there’s also steady stream of new Chinglish-ridden materials coming from the main office.

Errors aside, a lot of the materials are entertaining and well grounded in teaching the kinds of English that Taiwanese children will be able to relate to. I would love to see more reading as opposed to brute force vocabulary memorization. Unfortunately, most schools expect perfect spelling skills just as soon as students have reading comprehension of a given word.

Teaching Methods

This is the real weakness of the big chain schools. Every single one pushes the “100% English” method, which involves having “real foreigners” (with blond hair and everything) speak nothing but English, flapping their arms to communicate the word “chicken”, and giving dramatic renditions of the actions of “crying”, and “sleeping” if necessary. This method of teaching was very popular amongst linguists about 40 years ago. However, due to very poor results, it has long since been dropped by L2 acquisition linguists. Modern research shows that other methods such as Massive Comprehensible Input are much more effective. The key word here, is comprehensible. By denying teachers the option of using the children’s native language to explain things, the children will either require more time to learn the same material, cover it as quickly but with much worse understanding, or worst of all misunderstand it. Naturally, enforcing homework, inspiring the class and pronunciation coaching all suffer as well. I was responsible for giving entrance tests at a couple of my old schools, and I often saw children who had spent 4 hours a week for 4 years at a big chain school fail the skills we taught in the first 6 months. Sadly, most students who have invested a years of their lives, not to mention their parents’ money, are deficient in all sections of the exam: grammar, listening comprehension, spelling, phonics, and pronunciation.

Effectiveness of the teaching is only one factor amongst many in determining a school’s success.

Compensation

Most big chains pay about $600 per teaching hour. Usually, if you have 4 hours of paid work in a day, you’ll also have about 30 minutes to an hour of prep work to do, too. Sometimes there are Christmas parties and the such. The biggest schools usually pay for these, but some don’t. If you are interested in finding this sort of job, check out the listings at tealit.com.

Requirements

In my original writing of this article I said that “if you are white, under 40, eligible for a visa and not hideously deformed, all you have to do to get the job is show up for the interview”. This isn’t as true as it used to be in Taipei. Still, many teachers who have no experience at all a questionable grasp of their own language have few problems getting a job. Most schools prefer Americans, but a British accent won’t stop you from getting a job at any of the big schools or even very many of the smaller ones. After all, many South Africans are doing very well in Taiwan.

Can I still teach English in Taiwan if I’m an ABC?

If you are Asian-looking, you may encounter more difficulties at first… especially if you don’t know any Chinese at the beginning. I’ve had several friends in this situation. Take heart, though! Your Asian looks are a tremendous advantage if you want to learn Chinese. I can’t even begin to enumerate the times people ignored my near-fluent Mandarin and directed their replies to my non-Mandarin speaking ABC or even Japanese friends!

And it’s doubly advisable for you to learn Chinese. Once your Chinese is moderately good, you’ll be very employable not only as a bŭxíbān branch manager, but there will also be opportunities as a programmer, fitness trainer, sales rep, journalist or a number of other interesting jobs. I’ve had three Asian-looking foreign friends who were bŭxíbān managers, one who managed at California fitness, and two others who worked their way up at tech companies fairly quickly. Though you will face “reverse” racism as an English teacher, racism will be all in your favor once you make it into management. There is occasionally an odd phenomenon of locals who feel that ABCs are “arrogant” about speaking English, but I think that’s mostly sour-grapes and insecurity. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that ABCs, are at the top of the social ladder. You will be assumed to be more educated, cooler, etc… than other locals. It’s no co-incidence that many of Taiwan’s biggest stars grew up in California.

If you are black… all I can say is that you face an uphill battle. One of my friends from back home came here after completing a degree in linguistics. Despite being more qualified than I am, he had great difficulties in getting a job. It is possible, but you’ll really have to be the best at what you do and dress well to even get your foot in the door. That said, my manager at Modawei was black and he was loved by students and teachers both.

Big Chain Kindergartens

In most ways these are about the same as the bŭxíbāns. The only difference is that you will probably have less prep time required of you, and you’ll have to do more special events like Christmas plays, etc…

Teaching Methods

The teaching methods are about the same as those in big chain bŭxíbāns, but usually with more singing, exercises, coloring and such. Actually most of the big chains run kindergartens in addition to their bŭxíbāns. There are a few big chains like Happy Marion (快樂瑪麗安) and Kid Castle that just do kindergarten.

Compensation

The pay is sometimes a little bit lower than it is for bŭxíbāns. $550-$600 starting is the norm.

Requirements

Kindergartens can be hard on the voice; make sure you take care of yourself. Also, don’t expect the kids to learn much. Just try to keep it fun for everyone. One other thing is that even at schools that don’t let you speak any Chinese, you’re better off if you can understand a bit. Otherwise you may find out that Chinese sentence the kid in front of you was saying wasn’t, “what’s that thing?” It meant, “Ughh…. I’m gonna puke all over you.”

Public High Schools

There is definitely a big variety in the English teaching jobs within the public school system. There isn’t much central planning, or if there is, it’s not effective. In theory only high schools can hire foreigners directly, but in practice many middle schools and a few elementary schools do too. At most schools there is only a very bare-bones curriculum and the teacher is left to his or her own devices. Speaking some Chinese is usually but not always tolerated. Classes usually have a HUGE variance in English proficiency. Some students are also attending bŭxíbāns, or did in the past. Those who haven’t are, naturally enough, way behind.

Compensation

At public schools, there is large variance in not only pay, but also in duties. Many schools require that you stay from 8:30 A.M. until 5:00 PM and grade tests, help the local teachers with their English, or perform other administrative duties. Usually the pay is a salary between $65,000 and $80,000 per month.

For Long-term Foreigners in Taiwan

Do you want to make $1.5 million (about $50 thousand USD) or more a year while only working part-time? Do you want to be on a career path that will allow you to open your own school and make still more while staying in Taiwan? Do you want your kids to really learn to speak English really well? If you’re willing to learn some Chinese and stay at the same school for a few years, there’s another kind of school where you can. I described it in this article.

As a caveat, I should point out that this is not easy. It takes hard work, and a time investment in training that most teachers aren’t willing to make. Once you get through that, though, it’s a pretty great gig to have.

Trends in the English Teaching Market in Taiwan

There are two trends that have made the EFL market much more competitive than it used to be. First of all, Taiwan has one of the lowest if not the lowest birth rate in the world. Last I checked it was 1.1 children per woman. Unsurprisingly, even public schools are merging classes and hiring fewer teachers. As the primary market for EFL in Taiwan has been children, the demand for EFL classes is down. At the same time, there are more westerners than ever living in Taiwan. It’s a wonderful place, people are nice, there’s health care, there are convenience stores on every block… more and more foreigners are deciding to settle down for good. Some are even trading in their original passports for shiny new Taiwanese ones! Since most foreigners in Taiwan don’t learn that much Chinese, their primary long-term jobs are either teaching or opening western style restaurants or bars. The supply of EFL classes is up.

This means that teaching jobs are harder to come by than they used to be. It’s still not difficult by any means, but just being a foreigner doesn’t yield the bargaining position that it did 10 years ago… or that it does for teaching in China now. When I moved to Taiwan at the end of 2002, it was probably the best place in Asia for a teacher to save money, along with Korea. Now it’s just the best place to live.



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I’ve noticed a bunch of you are looking for teachers or jobs in the comments.

Here’s a document for you to add yourself to instead 😀

  1. Hi Mark,
    Thank you for providing this website and information.
    I have experience teaching English in mainland China and would like to return- but also am interested in teaching in Taiwan. I continue to study Putonghua and am more interested now in tutoring at or near universities.
    Any thoughts about tutoring vs. teaching?
    Also, where are you now and what are you doing?
    Thanks, James

  2. Hello Mark,

    I have a few questions in terms of employment as a teacher in Taiwan.

    1) Is it required that I have a 4 year degree or BA in order to work as a teacher in Taiwan?

    2) If I do not have a degree but an Associates from a community college, past experience as an English tutor and have also taught young children at a daycare for 5 years, would this be enough for employers to consider me for a teaching job?

    Please get back to me as this is a growing concern! I appreciate heavily your posting

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for the info on Taiwan! I have taught a year in Vietnam and in Thailand, and I am ready to explore a new place. What is a good place to search for Taiwan jobs, besides googling it? Also, I have a TEFL and a 4 year degree.

  4. I want to go to Taiwan to live for 5-6 months so that my children, who are in Mandarin immersion here in the USA can learn the language and culture in Taiwan instead of only in their classroom. My children would attend a school in Taiwan where their teacher from Taiwan teaches when she goes back. I have a degree in Elementary Education(K-8), 7+ years of teaching experience, and have access to and taught a very successful music based pre-school program. Since I can only stay for up to 6 months do you have any recommendations as to where I could teach? Would tutoring be a better option for me? Finding a Taiwan partner to start a pre-school with? What would you suggest? Thank you for your help and expertise.

  5. hey if it’s possible that you can tell me more about this

    my gf from SA wants to be a english teacher in taiwan. do u mayb know if she has to go for a test someway in taipei?

    do u mayb have a number of the place for me so that she can call them ?

  6. I really appreciate this blog. It has quality information about teaching in Taiwan that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Your description of the school First Step really caught my interest.
    I am a veteran of Taiwan and China and have learned/taught/translated languages most of my life. I’m currently in Taiwan and would like to teach here, but only for the right school. First Step, from your description, seems like just that. Could you possibly provide me with contact information?
    Thanks very much.

  7. Hi, Thank you for the information. I have been offered a job teaching in Taiwan. This will be the first overseas teaching job I will have. Naturally,it is a bit step for me and anything new it both exciting with some fear. Is Taiwan safe for Americans. I am from the north east of US, New Hampshire…Thankyou

  8. Hello, I have been offered a job to teach in Taiwan for Dewey International. This would be my first overseas teaching experience. I will be alone and would like to know about the school if anyone knows about it and safety. I am very excited. Thank you

  9. Hi Mark,
    You mentioned “under 40” Does that mean that as a healthy 64 year old, I would have no success finding a teaching job in Taiwan?
    Your article was very informative, thanks.

  10. Ni Hao Mark,

    My name is Tabitha and I am very interested in teaching English in Asia. I would love the opportunity to teach in Taiwan first since it was the first Asian country I fell in love with! I was doing some research on the HESS company and found very mixed reviews. I’m trying to find the best option to do some research on. I have a 4-yr degree and will hopefully have my TESOL license by the end of this summer. Thank you so much for writing this article and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

  11. Information is good. What is the thing about South Africans? In my opinion some American, British and Australian accents are much harder to understand.

  12. Hey Mark!

    Thank you for writing about your experience, I’ve been toying with the idea of heading over to Taiwan to teach for a year or two while getting my Mandarin up to scratch. This being said, I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me (Or anybody who knows that answers, really!)

    1. I was born in the US and was raised in Toronto, Canada my entire life. That being said, both my parents are Taiwanese / hold Taiwanese passports which means I was able to get one too. Will I still need to worry about getting a visa as a foreigner, or is that all out the window because I have a Taiwanese passport?

    2. About learning Mandarin, I understand and speak it fairly well but am completely illiterate. Would you think that would hurt my chances if I was looking for employment considering how I can’t read or write it?

    3. As an ABC/CBC, should I be emphasizing the fact that I was born / raised in North America and only know Mandarin because I needed to communicate with my grandparents somehow? Or will that help push the ‘arrogant’ stereotype and affect my chances at getting a job?

    Any advice would be appreciated, thanks in advance!
    – Jessica

  13. Hello Mark! I am interested in going to China to teach English, the schools I am looking into are Kid Castle and Giraffe American English in Shanghai. Have you heard or know anything about these schools? What would you recommend? I have been tutoring for over 12 years with a BA and a semi-recent paid tutoring job teaching Vietnamese software engineers English. Any advice and suggestions would be much appreciated. I would like to earn a little money while working on my Chinese and exploring China. Thank you so much for your time!

  14. Hey i live in Taipei Taiwan in New Taipei city with my girl friend who is a Taiwan native. I have a G.E.D and want to teach English. do i need a college degree to do that… if so would it be better just to go to college to learn Chinese? is there jobs for Americans that finish Chinese school? with just a G.E.D any recommendations?

  15. Thank you for this blog. I am actually a veterinarian interested in coming to Taiwan to learn Mandarin. I have 2 children and am over forty but blue eyed blond. I am also a certified acupuncturist. I am wondering if teaching English will be the best way for me to learn the language. I am very interested in TCM so would like to get a job there as a vet, but don’t really know what options there are. Is it feasible to havechildren and live on the income provided from teaching?

  16. Dear Mark,

    Thanks for posting this article. I found it very helpful. I’m Dutch and have been a flight attendant for KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) for 6 years. Before that I graduated with a BA degree in Communications. I’m 30 years old now and after many flights and layovers in Asia I have been thinking of living and working in Asia. The places that appeal to me mostly to move to are Taiwan, Singapore or Hong Kong (in that order).

    I have no experience in teaching English though. What would you advice me to do? First get an English literature BA degree before I start to apply for a teaching job?

    Thanks in advance,
    Marvin Burchartz

  17. Hello Mark,
    Thank you so much for the good information! I am interested in teaching English in Taiwan or Korea, and just starting the process. I am 47, and from Colorado. I have a B.A. and have wanted to do this for a long time, but my kids were young, I was finishing my degree, etc. Now, my children are fine young men and I have my degree. What are the most crucial requirements or elements I should focus on to make this dream happen? If you could give me any tips or feedback, I would be grateful – thank you!

    Teresa

  18. Hey Mark!!

    Great post, stumbled across it and found it very useful. Much appreciated!!! Loving your work

    pppppeace

  19. Heya all! Do not believe people if they keep saying that the income for teaching english in thailand is crap! Just got a gig at an international school in Pattaya 110,000 bath a month! My apologies just had to tell u about it, Im on a high about it 😉 Ok so all those who spout that salaries are a pittance in the land of smiles look and weep! Thank you, from a wealthy tefl chalkie 🙂

  20. I am having probs getting a visa as I am 60 years old. Have all the qualifications and teaching experience.I am Australian. Any suggestions anyone.

    thanks

  21. your post only talsk about buxiban and kindys and high schools, but there are other places to teach in Taiwan. i work for Global Village – pay ain’t great and teaching materials aren’t always easy to use (its a magazine they put it each month and expect the teacher to use), but students are all adults. i don’t have to spend so much energy and can have real conversations with real adults. plus, GV has schools all over taiwan making it easy to transfer if your tired of where yer living now. i started in sanchong, and have worked at GV schools in chiayi, kaoshiung, taoyuan, tainan and now taichung.

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  23. Hi Mark,
    I’m 45 years old and have Asian features. Born and raised in Hawaii USA with a bachelors in Marketing from University of Hawaii. No ESL certificate. I have a wife and a 3 year old daughter and would like to move from Hawaii to Taiwan to experience the culture, learn Mandarin, while teaching English. Would my age and Asian features be a disadvantage teaching english? My wife is Cantonese speaking (originally from Hong Kong). Would it be difficult to find a good school for my 3 year old to learn Mandarin and get decent health care for our family?
    Aloha,
    Lance Arakaki

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  25. $600 NT (National Taiwan) Dollars per month is approximately the equivalent of $20. 30:1 just FYI. as of five seconds ago, 1 New Taiwan Dollar equals
    0.033 US Dollar

  26. I’m looking to arrive in Taipei and begin my job search. I believe that I’m entitled to 90 days visa free entrance. Provided that I find a job reasonably quickly, should I still expect to have to do some kind of visa run or do I have a good chance of having my ARC processed in time?

  27. Yeah, as mentioned above you will get some discrimination if you are not Caucasian, but some schools do not care and that is what you have to remember. You also have to be a licensed teacher to teach in a public school.

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  29. Hi. Thank you for these information. I just saw an ad here in Taiwan looking for ESL teachers. I was an ESL teacher in the Philippines and used to tutor Korean and Japanese students. I want to give it a try teaching here. So I googled this school but it directed me to this page. Hope to hear from you sir. I need to know more information.

  30. Hi Mark

    I have been thinking of going to Taiwan to teach English. I’m 32 Chinese born Singaporean. In Singapore, English is the 1st languauge of the country. As Singaporeans, we have 10 years of compulsary learning in English as a 1st language. The only certification I have currently is a Dipolma in IT. Do i qualify to teach English in Taiwan?

    Please advise. Thanks!

  31. Hi Mark,

    I’ve been teaching in both Japan and Thailand for the past 8 years and now considering Taiwan. I am used to being the only foreigner in public schools from day to day, but what about private schools in Taiwan, would I be the only foreigner there or do foreign teachers work together in the same school? Also, I have heard many stories of loads of extra work (grading, etc.) on top of teaching and planning at schools like HESS, is this true for private schools? Please mail me rj.japan@yahoo.co.uk
    Cheers,
    Richard

  32. Mark, what certificate “works best” in Taiwan currently-TOEFL/TEFL/TESOL?
    I’m a non-native ESL teacher from Serbia, currently working for a Japanese on-line ekaiwa company and have no certifications but I’d like to work and live in Taiwan. Basically, how “easy” is it to score a job with a 15$/hour wage? Thanks, this blog’s a goldmine, cheers!

  33. HI mate, what about Australian’s? and why did you say under 40?
    are you on Facebook for a little chat?

  34. Hi there,

    Thanks for the information! It’s great. I am looking into teaching in Taiwan. I’m British, have a degree, two years teaching experience from Thailand and I’m under 40. But, I have brown skin (my grandparents are Indian). Would this pose a problem for me getting a job?

    Thanks,
    Sandy

  35. Hi, Sandy. It won’t make it easier but my former manager at a really successful school was black. Also I think the situation is slowly improving. People aren’t expecting westerners to all look Scandinavian the way they were a decade ago.

    If you take give it a shot, I’d love to hear how it goes!

  36. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for your blog!

    I am Australian Born Chinese/Vietnamese and am interested completing a TESOL course to teach English in Taiwan. I speak basic Chinese & Vietnamese at home with my parents. I don’t have a degree in teaching but I am currently working as a speech language pathologist (I have experience with children and adults) Will this be okay? I am also a little concerned after reading about getting a teaching position as Asian looking.

    Also any tips would be great 🙂

    Thank you!

    Kind regards,
    Jennifer

  37. I have a question. I was raised in Brazil American father and Brazilian mother. I have a slight accent,but a lot of time Americans thinks it’s from the East Coast. Other times it’s foreign, it just depends. I am an American citizen, do they frown upon that?

  38. Hello, Is there actually an age limit, you mention being under 40. I’m 67 in really good shape, retiring and thought teaching English overseas might be a wonderful experience. I was an ESL teacher yearsssss ago while in the Peace Corps. Is this just a pipe dream?

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  41. Hello Mark I am also over 40 actually over 60 I am retiring and have many years in business, training have just finished a TEFL course and I am wanting to teach in Taiwan. I am well traveled in Asia and would like to stay for a while. How do I make my skills an advantage. Is it a good idea to go a search out some work. I would be thankful for any help Barry

  42. Hi and thank you very much for all the info. I have two questions: what is the rough cost of living (rent for nice 1 bed condo? meal? beer?) AND how do you go about getting work before you go to Taiwan? Is there some sort of organization?

  43. I am freelance conversational private English Tudor I am willing to give anyone who is serious about learning to converse in English fluently as much energy and time required .My hourly rates are flexible and can meet most anywhere on the public metro system. I do not require any remuneration for my efforts until some progress has been made and it is agreed upon mutually that we are a good teacher/student match . I can be texted at 0909197198 or email: poetryartandflowers@gmail.com

  44. Hey guys, I would like to share a book that talks everything you need to know about teaching in Taiwan. It is definitely enough for you to make a living by teaching English in Taiwan. You will earn more than the average Taiwanese. The book was written by my boss, the school owner and my colleague, who has been living and teaching in Taiwan for more then 10 years. So it is worthy taking a look. You can check it out here in the Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MQTPHWS

  45. Hiya, just wondering if you knew anyone in the same or similar situation as me- Taiwan born, New Zealand raised, taught on both JET & EPIK programmes (Japan & Korea) for a total of 6 years, 2 year gap from teaching, returning to Taiwan as basically an ABC with conversational Mandarin & dual Kiwi/Taiwanese citizenship…! I’m wondering if it’s better to enter on my NZ or ROC passport… and what kind of qualifications I’d need in each circumstance. Thanks in advance!

  46. Hi,
    Thanks so much for a great read. I’m particularly interested in starting at foreign run buxiban mentioned in your article from 2005, and eventually opening my own. I have been teaching in Malaysia for over a decade and am considering relocating to Taiwan later this year. Any advice on who to work for would be appreciated. I’m considering living in kaoshiung or tainan. Or anywhere else you’d recommend!!
    Thanks!