Chinese Culture: Everything You Need To Know as an Online TEFL Teacher

Interested in teaching English to Chinese students, but concerned about your lack of knowledge towards Chinese culture? Here I will teach you everything you need to know to become a successful online English teacher while working specifically with Chinese students. 

The first thing you need to do when starting is ensure you fit the requirements! There are hundreds of different Chinese-based ESL companies – you need to research to find the best one for you. To get started you will need: 

  • A TEFL certificate
  • Reliable wifi and data
  • A laptop, tablet, or smartphone
  • A neutral accent
  • Be 18 or older (some companies require a specific age)

Some companies may also require a degree (in any subject) and previous experience.

How to teach English guide

Now let’s get into the dos and don’ts of working with Chinese students. As we know, every culture is very different. Something that might not seem like a big deal to us, could be offensive to them. Let’s make sure you start off on the right foot.

DO show interest in their holidays

China has many different festivals throughout the year that are part of Chinese culture. Some of these festivals include the Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn Festival. During these times many students will take additional classes as they have time off school, while other students might opt to cancel classes to enjoy the celebrations. For my students, I always make sure to decorate my background (for example i’ll add red money envelopes for Chinese New Year), have stock photos of things related to the holiday so I am able to ask questions (Dragon Boat Festival boats), and I’ll even send my students a photo wishing them a happy holiday and ask them to share their photos with me!

Chinese Culture - Chinese New Year

DON’T talk about the religious part of your holidays

My students have absolutely loved learning about non-Chinese holidays such as Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. However, when explaining the holiday I only explain the activities that we do and not why we do them. You don’t want to bring up religion as you never know who will take offense (this is something we were taught in grade school, so make sure not to forget it).

DO ask questions about where they live 

I love finding out more about my student’s lives and so should you! Why? Because it makes you have a real relationship with them and their families! This shows them you care about them personally and are not just ‘showing up to get paid’! Many times my students will explain where they went that day and what they did… my favorite part is when they say: “Teacher Audrey when will you visit China?”

DON’T bring up politics

This should be another thing that we were taught in grade school. Never bring up politics or bring up anything that you have heard in the news about China. Although this is a fun and interesting job, you want to keep it professional. If you are teaching business English, this may be something you have to touch on as news articles can be a big part of your lessons, however always be careful what you include.

DO call them nicknames such as “Mai Mai” and “DeDe” if you don’t know their names

My Chinese students generally tend to have an ‘English name’ that they use when speaking to non-Chinese-speaking people. Sometimes you will meet a student that doesn’t have an English name just yet. What should you do if you can not pronounce their Chinese name? If it’s a girl you can call her “Mai Mai” this is pronounced “May May” and you can call the boy “DeDe”! These two words translate to “little girl” and “little boy” and are totally acceptable to call your student. However, if it’s a repeat student try to master their Chinese name or ask their parents if they have an English name picked out!

DON’T call them ‘silly’ or laugh at their English name

Oftentimes we call children “Silly Goose” when they are acting silly (not in a bad way)! In Chinese culture ‘silly’ is thought of as ‘stupid’. Another thing that is rather common is unusual ‘English names’. For example, I have students named ‘KaKa’, ‘Apple’, and ‘Jacket’. Although these might be unusual to us, DO NOT insult them by giggling when you say it. Also, only offer a ‘correct’ name if the parents ask you to!

DO write them notes on the application

My students are so excited to enter the classroom and see a drawing with the writing “Hi Doris” over it! If your teaching platform has the ability to write on the screen, leave them a little welcome note!

DO NOT write their names in red or draw a rectangle around their names

In Chinese culture this means the student is dead. Avoid doing this at all costs.

DO have ‘free talk’

Free talk is the time in your lesson when you allow your students to have a ‘normal’ conversation with you and talk about anything they way. Like I said before, get to know your students! Ask about their favorite foods, favorite holidays, and favorite after school activities! Try to keep your free-talk to 2-4 minutes total at the start and/or end of the lesson. 

DON’T skip slides

No matter how chatty or how slow your student might be, the most important thing is to have control over your classroom and move things along as you need to. Parents are paying a huge amount of money for an online English teacher so you want to make sure you cover everything that they are paying for. If the student is chatting too much, tell them they can show you their favorite toy after class is over and if a student is taking too long to answer a question, you might need to ask it in a different way for them to understand it better.

DO correct parents if they’re telling the children the wrong answer

It’s comment in Chinese culture for parents to be very involved in their children’s lives. You may often find that parents will sit in on their children’s lessons. Sometimes the parents have not learned English or only learned English in school, that’s not a problem. Just make sure that they are repeating the correct answer with the correct pronunciation. If they’re not, kindly correct the parent.

DON’T make the parents feel that they are a bother

Very involved parents, or ‘Tiger parents’ as we call them are a thing and there’s a certain way to deal with them! You NEVER want the parent to feel like they are a bother to have in class (remember they are the paying customer). If they’re taking over the class just say “Mom/Dad, let’s have (insert student name) try the next answer on their own!”. If this becomes a constant problem in your class, DO NOT LOSE YOUR COOL, simply send a message explaining the situation to your company after the class has finished. 


Now that you know everything that comes along with teaching students from a different country, it is time for you to find the right company for you! Check out our sister company LoveTEFL jobs to find the right job for you!

I have been traveling and teaching ESL abroad ever since I graduated university. This life choice has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience cultures and meet people that I did not know existed.

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