We mean it when we say that we are always looking for contributing writers. We love hearing from, and sharing the stories, experiences, and tips and tricks of people that are in the language-learning and -teaching community. Here, American Charles McKinney shares his experiences of teaching English in South Korea and in China.


by Charles McKinney

When I graduated from university over three years ago, I never imagined traveling overseas to teach English as a second language for nearly two years now. The thought occurred to me the summer following my graduation, but it seemed quite far-fetched considering my professional goals at that time. I can honestly say that teaching English in South Korea and currently China has been the best decision I could have ever made for my career and have enjoyed the new experiences, learning and growing every single day. My students have taught me much about their cultures, which has expanded my worldview like never before. As I prepare to embark on my next plateau by starting graduate school, I know the years of teaching English will benefit my educational career.

How I got started

My first teaching adventure started in South Korea where I taught for the English Program in Korea (EPIK), a government-sponsored initiative that places foreign native speakers in public schools around the country. EPIK placed me in a vocational high school in southeastern Korea about an hour from Daegu, the country’s third largest metropolis. In a nutshell, the students that I taught had extremely little knowledge of English, so it made it wonderfully challenging in many ways for me to concoct engaging lessons that would hold their interest. I taught with two Korean English co-teachers during all of my classes. My Korean co-teachers and other Korean colleagues learned English from me once a week. They were eager to learn from a native speaker. They brought their own study materials that they wanted me to use, and I focused on speaking and listening as well as reading comprehension and expanding their range of vocabulary.

My teaching methods

During my English classes with the high school students, I didn’t use a textbook so I had complete creative license to devise lessons using various multimedia sources. I constructed most of my lessons on Power Point, employing the presentation, practice, and production (PPP) teaching method, which I learned during my initial training upon arrival in Asia. I presented new content to the class; instructed them to practice it with a partner and myself (i.e. gap fills, drilling, and games); and allowed them to use the new language by producing their own through role plays, computer-based projects such as creating a Facebook profile, and a mini-movie on the Dvolver free moviemaking website (dvolver.com). The students delighted in activities where they utilized the computer or competed against each other during our periodic Jeopardy review games.

Challenges for myself and my students

Now I am in China teaching English at a private language school [EF English First] in Beijing; the work has surely challenged me since many of my students have been studying English for years, some from the age of three or four years old. China is booming with numerous opportunities for teaching English as parents equate mastery of English with success in life once the children enter university and eventually the workforce. My language training center provides the curriculum in its comprehensive database of lesson plans for the kids and teens I teach. Tongue twisters suit my preteens and teens as well as a quirky song learned in college from my gospel choir director that goes like this: “I need a waiter, with some water, I need a waiter with some water for my daughter, I need a waiter with some water with some water for my daughter so my daughter doesn’t die of thirst.” The vocal warm-up melody establishes a relaxed and fun atmosphere that encourages students to communicate openly and freely while working as a tongue twister the faster they sing or recite it.

How will this experience fuel my future?

Finally, I can draw on my diversified experiences teaching overseas when I begin my graduate studies next year. The societies where I have sojourned as a foreign expatriate will prove useful in the discussions and assignments I will encounter as a media communications major. Although I will take a break from teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) in the traditional school setting, I may have the chance to do it privately and/or in cyberspace as people the world over are learning and teaching English online. A good friend recently introduced me to this novel website where students around the world are studying English in a virtual city. My friend is a full-time teacher for this website and has created an avatar where she interacts with her students and colleagues. Since the website is still new, it has immense potential for growth. The website is www.ingles3d.net. The opportunities really are endless in the sphere of acquiring English as a second or foreign language!


About Charles:

Charles McKinney has relished the opportunity to live as a global citizen educating children from diverse backgrounds. He’s been in China for nearly a year and plans to return to grad school next year to begin his master’s program. You can view another project of his at ChinaDaily.com.


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