9 things to expect from a good Chinese teacher

Are you taking Chinese classes or planning of doing so? In that case, nothing is more important than finding the right teacher. Here are 9 quality signs I look for when it comes to Chinese teachers.

1. Clear goals and objectives

Have you ever been traveling with a guide? How would you feel if your guide never shared your tour’s route and destination, but simply kept on driving? Your teacher should not only give you a rough picture of the greater objective for the amount of lessons you booked, but also be clear about the goal for each lesson. A well prepared teacher will always be able to tell you what language skills, vocabulary and grammar points you will have attained at the end of each class.

2. A motivating atmosphere

Of course you’re serious about learning Chinese, therefore Chinese class should take place in a friendly and encouraging environment. It’s one of the main teacher responsibilities to create a setting where students feel free to fully engage in the process of language learning without being afraid of getting the tones wrong or misreading characters. In the best case, you get a sense that you’re on this unique journey together and you’d wish you had more time for further exploration.

3. A focus on student talking time

As a teacher I remember being instructed to never claim more than 20 percent of the speaking time, even with beginners with close to zero vocabulary. After all, nothing’s more horrible than a Chinese class that degenerates into a lecture or monologue where the teacher answers his own questions. But more importantly, it’s your time and your money that’s being wasted. Is your teacher giving everybody equal speaking time? Is it sufficient for you?

4. A clear link with everyday life

Language primarily is a communication tool. Although it’s great to discuss the eating habits of Chinese emperors, it’s more important (or it might be) to know the vocabulary to open a Chinese bank account or master key vocabulary for your professional life. Luckily, this has mostly become common sense by now and teachers tend to focus on the language requirements of your daily life, instead of stuff you’re probably never going to need anyway.

5. Immediate error correction

Nobody likes making mistakes, when learning Chinese, however, they’re the key to progress. Your teacher should try to correct your mistakes immediately, although not all of them, since that would completely demotivate you. That being said, your trainer should at least correct a relevant number of errors (linked to your current proficiency level) to support your progress and give you a realistic sense of where you stand as a learner. This is easier said than done! The challenge is to correct as many mistakes as possible without damaging your motivation and feeding frustration.

6. High standards

Surround yourself with other highly motivated learners and people that want the best for your success is an often heard piece of advise. In reality, this is a factor you can’t control, when you sign up for Chinese class. That’s why your teacher plays a crucial role: only he or she has the “authority” to set standards for a high-performing environment. So expect your teacher to challenge you to perform at the height of your abilities and be dissatisfied with anything less.

7. A place for culture and history

Learning Chinese is more than “simply” acquiring the relevant vocabulary, sentence patterns and grammar points. The language is embedded in a rich culture (or even cultures) and history which should be part of the knowledge transfer. Learning Chinese is a conversation between cultures as well. For most Chinese teachers I’ve ever met this is no secret and doesn’t need further explanation. It’s a big responsibility though, and there’s not always enough time for it.

8. International experience and linguistic curiosity

Does your teacher have experience living abroad and learning foreign languages? Many Chinese teachers I know at least learned a second language or show interest in other languages. This is of great importance and facilitates mutual understanding, because your teacher is able to comprehend just how difficult language learning is from a personal experience. You’re (sort of) in the same boat. Your teacher is not merely a “master” but a learner as well. Now, I’m not sure if you should “demand” this from your teacher, but it’s certainly something to look out for.

9. Guidance and coaching

In most cases, you book Chinese classes to get from point A to B and your teacher is responsible to cover the terrain in between. You do a test and then you’re done. That’s the package you get. But does your teacher take the time to give you guidance during your language journey? Does he check how you’re doing, inquire about your experience and progress, tell you how to learn effectively? A good teacher should be a guide and a coach as well, someone who sees the bigger picture, encourages you and shows the way.


What counts at the end of the day is the quality of your personal connection. In my experience, it takes time to establish this kind of mutually benefiting relationship between student and teacher. It works best if those things we expect from our teachers, we expect from ourselves as well.

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