‘I want Filipino teachers’

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 14, 2014 – 12:00am

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I learned something very interesting recently. The words “five” and “one,” when said sequentially, sound like “I want” to those in mainland China.

I was invited to give a talk to teachers who worked for a company called 51Talk. I talked to them about the noble profession of teaching and how much a teacher can change a person’s life and even his or her destiny. This was not the usual kind of teachers who teach at schools or universities, although many have done so in the past. Almost all had a few years’ experience doing that, and some are still doing so.

One thing in common with all of them, whether young or old, is that they have now embarked on a new path of this old profession. They now teach online.

And what do they teach? They teach English. Who do they teach? They teach middle class Chinese in China.

There are probably not more than 5,000 foreign English teachers in China. To hire them on a one-on-one basis is quite expensive. And while many Chinese learn English in regular school, the quality is quite low and, in the words of an educated Chinese person I talked to, “practically useless.” People who study in good schools and gain a high level of proficiency in China describe the average use of English as “dumb English.” Not only is quality sorely lacking, the graduates have very little chance to practice with real English speakers.

The biggest English language teaching company in China, New Oriental, will help you pass TOEFL tests by teaching you more about how to get around the multiple choices to pass the exams, but not how to speak the language with great proficiency.

Enter a startup called 51Talk. CEO and founder Jack Huang and Shu Ting, co-founder, recognized a great thirst to learn conversational English among Chinese in the Mainland and decided to do something about it. Initially, they looked at different Asian countries to search for the best talents they could find to teach their countrymen, only to discover that the best teachers were in the Philippines.

They found Filipinos to be very proficient, friendly, patient and there were so many teachers available. Our American style of English is also something that the Chinese seem to like.

In the beginning, the idea of Filipinos teaching Chinese to speak English was a hard sell. But the moment their clients tried the course, they were hooked. In three years, 51Talk has provided freelance jobs to more than 1,500 Filipino e-Educators. They are projected to reach 3,000 teachers this year and double the number by next year.

How does it all work?

Teaching hours are from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight every day. That does not mean all those hours are occupied. Teachers are on standby. Chinese students buy credits for 25-minute classes. They have lessons when they want and they can choose the teachers. The suggested schedule is three times per week per student, but that is flexible.

The approach to learning English is through total immersion. The teachers speak only in English but they follow a software instruction program that plays according to the student’s level of proficiency.

The setting can be anywhere. All a teacher needs is a strong Internet connection. The interaction happens via Skype. The teachers work mostly from their homes, which means they have no transportation costs. Beijing and Manila are in the same time zone so it not like working in a call center where your life is totally disrupted by the time difference. It is not stressful since they are in their element. They can take meals, or refreshments in between. The good teachers can earn up to P70,000 a month. The teachers and students, as well as the sessions, are evaluated by an academic standards team both here and in Beijing for improvements when needed.

I watched an actual session a few days ago and I was quite impressed at how easily it works. There is a real conversation going on. The teacher asks the students to pronounce certain words a few times, answer a few questions from preview sessions and tackle new lessons. The exchange is quite fast. There is much enthusiasm between teacher and student.

Do the students learn? I learned from the 51Talk executives that in a little over three months, Chinese students report a much greater comprehension when watching a regular American TV drama.

Young Chinese who know how to communicate in English have a much better chance at getting better jobs. The demand to learn it is unquenchable. And the opportunity to provide the service is clearly there.

Many Filipinos through the decades have gone abroad as OFWs and have often had to give up being with their families while they work hard to earn a living. The social cost of this cannot be accurately measured but we know that as a society, we are paying an enormous price.

In this setup where Filipino e-Educators are engaged in teaching online to students abroad, there are no families to leave behind. There is only productivity and pride in doing the work they are good at and like to do.

Lastly, in this age of tension between Philippines and China, I am pretty sure that ventures and exchanges such as this can only bring greater understanding between peoples of both countries.

To paraphrase an ancient saying, the Chinese students have long been ready, and yes, the Filipino teachers have appeared.

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To learn more about teaching, visit the 51Talk Facebook site and fill out an application form.

25 thoughts on “‘I want Filipino teachers’”

  1. To Whom it may Concern:
    I am a retired, well rounded and well traveled American man with an extensive vocabulary and excellent knowledge of the English Language. Because I have a lot of time on my hands and wish to remain busy, I have decided to offer my services teaching ESL online and I can do so to children through adults and with people of varied cultures.
    When you review my resume which was tailored to the adult sector you will note that I spent considerable time teaching adults and children in Korea as well as adults, high school students and university students in Saudi Arabia. While working in both countries I also did considerable tutoring to all age groups.
    Currently I am in The Philippines where I am married with a family and have a good working knowledge of the peculiar-to-Philippines English language vagaries. This gives me a good working base from which I could teach Koreans, Filipinos, Arabs from all countries and virtually anyone. It would not be difficult for me to devote many more than 15 hours/week teaching due to the fact that my wife is only home on weekends because of her job.

  2. I can’t find a place to submit a resume in the 51Talk Facebook page even though there are 2 links that lead to the same page. Please advise me how to do so.

  3. Hi There,
    I’ am filipina currently living here in China with my husband(Chinese) is it possible for me to be part of 51Talk? Looking forward for your response. Thanks.

  4. Greetings, Sir Jim! I have been teaching online to Korean students for several years now. I just want to experience something new so I decided to apply here. By the way, please give my regards to your nephew, Carlos. He’s my friend when we were still living in U.P. Kudos to you and the company, sir!

  5. I used to teach at 51Talk, and I worked for them for a year and a half. I resigned due to health reasons but I miss teaching at 51Talk. Some students have become a part of my life, and they really have inspired me. Though they say I helped and inspired them, they do not know that how they say it really gives a great impact on my life as a teacher! Words of the students -no matter what their nationalities are- are motivational. 🙂

  6. hi… am at present a call center agent. i really love teaching though am already educating kids through an informal education. however, i find teaching on net more challenging and exciting. i am much eager to meet kids at other countries specially chinese and koreans. im a filipina, a teacher eveready for service. hope to be given the chance soonest. see you then!

  7. Hello! I am now currently living in south korea,I only finisehd a 2-year course in philippines,can I apply in 51Talk?
    Thanks in andvace 🙂

  8. Hello!I’m interrested to be a part of 51 talk but the thing is, i don’t have experience teaching online but i used to work as a call center agent for more than a year, do i have a chance to apply?
    Do you guys accept undergraduates?,Thank you!

  9. I wanted an online job to earn money though i am good in English and Filipino i just want a part time job as long as it is online Pm me if you have something to offer??

  10. I have been an employee for 20 years now. And I want to try this trend now bcoz Im planning of retiring to spend more time to my family. Pls Sir Jim help me on how will I start. Im quite good in english. I think I can teach english.

    Thank you and Godbless po..

    1. Anthony, I would suggest, after reading your post, that you actually LEARN proper English before you decide to try teaching it. Look at your grammar and your use of Taglish before you get all up in arms about my comment. I’ve been teaching English for 17 years and have lived in The Philippines for 12 years and unfortunately your poor English is typical, not an abberation.

  11. Dear Sir, i am an avid fan of yours with your band singing your original music. But i did not expect to encounter you in this site i just recently happened to browse and read. I am a secondary school teacher in Southern Leyte and i am quite interested and curious about this thing. I just sent my online application and recieved a notice that i will be recieving a phone call from an acquisition representative. I wish to be a part of the team but i only have limited ideas regarding the process of online teaching. I don’t know exactly the whole thing about ESL. Can I ask for a simple overview or background information from you please.. Thank you so much.

  12. the problem is, we have good teachers teaching foreigners correct Engligh but look at our English communication at public schools. there has been sharp decline in english proficiency. a lot of students in high school, even in many colleges can not even properly read paragraphs.

    I wish, there will be companies in the Philippines who would also venture into free e-learning for Filipino students who wish to improve their communication skills.

    1. There are many many words used incorrectly in the Filipino version of English and much of the grammar has also either been incorrectly taught or learned. I am an American ESL teacher with a BA in English and I get untold amounts of grief when I try to explain to Filipinos why they usually find it difficult to find good paying ESL teaching jobs. It is because the potential learners/customers know that the English learned here will not enable them to pass the standardized exams such as TOEFL, TOEIC or the IELTS.

      The reason why Filipinos get any ESL teaching positions is because they are willing to work for such low pay that regular people would never even consider.

  13. Is it okay to teach others even though im not a professional english teacher but I have a year of experience.I want to enhance my english speaking skills and also I just wanna help my family for my studies.I want to be responsible on my own.Hope this job will help me to save money for my school payments or bills.Please response thankyou.

  14. Hi!
    I’ve been an English language coach for the past six years at one of the biggest BPOs in the country and, took advantage of their early retirement offer 3 weeks before I reached my 60th but because I support the education of my eldest grandson who is in senior high school, I have the need to continue earning whilst at home. My youngest daughter has been prodding me to visit your site and so have a couple of my former colleagues. I am truly interested in joining your team but I am a wee bit apprehensive if my internet service (which is Ultera wireless)is capable of the required specs for the job. It is quite unfortunate that the area where I live no longer has available ports for PLDT’s DSL,which was why they have proposed their ULTERA wireless connection instead. Please let me know if there’s any chance at all for me to be accepted in your lovely team of educators. Cheers!

      1. It’s saddening to learn that you’re no longer with 51Talk. But I do appreciate your getting back at me. I shall try reach them via FB. I wish you all very best! Thank you.

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