Early Experiences Teaching English in Taiwan in the 1970s

Teaching English in Taiwan

Teaching English in Taiwan in the early 70s was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. After finishing a four year hitch in the Navy, I was excited to return to a land where I had been stationed for one year. Taiwanese and Chinese culture, languages, and the people were awaiting my further exploration. I had originally intended to continue my study of Chinese Mandarin, but instead got into the teaching of EFL and ESL which has been the passion of my life.

Returning to Taiwan

Returning to Taiwan on a damp, cold evening in January of 1971 shortly after discharge from the U.S. Navy, I had plans to continue my Chinese language education. This would be done by first enrolling in Mandarin courses at the Mandarin Training Center of National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, and then applying for admission to National Taiwan University. Since I didn't want to eat into my savings, I decided to seek part-time employment while attending classes at the Mandarin Training Center.

Finding My First English Teaching Job

By chance, a former Navy colleague who had served with me in Taiwan was working at the China Post English language newspaper on Fushun Street in Taipei. After looking him up one evening and explaining my situation, Pete said he could help me out if I was interested in teaching English. Teaching English? I was a little apprehensive at first, because I had never taught English before. Realizing that I probably could not find any other kind of employment, I told Pete I would give it a try.

Pete then introduced me to a contact who was a reporter at the Chinese language Hsinsheng Pao (New Life Newspaper) in downtown Taipei. After phoning the contact, he confirmed that the New Life Newspaper was indeed very interested in hiring a native English speaking instructor for 10-15 of its news reporters. The teacher was expected to teach conversational English Monday through Friday from 1:00 to 2:00 P.M. in the newspaper office. I immediately accepted the job offer for 80 New Taiwan dollars ($2.00) per hour, and knew that I could apply the same methods which I used in learning Mandarin to teaching English.

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Teaching at the New Life Newspaper Office

The following Monday afternoon I made my way down to the newspaper office for my first English class. The office was located on the third floor of an old building across from the Taipei Train Station. Transportation to and from the office by way of the number 17 city bus was very convenient and cheap in the early 70s. My round-trip bus fare each day from a near northern Taipei suburb was 2 N.T. dollars which was the equivalent of one nickel ($0.05.)

After arriving at the newspaper office, I was greeted by my New Life Chinese reporter contact George. He spoke fairly good English, and then proceeded to introduce me to the editor, Mr. Liu, and 10-15 other male and female reporters. They were all seated at their desks, and I was on a chair in the middle with a portable blackboard on wheels to my rear. George handed me a copy of "English 900" which the class wanted to use as a text for conversation. While quickly skimming through the book, I noticed that it had lessons on everyday conversational topics such as shopping, eating, travel, and recreation. I felt that I could effectively use it in class along with supplementary materials which I could create.

On that first day of class, I began by introducing myself to all of the students. Later, I remember asking each reporter to introduce himself or herself, and then tell me why they wanted to learn more English. After going through the basic sentences on greetings and introductions in Unit 1 of English 900 Book 1, the news reporters had a lot of questions about my personal life. It was apparent that this was going to be a good class, and students wouldn't be shy in speaking.

During the three months that followed, the class made good progress in improving their listening and speaking competency. I also started developing friendships with many of the students. It seemed like George would often organize luncheons and I would reciprocate. One of the students, Mr. Chu, even helped me hunt for a different apartment to rent.

I had a few other teaching jobs in Taipei during the next three months, but my class with the New Life newspaper reporters was the most enjoyable and memorable. Shortly before returning to the States in June, the reporters threw me a farewell party. At the party they presented me with a plaque which read in Chinese calligraphy 春风化雨 "Chun Feng Hua Yu." In translating to English, the literal meaning is spring wind and rain. What this Chinese idiom actually means is a teacher who is nurturing and inspiring. I was very touched to receive this gift, and thanked the class greatly for having the chance to be its teacher.

Before saying goodbye to everyone, I thanked the class for all of its hospitality during the previous four months, and I promised that I would be back to Taiwan in the near future. I was now hooked on Taiwan and the enjoyment of teaching EFL was just beginning!

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn

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Comments 2 comments

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY

What a fascinating story about how you got into teaching ESL and your experience. Voted up and awesome!


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Thanks for the favorable comments, Global-Chica. One of my next stories will be on how I established a good home EFL teaching business in Taiwan in the 70s.

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