Chinese language certification for US teachers

I haven’t read the last few pages of this, but let me share a little recent experience with you:

Interviewed last month for an English Teacher position–here in States, AR, and the principal asked me if I would consider teaching Chinese. There are no regulations for Chinese teachers in the States now–anyone can be hired to teach Chinese.

I was suprised at his question. Then he told me that my university has a program placing Chinese teachers in K-12 schools around the state, so I looked into that–I’m currently studying an education MA program. My university is recruiting NATIVE CHINESE speakers only–no chance for a white person–and placing these native speaking teachers.

I live in po-dunk Arkansas. If they’ve caught on to something here, you don’t have any chance 10 years from now in a larger state or city. By then, in fact, Chinese is going to be regulated and require the same kind of teaching credentials as any other subject.

Sorry, but that is not true.

Teachers in accredited high schools in the US must be certified. Various states may have programs under which they are allowed to bring in uncertified individuals, mostly native speakers from China, but the vast majority of teaching positions require certified teachers, or at least people who can become certified and who agree to go through a specific training sequence.

I recently spent over US$5000 to become certified as a Chinese teacher in New York State – this despite having a Ph.D in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language and what they like to call near-native fluency (although personally I feel like it’s getting farther from native all the time :cry: ).

However – to become certified as a Chinese teacher is more about taking (stupid, in most cases) pedagogy or education courses, and much less about your proficiency. I know people who really do not speak Chinese particularly well who teach it. To be certified (in NY state, at least), you must pass the Content Specialty Test in Chinese (other places require the ACTFL proficiency test), but you only have to PASS it, not do particularly well on it. So we will be seeing more and more people with lower proficiency becoming certified to teach Chinese in the States, the way there are so many jobs that teachers practically have their pick if they are certified.

Great post, Ironlady

[quote=“ironlady”]Sorry, but that is not true.

Various states may have programs under which they are allowed to bring in uncertified individuals[/quote]

Arkansas has programs like this that allow for “professionals” to teach their particular skill without being licensed.

This is absolutely true.

Good on you for the skills and all that education. My MA Teaching is costing me 28 grand.

I would have been one of them, which was why I was suprised to be asked. I tried to explain that my Mandarin isn’t good enough to be teaching it, but the principle didn’t care–some is better than none was his theory.

This is what is lacking in AR. Each state has it’s own educational standards, and AR doesn’t have any for Chinese. I guess it makes a huge difference where you are and I neglected to think of that when I posted before.

To be a Chinese teacher in the US you must just be able to pass the “Content Specialty Test in Chinese” This is the only thing that most people are concerned about. Even alternative certification programs are only interested whether you can pass this test.

On the converse some native speakers from China would not be acceptable. They could not past the general proficiency test to become a high school teach.

Ironlady is correct, there are many Spanish, German, and French teachers who do not speak the language they teach well. I went to graduate school with some of them. I studied abroad in Berlin with some of them.

[quote]Not to say that for a non-native speaker to have a career teaching Chinese is impossible. But I don’t think it counts as a “fall-back” option.

By the way, this isn’t me trying to score points or being snarky. Like Buttercup, I’m trying to help. It’s good to have exciting ideas, but also good to know how things are on the ground, so you can determine what’s reasonably achievable and not waste too much time chasing after dreams.[/quote]

I know you are trying to help but having already majored in German and gone to graduate school in German literature, fluency is usually not of great importance when it comes to getting a teaching job in the United States at the high school or university level.

Papers trump fluency any day. There are language professors who do not even speak their language that great because it is about publishing papers. If you publish papers about literature or language acquisition that is what is important.

In regards to high school teachers, many teachers have only a B.ED and studied the language they teach for four years. The average person cannot speak a foreign language after four years of study in their home country.

No, I went through an “alternative certification program” which is why I was able to get out for just $5K (!). The CST is the least of your worries. You need to do the pedagogy courses, courses in adolescent psychology, the “Foundations of Education” course (as though we have no clue about how the US educational system works!), the general education courses if you lack them (I had to take a college equivalency exam in Biology to get certified to teach Chinese – fortunately I was able to pass it or I would have had to do a whole course with lab and all). There is also the LAST – the Liberal Arts and Sciences test – which is general stuff (if you grew up and were educated in the US: it could be difficult if you were not from the US, probably) and a written test of “teaching skills” (I swear I could not make out what the essay question was asking, but after spewing back two handwritten pages using all the educational jargon I could think of, I not only passed but got high marks – is that scary?)

However, you’re absolutely right that fluency is not the highest concern. I have met many teachers who scare me with their lack of command of their teaching languages. Passing the CST and being competent in the language are two different things, of course – and in New York, at least, you can fail an entire section (or more) of the CST and still pass the test provided your total score is high enough. So conceivably you could pass if you had amazing spoken Chinese but could not write anything at all, or (as was the case on my Spanish CST) you knew the language well but knew nothing about the culture and history.

Many people are assuming that “alternative certification” means fewer requirements, but in most cases this is not true. They are just as onerous as doing a degree in teaching, plus you have to deal with the folks at State Education, who are next to useless (having dealt with the Taiwanese bureaucracy for a decade was excellent training, though.) The main challenge is trying to make them understand that Course A on your transcript DOES fulfill their requirement for Such-and-Such – and if they decide it does not, then it’s too bad for you, there is no appeal and you must re-do that requirement.

Again, the process and requirements do vary from state to state (which is another ridiculous point - I was offered a job teaching ONE course online as a part-time job, but could not take it because although I am a full-time certified teacher in NY, I could not get certified in Connecticut for a part-time Internet teaching job in an area in which there is an unbelievable shortage of teachers.)

The steps to take if you are seriously considering getting certified in the US are as follow:

  1. Contact the Department of Education in the state where you want to teach.
  2. Determine whether there is an alternative route to certification program available.
  3. If so, determine whether on-line education is acceptable for requirements.
  4. The cheapest route to doing these education courses is the University of Phoenix online.
  5. Carefully collect all the bits of paper you will need (sound like Taiwan?)
  6. Making two sets of copies of everything as a backup, send the required paperwork in to State Ed.
  7. Wait anywhere from 2 to 6 months for an initial answer (!) about what they have decided you still need. Consider purchasing an e-mail receipt service to make sure they are actually reading your mail.
  8. Repeat steps 4 through 6 until they finally cough up a certificate.

Housecat, good luck with your process and let me know how you get on. I’ll be glad to commiserate if and when you need it!! :unamused:

Ironlady, thanks for the extra info. There have been several posters in the last several months who will find it helpful.

I start internship in Jan–IF my school will allow me to intern near where I live. I live an hour away from school, but they are balking at allowing me to intern near my home because they don’t want to have to pay travel expenses to my advisor to come and observe.

Even after all this, It’s unlikely I’ll earn a “permanent license” here in AR. This is because AR has adopted the Praxis tests and standards and pathwise mentorship program. My internship earns me an “innitial license” and I have two years after that to find a job with a sponsoring mentor and take the Praxis III exam–which is an observance of a class. Have to hit so many points in 4 different domains to pass. I think like 2 people have ever failed.

But, since I can’t stand to stay here any longer than I have to, it’s likely I’ll never take that test. I MIGHT stay, but I’m feeling pretty claustophobic. Even the “permanent license” expires in three years. I’m hoping that there will be some state somewhere willing to offer recipricol licensure if I ever want to return. I’m not sure any American public school is for me, but Arkansas has just made things even more complicated.

Last year a teachers code of ethics was implimented that makes it possible for any student, any teacher, any parent, any BODY, to bring “charges” against a teacher for just about any kind of slight. The teacher must then defend him/her self before a judgement panel–there are five who’s full time job is to do these judgements, so they have to make sure they’re needed, of course–and you could be fined, lose your license, or who knows what–and you pay for your own lawyer. In other words, if someone decided to make your life miserable, they very easily could.

And if I come back some day with an expired innitial license? Yes, I could face starting over again.

I’m just not sure it’s worth it.

Where is a good place to find schools that are willing to offer alternative certification routes for Chinese teachers? I know Wisconsin and Chicago are recruiting Chinese teachers.

In most cases, it’s not up to the school, it’s up to the State Department of Education.

Some places are recruiting native Chinese teachers FROM China or Taiwan, but the special conditions that apply to those people do not apply to non-Chinese (who – BTW, understand American students, can control them in a classroom setting, can deal with parents, and can do many many more things that Chinese teachers fresh off the boat find daunting). But the idea is that those Chinese teachers (who are ESL teachers, not Chinese language teachers, to begin with) will “inspire” the kids to go on in Chinese, and anyway there is such a shortage of Chinese language teachers (mostly because of the insane requirements for someone who is in the US – even a native speaker of Chinese – to get a license) that, well, we have to do SOMETHING.

The thing to do is figure out where you want to go, then check with the department of ed’s web site for that state. Look for words like alternative, pathway, career-changer, or things like that.

Be aware that many states are moving toward elimination of these alternative pathways (!) in favor of making everyone go to teacher’s college. IMHO this is totally stupid, and would skew the profession toward 22-year-old recent graduates who have no world experience (especially for foreign language, this almost guarantees a lack of proficiency in the language being taught, if we’re talking about a typical “I majored in Spanish” student) who are barely able to control a class of 17 year olds because they are nearly the same age. So, because of the move to eliminate, time can be of the essence.

The problems that Housecat talks about are widespread a well. Getting a teaching license doesn’t mean you are licensed for the rest of your life (or that you are “really” licensed – many times you get an “initial” license that then requires you to earn an MA degree and be mentored in a full-time teaching job for two years and…blah blah blah…before you can turn in a video of your teaching for the “experts” at State Ed to evaluate [my husband received a canvass letter asking him if he’d like to become an educational credentials evaluator for State Ed – like he has anything approaching a knowledge of teaching!!? these are civil servants in many cases, nothing more, and even if they were teachers, they haven’t been in the classroom for some time now, have they?] and THEN you need 175 hours of “continuing education” (which is a total joke) every 5 years to keep your license current, and you had better pray that no parent complains about what their kid said you said in class. :noway:

But that being said, teaching Chinese is fun. :slight_smile: If you only look at the time you are interacting with your kids in Chinese, it’s worth it.

MOD: Maybe we should split the information about teaching Chinese and Chinese licensure in the US into a separate thread? We can take it over in Learning Chinese if that seems appropriate.

The thing to do is figure out where you want to go, then check with the department of ed’s web site for that state. Look for words like alternative, pathway, career-changer, or things like that.[/quote]

Well, I did see at least two places that were offering alternative certification. By that I mean a program that you could start after one month of summer training if accepted into the program. One place is Chicago and the other is Wisconsin state. Both offer the opportunity to go to a summer school and then begin teaching immediately while working on your alternative certification.

However – to become certified as a Chinese teacher is more about taking (stupid, in most cases) pedagogy or education courses, and much less about your proficiency. I know people who really do not speak Chinese particularly well who teach it.[/quote]

What level of proficiency do you think is needed to get a job teaching high school Chinese in the United States?

Not bloody high, from what I can observe.

It’s hard to say. I have encountered quite a few teachers who were probably grandfathered in in some way. Their levels of proficiency vary wildly, with most of them not impressing me very much. Then again, if you teach straight from a textbook, you can get away with having relatively poor command of your language (this is common with many FL teachers in the US, as many of them have no longterm overseas experience).

Most of the Chinese tests in the US are sort of assuming that the people taking the tests will be Chinese, so many require writing by hand, which can be a stumbling block for Westerners taking the exam, depending on their experiences and how the test is graded. I got a very low score on the writing portion of the exam when I took it, but I passed because my scores in the other sections were all full marks and the test was based on total points. Some other system, where you have to achieve a minimum grade in each section, might be tougher to pass.

You can probably get a job with a solid intermediate level of Chinese, assuming you apply yourself to prepare for the test. You’ll learn a lot of Chinese teaching it – especially if you teach TPRS or at least have fun things in class like “Word of the Day”. I can’t begin to list the things the kids ask for in “Word of the Day”. It’s their favorite thing. And for “classroom management”, where many systems advise giving the kids a “preferred activity” at the end of the week if they’re good in class all week, my kids don’t want to play games – they want to be able to ask for any word they can think of for 5 minutes. Thank heavens for Google, is all I can say. :bow:


Do you think that two years of study at Shida would be enough to pass the test to get a job as a Chinese teacher? I have studied at Shida for one year. I would say my spoken Chinese is intermediate or above already. Of course my writing still has work to be done.

I practice Mandarin every Tuesday for several hours. Actually I am exchanging teaching someone’s kids for four hours of Chinese practice every Tuesday. Also I often attend some locals bars in Yonghe that foreigners usually don’t go to.

I don’t know. It’s been so long since I’ve been at Shi-ta (think 1980s!) that I can’t put a real picture together.

All you can do is try the test, of course. Make sure you can write common characters by hand from memory (there shouldn’t be much problem if you’re a recent student – it’s those of us who’ve been out of school for years who have problems with that one. Computers, you know.) You might want to take a look at a book like Li and Thompson’s grammar book to prepare for the grammar questions. Generally, though, I’d guess you could pass it. (I’m thinking about the NYS exam, too – many states are now requiring the (I think it’s) ACTFL test of speaking and listening and the test of writing, which would be much more difficult. I think there is still a disproportionate emphasis on “can you form characters from memory” over “how is your compositional writing” on Chinese tests. (I’m still doing a lot of thinking about those issues in relationship to my teaching and what’s the best way to present the language to kids and what their real needs are, these days.)

Basically I think the tests are intended to weed out non-literate native speakers and native speakers without a clue about proper grammar in their own language, not so much to effectively evaluate the language skills of NNS teachers. But in the States, each State does things its own way – so my answers can only address 1/50 of what’s going on.

Is it acceptable to use traditional characters on the test or do you have to used simplified characters?

Here in NY, at least, there was a choice, and if I remember correctly everything was presented in both Simplified and Traditional characters.

Be aware, though, that most schools seem to (not a scientific poll or anything) prefer Simplified for programs. It’s not hard to transition, especially from TC to SC, but it’s something to think about for a self-study direction. I’m a little concerned myself about my relative lack of experience in the Mainland as compared to Taiwan, but then again there are people teaching Chinese who have never been to China or Taiwan at all, or only for a few weeks, and there are also Taiwanese teachers teaching here who have not been to China for any significant length of time if at all. So I guess the important thing is to take the long view, that kids will have many years of Chinese study if they are to get to the point where it’s really crucial either way. (Possible interview answer if they ask…emphasize that Chinese is Chinese and SC/TC is a relatively small difference particularly for beginners. They need to be able to do something with the language first before worrying too much about if their teacher is Taiwan-oriented.)

To my knowledge, Texas does not have a certification for Chinese. I’m researching it now. The only certification tests I can find are for German, Spanish, French, and Latin.

Texas does now require certification through the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview, which gives one a certification of “Chinese EC-12”. As far as I could find on their website,, ACFTL does not currently have a writing test for Chinese.

Texas does now require certification through the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview, which gives one a certification of “Chinese EC-12”. As far as I could find on their website,, ACFTL does not currently have a writing test for Chinese.[/quote]
Any idea what score level they’re requiring? Where did you find that info for TX? Last I saw there were no requirements, as you said above. Thanks ~

The State of Arkansas seems to think there is an ACTFL writing proficiency test for Mandarin. (Now, I don’t know whether to put my money on Arkansas or the ACTFL web site!!..but describes such a test).

Maryland requires “intermediate high” on both written and oral ACTFL tests for certification: … tion/actfl

I guess there is one. Lucky I’m in NY, is all I can say. :smiley:

I won’t go on listing all of them, but I found these by Googling “teaching certification mandarin actfl”. You could add the name of the specific state you’re interested in and maybe there would be more information.