The booming demand for English teachers in China has been flourishing for decades now and the trend does not seem to be on the slow path. Interestingly, if the Chinese economy started to stagnate, the English teaching market continues its growth. Despite the difficulty of succeeding in an always more exigent market, many businesses have tried their luck in the middle kingdom.

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China is obsessed with English, while ESL schools were first established to teach English to adults, in the last decade the demand has shifted to parents who are willing to spend up to half of their household income on language classes for their kids, resulting in an ever-growing market. For instance, in 2006, according to the economist, up to a fifth of the population is learning English. It was already the largest market in the English learning industry.

Overview of the English Teaching Market in China

By 2013, that number had grown to over 300,000 English students in China (about the size of the entire US population), this market in then worth about $4.5 billion dollars.

Technavios analysts forecast the ELT (English Language Training) market in China to grow at a CAGR of 21.93% during the period 2017-2021. The last trend showing a gain of interest in 2nd and 3rd-tier cities. The reason for this trend is rather simple, the competition in 1st tier cities is way too fierce with organizations in place for years.

One of the major drivers for this market is the development of an online training center. Nevertheless, the popularity of free online platforms or open source is a threat to the growth of the market. Open source such as Duolingo free of cost up to intermediate level and ease of access will force classic language training schools to change their model.

How is the ESL market evolving in ChinA?

Despite the development of new resources, studies estimate that at least 100,000 English teachers are currently needed in China. This number should slightly increase over the next few years. This is a challenge for the government that will have to find ways to attract always more qualified teachers.

As the age for learning English in public school has changed from 12 years old to 9 years old, the students of private English training schools are also getting younger opening new opportunities for businesses to come up with adapted programs. As a result, you’ll see kids as young as 4 following English kinder garden class. Disney English, for instance, has seen classes aimed at toddlers and preschoolers are one of the biggest areas of growth.

However,  stigmas still remain. The prestige of a foreign face is much more desirable in China than qualified local teachers and parents are willing to pay twice the price for a foreign face.

English Teaching Business in China: Best Practices

ESL Chinese website China

  • Your school must be registered to issue “expert certificates” to foreign teachers. According to the Beijing Bureau of Foreign Experts Affairs, only roughly 500 institutions in Beijing are allowed to issue these “expert certificates” which grant foreign teachers work visas; however, there are approximately 7,000 institutions that employ foreign teachers illegally.
  • Foreign chains need a Chinese partner and must have their teaching materials approved
  • A lot of paperwork. You need a business license, to pass the fire safety inspection, a certificate that allows you to hire foreigners. Start now.

Where and pricing?

  • What are your costs and what is the price of the competition? We would suggest that you set your price at a 15-20% higher rate and give discounts. Peoples will want to bargain, they will love and welcome a discounted price.
  • Be present in a 2nd-3rd tier city – fewer competitors.
  • Location in the city is also important. Pick a spot kids frequent or on the way to or from school.
  • Offer training for tests. With more and more students heading overseas for college, China is increasingly looking for TOEFL, SAT, and ACT tutors as well as college counselors and admissions consultants. As an example of just how big it is, in the USA 30% of international students are Chinese
  • Be on point with the last technology and teaching methods trends. For instance, as early as or example 2006, Beijing began testing interactive smart boards in their English kindergarten classrooms.


  • Hire native speaker teachers and highly qualified non-natives. If they can speak mandarin it is even better, but they will cost you more.
  • Hiring teachers is just a start. You’ll need peoples at accounting, marketing, cleaning, etc. You also have the option to go through an agency to help you reach your target.

How to successfully launch your ESL Business in China?

You will rapidly learn that reputation is everything in China. Chinese peoples are the most connected in the world, internet and apps are one of the best media you’ll find to promote yourself.

Be Present Online: Website & SEO

  • Get a Chinese website host on a Chinese server. Most of your potential customers look for information online. Their first contact with your brand will most likely be via your website and it is also an excellent way to display your services, location, price, news, blog post … etc. It is important for your website to be hosted on a Chinese server so it loads quickly. You don’t want visitors to leave before even seeing your content because your page is taking too long to load.
  • Invest in Baidu SEO.  Baidu is the most used search engine in China and you want to rank on it. Not only it is less expensive than ads but well done, it will offer you great visibility. The more people will click your links the more visibility you’ll have..

China Social Media: WeChat and Weibo

  • In China most of the apps we use in the west are banned and the king of all Chinese app is WeChat. In case you have never heard of it, WeChat is a crossover between Facebook, Whatsapp, Tinder, Uber, a wallet and so on. It has its own ecosystem and  it is worth noticing that WeChat has over 1 billion users active every month. 93% of the Chinese population is using this social media app. It is essential that you create an official WeChat Corporate page so that your customers can follow your updates directly from their favorite app. Use your QR code to promote your WeChat page and your services. It is also a great place to communicate directly with your customer and good content can go viral.
  • The second app you need to consider is Weibo, with 650 million registered users, 129 million user visits every month and a user presence across 190 countries, you can’t miss it. It is often referred to as the ‘Chinese Twitter.’  Weibo marketing is one of the recommended marketing activities in China. Creating a company account is an effective tool to establish your presence in China and to get your content easily shared.

Get yourself a name in China’s ESL world: Let’s talk about Trust

  • Before even starting, define who is your target and what image you wanna give to your school/brand. Knowing your target will make it so much easier to plan your marketing strategy and your offers. Having a clear offer will make you easy to identify among the crowd. Lately the trend focuses on young kids but it is up to you to decide what you wish to offer.
  • Build a unique aesthetic that is easy to remember and matches your offer. With that much competition, you need to be able to set yourself apart. Your visual needs to be coherent and perfect both online and offline.

Marketing Effort “Online and Offline”

  • Go omnichannel and create a link between your online and offline community. You’ll notice soon enough that having a name in Chinese communities will help you to grow your customer base.  Get in touch with locals, be present on strategic places online and offline such as local libraries, kindergartens, daycare, parks, malls … Most of them would be happy to host a demo class and that will be the perfect occasion for you to do business but be ready to handle the parents. Let us give you a tip: Be proactive and educate them on questions they surely have. For instance: why is it beneficial to start learning English from a young age?. This can take many forms: pamphlets, flyers, handouts, wechat posts, etc.;
  • Think e-reputation. The word of mouth is equally important in China  in order to build your image. Invite your customers to review your school and share your services around – offers immediate rewards. In order to achieve this, we strongly suggest you have a presence on forums, here is a short list: Zhihu, Zhidao Douban, Baidu Tibia or rating app such as Dianping. The other advantage of Dianping is that you can create coupons and people can make reservations to your facilities directly via the app. Not only having a presence on these forums will help you develop  your brand awareness but it will ensure that customers always find you when looking for an English teaching school.

To sum up

The road is going to be long and maybe troublesome (administration) but the English teaching market in China has not reached a dead end yet and a well-optimized business that is able to adapt quickly to the changes will succeed.

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Want to launch yourself on the teaching market in China but have little idea how to reach out to your target audience? Contact GMA, we are a marketing agency specialized in China and help foreign businesses to find their place in this exciting market.

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