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ESL Tips: Handling Students from Asian Countries - HOWPO
ESL Tips: Handling Students from Asian Countries

ESL Tips: Handling Students from Asian Countries

ESL teaching is assumed to be an easy profession but it comes with demands that take years and hundreds of classes for a teacher to master. Another is the differences between your culture and theirs. Some students might find the topic offensive during the class. Students, in general, are easily distracted when studying. One of the biggest challenges you’ll encounter in ESL teaching is their short attention span. Combining all these demanding factors, the question is, how can you handle different types of ESL students based on their age, skill level, and nationality?

Japanese Students

Japanese Students

Japanese students are known to be polite to their teachers. Most Japanese students are university students, working professionals, and retired citizens. Japanese children usually learn English in school. It’s not difficult to teach Japanese students. Many of them are already exposed to social issues across the world and are constantly helping themselves to enhance their English skills.

What to expect:

  • Japanese ESL students are very eager to learn and most of the time have a lot of questions and topics to share with their English tutors. They are also very diligent in attending their classes. They even study while on duty, in a coffee shop, or even late at night after a long day at work.
  • Japanese students are not particular in accent and majority of them have such high regards for Filipinos. However, do not be complacent. Japanese people are very keen on learning technicalities in English. They don’t care about your accent but you have to be good in grammar and must be able to answer their inquiries about sentence construction, a definition, or explain how the answer turned out to be that way.
  • Try to learn and use generic Japanese language in class. Japanese students are always impressed when their teacher knows some Nihongo such as “Konichiwa” for Hello, “Sugoi” for amazing, “Hajimimashte” for Nice to meet you, and more.
  • They respect Filipinos, they love Filipino culture, and they truly admire how good Filipinos are in English. Many of them even went to travel or lived in the Philippines for months or years. So it is very easy to open topics during a free talk session.
  • Feedback is extremely appreciated by Japanese students and it’s highly advisable to provide constructive feedback after the lesson proper is finished. If possible, write down and send them their mispronounced words and grammar lapses so they can see the difference.
  • Ask them how they want to be called before you start the lesson in case it’s your first time meeting. It’s generally recommended to add ‘-san’ after their first name or preferred nickname as it is a form of respect towards another adult. If they wish to not add ‘-san’, then follow the student.

Topics to avoid:

  1. Religion

Never open up about religion as Japanese people may be friendly but they are also very private about their personal views in life. Even if the student opens up about the topic, try to change it to avoid any misunderstanding.

  1. Personal Relationship

Never ask them if they are married, how many kids they have, or if they are in a relationship. Let them open up about these topics accordingly. Do not initiate the conversation about their relationships. But, it’s totally fine to share yours with them to build rapport.

  1. The Wars

Never start an argument about the wars the country joined in the past. Do not bring up any grudges you may have regarding the Japanese invasion in the 19040s.

  1. Politics

Japan still has a royal family and a democratic government. Avoid talking about these matters to make sure you will not start an argument.

Quick Tips

Japanese students are fun to teach. A lesson is very easy to do if you follow the tips above. Make sure to tell something about yourself at the start of the class. It should be generic and concise. Building rapport is important in gaining their trust. Being energetic and knowledgeable about various topics, professions, and places helps build a good teacher-student relationship with Japanese people.

Korean Students

Korean Students

Koreans prefer Filipino teachers for their competence, good grammar, friendly attitude, and jubilance in class. Plus, let’s not forget the fact that Korea and the Philippines shared a tight bond during the Japanese colonization in Korea. The Oppaland has high regards for the Philippines for it’s the Southeast Asian nation that answered Korea’s call for help during the war by sending their men to defend the country from Japanese invasion. This and many other factors contributed to the great student-teacher relationship Filipinos and Koreans have.

What to expect:

  • Korean students are smart and generally studious. They know their history, are well-versed in math and science. Even very young learners know at least 5-10 names of different dinosaurs and most adult students are updated about the latest in economy, politics, and even modern technology.
  • Koreans are very diligent in learning English. If you haven’t taught a Korean student, then you must know how serious they take their education. After school classes, such as Math academy, English academy, and even music academy are common for a Korean student. It doesn’t matter how tired or sick they are, always expect them to be present in your class.
  • Students in Korea are book-oriented. They love reading books from cover to cover, may it be short stories, workbooks, or even novels. As long as the material is suitable for their level and the vocabulary words can be explained by the ESL teacher, you won’t have a problem with most Korean students. Most Korean parents even recommend a book to assist the teacher in making the class more productive.
  • Korean students are very particular when it comes to their ESL teacher’s accent. They expect their children to learn from an ESL teacher with at least a neutral to very profound American accent. They are so keen on hearing a neutral accent that many parents decide to change their child’s teacher simply because they do not like the accent the teacher has.

Topics to avoid:

  1. Religion

In Korea, religion is a very personal and sensitive topic. The country is not like other countries that are very expressive in their stance towards religion. Talking about this topic might cause either confusion or disagreement with your student since they were not like Filipinos who consider religion as a topic to discuss openly.

  1. Japan vs Korea

In case you’re not aware, Korea and Japan haven’t been on very good terms since 1910. Talking about the destructive war, Japan, Japanese people, and even Japanese products might not be the best topic to discuss when getting to know your student. Let them be the one to open up this topic but be careful in arguing and insisting on your stance regarding the colonization of Japan in other countries.

  1. Personal Relationships

Topics that touch personal relationships aren’t the best choice to open a lesson. Though Korean students are very open towards their ESL teachers, asking too many personal questions might make them uncomfortable. Let them share how they feel voluntarily. But remember, oversharing about your relationships might cause unnecessary discussions. 

Quick Tips

Korean students are on par with current events and issues. As an educator, read as much as you can and share interesting facts whenever you can. It will build good conversations and impress your students as they will think that you are very smart and highly interested in their country and culture. This will help you to build a good relationship rapport as a teacher and student. And remember, work on your accent! Try to have at least a neutral American accent before deciding to apply to a Korean ESL company.

Chinese Students


China remains at the top of the list of the nations that utilize ESL classes. As one of the biggest economies in the world, China is breaking barriers by making huge companies create products featuring their language and by opening their doors to learning English to continue dominating the world’s economy. Being a communist country, it’s a little bit hard to crack how it feels to communicate with them directly using a foreign language, since everyone knows China is very patriotic. Here are the things you must keep in mind when teaching Chinese students.

What to expect:

  • Chinese people love their rich culture and their country so much. During classes, you might encounter students who will share about the recent events happening in their country. Whether it’s about a breakthrough technology, Chinese Lunar New Year, or even Singles Day, always make sure to stay updated about current events and express how interested you are about the topic.
  • They are very appreciative and grateful to their instructor. Children from China like showing affection towards their teacher. If they like you, they will be vocal in expressing how much they adore you as a teacher. Same with adult students. They aren’t afraid to voice out how much they appreciate the class and the tutor- especially if they’ve helped them improve their skills significantly.
  • Though they like a neutral American accent, Chinese students prefer learning in a British accent. But do not get disheartened if you cannot deliver classes in a British accent. It doesn’t mean that the teacher needs to change his/her accent, it’s just an additional leverage if the ESL teacher can speak with a British accent.

Topics to avoid:

  1. Patriotism 

People in China are very patriotic. Be mindful of things you share during the class especially with the adult students. Avoid topics regarding their politics and government as much as possible.

  1. Misinformation

Chinese people are very mindful of the current events and trends happening in their country and the world. As a communist country, they do not tolerate the spread of fake news and are vigilant in checking the sources of the things they read or watch. So before choosing a news topic, make sure to research if it’s authentic news or a fake one.

  1. Wars, LGBTQ, and Geopolitical Topics

Sensitive topics like wars, censorship in LGBT content, and territories should be avoided. Such topics might bring unnecessary disagreements, opinion clashes, and spoil the mood of the class. So it’s best not to open up these kinds of topics during the class.

Quick Tips

Chinese parents want to give high quality education to their children. When it comes to learning, baby steps are important and small improvements are highly valuable to Chinese parents. Never be afraid to correct small and big mistakes of the student but, never forget to praise them whether they make tremendous progress or even pronounce a difficult word correctly. It will also be helpful if you can teach them techniques on how to easily master the British accent and try to notice if they can already speak in a British accent better than before.

Thai Students

Thai Students

People might not expect a Southeast Asian Country on the list, but believe me, this country made it to the cut. The Kingdom of Thailand, known as the Land of Smiles, also shares the hunger for learning English just like the mentioned Asian countries earlier. With Bangkok as the center of the Thai economy, this country is by far the biggest hiring market for English teachers to teach in their schools and Filipino teachers are very popular in Thailand. But due to the educational disruption brought by the global pandemic and increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in Thailand, most educational facilities are closed for an indefinite time. This triggered the huge demand for online English academies and opened up a golden opportunity for ESL teachers to penetrate the Thai market.

What to expect:

  • Thai students like fun-filled classes. Thai students prefer loud and lively classes, especially children. Singing nursery rhymes relevant to the lesson will be a good start for young learners. In case the teacher encounters an older student, try to lessen the singing but continue the enthusiasm. Always remember to be an eager beaver!
  • Know their culture, not just their country. As a teacher, it’s your role to learn about your students’ nation and traditions. The Kingdom of Thailand has a complex government system where they have a royal family ruled by King Vijiralongkorn and also a Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha. Aside from that, the entire country has opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins, and ornate temples. It’s always useful to have this knowledge to create a harmonious relationship with the learner.
  • Thai people, in general, love using nicknames. Be very careful when it comes to pronouncing their names and don’t forget to ask them if they prefer their nickname or not. Thai people have very unique names but that doesn’t mean you cannot call them by their real given names. Nicknames like Sky, Lemon, Mint, and Gun are common in Thailand. Be mindful as some students feel bad when you mistakenly call them by another name.

Topics to avoid:

  1. Disrespecting the Royal Family

Never say disrespectful or negative comments towards the Royal Thai Family. The country might not be under a monarch system anymore but the love and respect that they have for the royal family are beyond question. If the tutor’s knowledge isn’t sufficient, then try not to dig deeper into the topic.

  1. Religion

Buddhism is the major religion of people in Thailand. Though some students tell their teacher about his/her religious beliefs, these kinds of topics are considered taboos regardless of their nationality. It’s better to avoid opening this topic to avoid unnecessary arguments.

  1. Always be Presentable

As a rule of thumb, showing excessive skin during your online classes is prohibited. Thailand is a fairly conservative country, and even though your student will only see you on screen, always make yourself presentable. Young learners are normally accompanied by their guardians while older students look after the way you showed up during the class. Dress for the occasion. Wear collared clothes and avoid using provocative and inappropriate attire in class.

Quick Tips

Never let dull moments dominate your class. Thai students are fun to teach and they share a lot of good stuff about their culture and traditions that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Having fun in class doesn’t mean you’ll do less teaching. They just require you to be jolly, energetic, and creative in delivering the lessons. Reading lessons should not be boring, either. With the right amount of energy, creativity in conducting the class, and a smiling face, there will be no dead air during your class and your Thai student will surely love you.


With the increasing population of aspiring ESL teachers, what makes you stand among the rest lies in how you conduct and adapt to your classes. If one strategy didn’t work out, then don’t forget to try another. Besides, Rome wasn’t built overnight, be patient! There’s no shortcut in learning and experience will always be your best teacher. Always keep in mind who you are teaching and where they are from and you’ll get a pretty big idea as to how to handle an online class with them. Happy teaching!

Eunice Buenaventura

By passion and profession, Eunice is a content writer, ESL teacher, and social media manager.

Eunice worked in Accenture and Nestlé Business Services where she gained experience in content moderation, process training, customer service, and eContent asset management. Her passion for English and marketing landed her part-time writing jobs while working in a corporate office.

She discovered ESL Teaching that same year she started content writing and soon realized that it’s also something she wanted to pursue. She left her corporate job to become a freelance writer and ESL teacher.

Eunice has grown a network of clients in her content writing and ESL teaching career. Eunice consistently widens her expertise in marketing by learning new skills. She just started her career as a social media manager for clients abroad and in the Philippines.

You may check some of Eunice’s works on

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