Not every Chinese person uses cash but almost everyone in China uses WeChat (Weixin in Chinese). To call WeChat the Chinese equivalent of Facebook or WhatsApp is a definite understatement. This super app for the Chinese mobile internet is also everyone’s wallet, name card, social media and search engine. It has the reputation of being a Chinese person’s remote control. This blog focuses on WeChat for online ESL teachers. There are three parts: (1) What is WeChat? History, function and influence of this super app; (2) How online ESL teachers can use WeChat; (3) How to set up WeChat, a step by step guide.
1. What is WeChat?
WeChat history and functions
In 2010 when Apple launched its iPhone 4, a Chinese Internet gaming company called Tencent saw the future of the Internet on mobiles. That same year, it incubated a mobile-first product called WeChat for instant messaging. Users could use this chat messenger to send files, photos, and text messages, or record audios to each other.
In 2012, WeChat launched Moments for users to share their daily lives. This became the milestone that defines its role in social media. At this point, WeChat was a combination of Facebook and WhatsApp. Soon after, WeChat became the most-used social platform with 300 million registered users.
In 2016, a New York Times video about WeChat described it as the Swiss Army knife app that rules China. It went beyond the world of mobile phones and penetrated into people’s daily life. This is the so-called “online to offline model”, where the Chinese Internet is transforming people’s offline life through online apps. One could use this app to accept or offer payment, book hospital appointments, pay utility fees, order taxis, and takeaways. WeChat had become the ‘remote control’ of a Chinese person’s life.
But WeChat did not stop there. In 2013, it launched WeChat official subscription/accounts. Anyone with a WeChat official account can publish articles supported by pictures, audio, and videos. This began the era of WeChat as a content-publishing platform.
This social/content/chatting platform continued its innovation. In 2016, WeChat launched Mini Program. Mini Program allows third parties to operate their own programs within the WeChat system. For a WeChat user, this means they can use WeChat to run many apps such as the equivalent of Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix. WeChat took on the role of being the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
In 2020, WeChat made its stride to becoming Google and YouTube combined. The company has been working on its search product for four years and very quietly launched the WeChat search function. The same year, WeChat Channels started gaining traction. WeChat Channels allow users to publish 1-minute video content and this video content is searchable.
By Q3 of year 2019, the monthly active users of WeChat reached 1.15 billion. This means every 1 in 7 persons on the earth is actively using WeChat.
Over 300 million users use its Mini Programs on a daily basis. They contribute an annual sale of RMB 800 billion ($US 122 billion, or about 40% of Amazon’s revenue that year) via the WeChat platform.
With such an impressive huge user base and active purchasing record, what is the opportunity for online ESL teachers to use WeChat?
2. How can online English language teachers use WeChat
The demand for English learning in China
Before I give concrete examples of how online English language teachers can use WeChat, I would like to give you a big picture, the overall demand for learning English in China.
According to a Shenzhen-based consulting firm, the overall English language learning market in China reached RMB 40 billion ($US 6 billion) in the year 2014, with 70% concentrated on children’s English education. According to Statista, the ELT (English language training) market size in China in the year 2017 amounted to approximately 41.5 billion U.S. dollars and was forecasted to grow further.
The motivations to learn have also expanded. Twenty or thirty years ago, the need to learn English was fuelled by the need to study abroad. Exam English preparation schools such as New Oriental were notorious for their military-style training to spoon-feed students advanced vocabulary.
Today, with the rising middle class and increasing opportunities to travel and communicate with the outside world, more and more Chinese see English as a language to communicate rather than just a gateway to study abroad. People want to speak English rather than memorising English. Parents want their children to learn as early as possible, an opportunity they themselves didn’t have.
The supply for English learning in China
Private English tutoring classes used to be in-person but companies such as VIPKid and the 2020 Covid pandemic really changed the perception and reality of English language learning and teaching. They showed that learning English online is not only feasible but also preferable at times, if not inevitable. This naturally leads ESL teachers to experiment with using WeChat as a tool for language teaching. So, is that possible, and what are some examples?
How do online ESL teachers use WeChat
1. Use WeChat to distribute teaching materials
BIEA外教英语启蒙 （BIEA ESL teacher for beginner English）is a WeChat channel using music, dance, and nursery rhymes to teach beginner-level English. The teaching covers basic vocabulary about numbers, weather, body parts, etc. These one-minute videos are engaging learning materials as well as a warm and friendly way for parents to cultivate good habits for toddlers.
2. Use WeChat to promote teaching courses
Lise外教英语 （Lise ESL teacher）is a WeChat channel aiming at Chinese students who study, or want to study, in the US. Teacher Lise shares inspirational short talks and corrects common mistakes made by Chinese students via videos. Each video links to her WeChat Mini Program which sells two courses: beginner pronunciation at RMB 899 ($US 137) and practical oral English at RMB 1499 ($US 230).
3. Use WeChat to promote teachers’ personal brands
Big White (大白) is a Canadian ESL teacher who lives in Chong Qing China. His personal WeChat channel – Big White teaches English (大白教英语)not only shares English vocabulary at times, but also share the difference between Canadian culture and Chinese culture.
4. Use WeChat to show students’ progress in English learning
Some WeChat videos focus on students to showcase their progress in English learning. One example is the video made by VIPKid. This 11-year-old boy has been learning English with the platform for about 4 years and is explaining a quantum mechanics theory.
Now you have discovered the potentials of using WeChat for your online English teaching career, are you ready to set it up? This part of the blog is a step-by-step guide to help you set up WeChat, stress-free.
Step 1: discover WeChat app in your app store
Step 2: download WeChat app from your app store
Step 3: sign up for WeChat via two options: Facebook or your mobile
Step 4(a): sign up WeChat via Mobile
Step 4(b): sign up WeChat via Facebook
Step 5: Read WeChat privacy statement
Step 6: WeChat verification
WeChat, as a social app, requires you to be verified by an existing WeChat user. This is something I can help you with. Arrive 10 minutes prior to my WeChat workshop and I will help you with this verification process.
To sum it up. WeChat combines Facebook’s social features and Google’s search ability as a super app. There are some existing examples of how English language teachers use it to promote their teaching brand and distribute some teaching materials.
If you are an online English language teaching with an interest to tap into the Chinese English learning market, why not experiment with what you can do with this super app? It does not need to be a huge amount of investment of your time. With my WeChat workshop, I will go through the process to enable you to stand out by harnessing this China super social media platform.
How have you used WeChat for your teaching? How are they working out for you? Do you have further questions?
I would love to hear you voice in the comment box.