Snapshot – English Language Education in International Schools in East Asia

All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

The past four days were an immersive international school educational experience. It was an eye-opening and informational professional development opportunity that gave me insight into how English language education, and education in general, is implemented in many East Asian countries.

To have some context, we need to go back to New Jersey for a minute – yes, New Jersey! The state, together with thirty-six states is a WIDA Consortium member. What does that mean in lay terms?



In a nutshell, WIDA is an organization of members that implements a framework of instruction and assessment aligned to English language development standards. New Jersey is part of that group of states and as such, we use the ACCESS 2.0 for accountability purposes to demonstrate how English learners are making progress as they acquire English language.

Most public school districts in New Jersey use the WIDA Framework and English Language Development Standards to guide and align their English as a Second Language Curriculum. WIDA also works with many international schools to guide them in their English language instruction. For more information on WIDA International, the WIDA Framework and what they do go to  – For information WIDA USA go to

Given the fact that New Jersey is a WIDA state, a few years ago, I decided to become a WIDA Certified Trainer since I felt this would give me more knowledge and strategies to work with my English learners in my district, River Edge. This training would also be valuable to help me support other ESL teachers as a member of our organization, NJTESOL/NJBE.


seoul wall and dongdaemun plaza.jpg

Back to Seoul –  As many of you know, I am always trying to find more learning opportunities and coincidentally, yes – WIDA was holding an International Academy in Seoul. How perfect!

So last Thursday, I joined a group of amazing educators until Sunday, to learn how English is taught outside of the United States.

The teachers came from different backgrounds: American, Canadian, British and Australian. Some have been overseas for a long time and some have just started their international teaching experience. They work in different countries in East Asia.

Amy King, an extremely knowledgeable former public school teacher, who now works for WIDA, led us through this fascinating journey. I was completely enthralled as I listened to the variety of educational approaches and the different reasons as to why parents want their children to receive this kind of education.

Through visuals, I will briefly share with you the schools that were part of this academy. I have used some pictures from the Internet to take you through the different countries and schools.

Here is a list of countries and cities that were part of this international academy.

  • Busan, Daejeon, Jeju Island and Seoul – South Korea
  • Fukuoka and Sapporo, Japan
  • Beijing and Nanjing, China
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Hoh Chi Minh City (Saigon) – Vietnam
  • Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia
  • Jakarta, Indonesia
I have circled the countries of those schools that attended the academy


beijing – HCMC -kuala lumpur – nanjing – Yuejiang Tower – sapporo – singapore –

In many cases, families come from the United States, Great Britain or Australia so attending a school that follows the same curriculum as the country of origin is what makes sense, especially if the family will move back home in the future. Some families are now living in their native country but have returned from living overseas and want to continue this educational trajectory.

In other cases, parents want their children to have a Western education now to hopefully pursue a college education in the United States or Great Britain. Other parents like the International Baccalaureate program and they can afford these schools.

International schools are day schools but many also offer boarding facilities. They can be private not for profit or for profit. Many schools have a religious affiliation, generally Christian, but some do not.


Most, not all schools have an admission policy that is based on grades and interviews and in many cases, on the level of English language proficiency. Some schools only take students with some level of proficiency, while others take them no matter how much English language the student has. Other schools are designed for local students only.

Many have quotas based on the number of students per country. Some countries have quotas on how many native students may attend, whether they have lived overseas before and for how long.

English language services or support in some schools is fee-based while in others it is part of the curriculum. In many schools, they offer similar instruction as we do in the States – students are taught in the general classroom with the ESL professional working with the teacher while other schools teach English language in a setting different from the general classroom.


Class size varies but on average they have 20-25 students per class and in many cases they have teaching aides. Some schools have up to 1,500 students and very large facilities. Most schools have very nice campuses and the classrooms have all kinds of technology. Most schools are one to one with tablets or laptops. However, technology does not seem to be as much of a demand as it is in the States, particularly at the primary level.

Since these schools are private, many offer after school activities that are sports, music or drama related – something that is not the case in most public schools here as extra curricular activities are generally focused on academics.

As far as lunch and recess goes, most schools offer cooked lunches and ample time to play. You may notice that schools have beautiful grounds and playgrounds.

In terms of inclusion and special education, it is up to the school’s admission policy since they are private schools that are governed by a different set of policies.

Here are a few things that caught my eye based on my educational personal experience. Some of you may notice a few familiar strategies, writing papers and book titles! These photographs were taken at Yongsan International School in Seoul, where the academy took place. The school was incredibly generous with their facilities, feeding us delicious lunches and snacks and sharing their welcoming staff.




These four “intense days” taught me how different cultures, perspectives, missions and visions all have a common goal, to educate children so they may become competent and caring citizens in our shrinking global world.

In these schools, English is chosen as the vehicle to access instruction in the content areas. It is not English as a Second Language as we know it because the countries where instruction takes place do not use English as their native form of communication. Regardless of the country or curriculum, all of these schools celebrate the different cultural and linguistic backgrounds of their learners. This is the one thing that we have in common – whether in New Jersey, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul or any other country that works with diverse populations.




7 thoughts on “Snapshot – English Language Education in International Schools in East Asia

  1. Thanks Monica for providing this unique insight into English language teaching in international schools. I learned a lot through the thoughtful mix of images and narrative. Thank you for having us along on your adventure. As a teacher educator, I’m curious how the international schools recruit teachers–I would be interested in sharing with my teacher candidates.


    1. Bryan, I know how much you can relate to what I wrote based on your experiences in Japan. Always happy to know that your are reading this. I will be happy to share more of what I have learned so you can inform your students.


  2. What great timing – an inspirational insight as to how important learning a second language is from an early age. This is truly the way to learn how to celebrate our similarities and differences as globally connected citizens. Thanks for leading the charge! Beth


    1. Thanks Beth for reading the blog and always making thoughtful comments. I truly appreciate how you take the time to read and respond. Yes, what a great education for me and for all of you who are on this incredible journey with me. Every day, every hour I learn something new. Nothing more exciting to ignite one’s curiosity and thirst for discovering new ways of doing things! Be well.


  3. Hi Monica! What an amazing experience! I did recognize some familiar book titles, and kids’ work looked so familiar too! This post showed once again how similar we are in many ways, no matter how far away we are from each other.


  4. Glad you liked i! Yes, indeed, we have many things that we share, especially at American schools overseas. They do a very good job at articulating what happens in the US and abroad. To further chats!


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