“English is a crazy language; but don’t worry, we can help you; we just need a little time.” That’s the stance of Scott Dreyer of Dreyer Coaching based in Vinton, who teaches real world English to Chinese-speakers half a world away via the Internet.
The majority of those students are in Taiwan and Mainland China; and most are in grades three through eleven, although his academy teaches all ages. While Dreyer teaches English to the Chinese, his wife Deborah teaches Chinese to English speakers.
Dreyer and Deborah–a native of Taiwan–traveled to Taiwan and five cities in Mainland China in May and June of 2018 to visit and thank their online students and their families, to recruit new students, and to gauge changes in the market and culture from a “boots on the ground” perspective.
They left Roanoke on May 21, flew to Atlanta, then to Tokyo and on to Taipei, Taiwan—a journey of 8000 miles, crossing 12 time zones in about 24 hours “door to door.”
Dreyer says they took 13 flights going through 15 separate airports and stayed in 10 different locations on their 26-day adventure.
Although he is originally from Roanoke, the Dreyers met in Taiwan, where he had moved in 1989 to work as a teacher. A graduate of William and Mary, he first served as academic director at Jordan’s Language School in Hsinchu, Taiwan, then taught English at the Hsinchu Presbyterian Bible College.
From 1992-1997, he served as college advisor and world geography teacher in the National Experimental High School’s Bilingual Department. From 1997-1999 he taught English conversation and writing at Chin Min College and also served as pastor of the Hsinchu International Church.
He and Deborah were married in 1992 and began their family before returning to the United States in 1999. They have four children–Harmony, Sarah, Victor, and David. The recent trip was their first back to Taiwan on their own, unaccompanied.
The Dreyers have kept close contact with friends and family in Taiwan. In 2005 and again every summer from 2007 to 2013, the family returned to Hsinchu to help a new generation of Taiwanese students “bridge the language gap” and develop their English skills.
In 2008, Dreyer began offering year-round English coaching and tutoring, for children and adults, via the Internet.
The trip they planned for 2018 wasn’t singly for business but included sightseeing and reunions. They purposefully chose May and June for their trip to escape the brutal heat of Chinese summers, to visit when school was still in session in East Asia, and for the cheaper flights and smaller crowds of off-season travel.
Most of their destinations included places where they already had connections—family, friends, or students, who they often lodged with on their journey.
Symbolically, Hsinchu where Dreyer worked, and they met, was the first stop on their trip. Ricky, the student who has worked with Dreyer the longest (from the end of fourth grade to now busily applying for American colleges), lives in Hsinchu.
In most cities, the Dreyers spent the daytime hours sight-seeing and the evenings in outreach for their business. They set up shop in public spaces, offices, and coffee shops to meet with current students and their families and asked them to bring along friends who might be interested in English classes through Dreyer Coaching.
They also took the opportunity to present themselves to members of the education community in each location—to college deans and high school teachers to promote their business.
While traveling, Scott continued his “Friendly Free Friday” classes, this time taught on location. One was in an ice cream shop taught remotely via his cell phone.
They did choose one location almost entirely because of its scenic beauty. Deborah had longed to visit Guilin in Mainland China for many years. This time they decided to put it on their itinerary.
Dreyer describes Guilin as an “iconic and magical place in Southwest China with the almost-mythical Karst peaks that jut out of the earth like huge dragon teeth.” Karst is terrain formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks, limestone in this case.
The peaks extend for almost 70 miles around Guilin and along the Li River with homes nestled on the flatland in between–a major draw for foreign tourists.
They spent three days in the booming metropolis of Shenzhen near Hong Kong, along the Pearl River Delta. In 1980 the city was a fishing village with a population of about 30,000. Today it is home to 12 million. Shenzhen was established as China’s first “special economic zone,” an area where capitalism is permitted, even promoted, by the Chinese government. Many of the products sold in the United States labeled “Made in China” are produced in this robust manufacturing area near the coast of Southeast China.
The Dreyers also traveled to Nanjing, the ancient city of culture and learning, located on the Yangtze River in Southeast China—several times the capital of China.
The last days of their journey before heading home on June 15 were spent in Hohhot, the capital of remote Inner Mongolia, and Beijing, the present capital of China, site of the Forbidden City made famous during scenes of China’s Cultural Revolution.
Dreyer shares an interesting anecdote from their trip. While some are concerned about the perils of foreign travel, he was waiting in an airport terminal for their flight to Mainland China where social media is blocked by the government, taking his last glimpse at Facebook.
He surprisingly came across the news that a woman living in the Cave Spring area of Roanoke had almost been killed when a tree came crashing through her window, barely missing her head, as the result of heavy rains and a landslide.
So much for the dangers of traveling far from home, he noted.
Dreyer Coaching, with six active teachers, currently works with about 60 Chinese students in some 45 classes a week in conversation, reading, and writing.
Classes generally meet twice a week, for 50 minutes each, online—either in small groups arranged by ability level or one-on-one. Most classes are taught in the early morning hours from 6 to 10 a.m. EST, which is evening for Chinese students after their school adjourns for the day.
The Chinese students participate from their homes, which is less stressful and not subject to cancellation due to inclement weather. Dreyer says that Chinese students are under intense pressure to perform as they must pass stringent exams for admittance to secondary schools.
Dreyer Coaching classes are very interactive and start out with small talk; they generally read passages in English and discuss them, starting with the instructor and then the students taking turns. He says that a significant facet of teaching is building relationships and that is much more difficult to accomplish when the teaching is done online so the small talk is helpful.
Dreyer says that competition for students is fierce in the foreign language industry, but the demand is also enormous.
Their typical student comes from a family of some means, open to the world outside of China, who value higher education, and realize the value of speaking English. Competition among students is intense and all are searching for a leg up through coaching. Some of the students want to attend universities in the United States and need well-developed English language skills.