Has anyone here ever taught English in Japan?

I’ve been interested in teaching conversational English in Japan, and after talking to my buddy’s brother who is stationed with the Army over there, my interest has become even stronger.

He said that you don’t need to know Japanese to teach over there, and finding a job is relatively easy. I was also under the impression that you need at least a Bachelor’s degree to get hired, be he said this isn’t the case.

So, has any non-Japanese doper ever taught English over there? If so, I’ve got a few questions:

[li]How do I get in contact with someone for information on how to do this?[/li][li]Do I need a Bachelor’s degree?[/li][li]How hard is it to actually get a job?[/li][li]Did you enjoy it?[/li][/ul]
I think those are all my questions for now. Thanks for any assistance.


I taught there for 7 years or so. The language isn’t really a problem within the bigger cities - you’ll soon pick up enough to get by, and all the trains are signed in English - but it can be an issue out in the sticks. OTOH, if you want to get fluent fast, working in some village where no-one speaks your language is best. Tough, but best.

Finding a job is relatively easy in the big cities - there’s a fairly high turnover, and the bigger companies {Nova, ECC, Berlitz} are always recruiting: they run regular ads in the English language newpapers, or in the local gaijin magazines. They’ll also sponsor you for a work visa, which you’ll need if you don’t want to work under the table: a work visa is invaluable, since a lot of people sign on with the big companies, work for a couple of months or a year or so, then move on to smaller schools or high school teaching.

However, you will need the minimum of a bachelor’s degree to get visa sponsorship - it’s a government regulation to keep out the riff-raff. The only alternative is to sponsor yourself, which is possible but a huge pain in the arse: you’ll need to prove you have an income of at least 250,000 yen per month, which means getting enough jobs to cover that - often hard, if you’re unqualified or inexperienced - getting income declarations from your employers, and then doing the paperwork yourself. The advantage of getting sponsorship is that they’ll do the paperwork for you.

If you’re from NZ, Australia or Canada {and some other places I forget - Ireland?}, there’s a 6 month {extendable to a year} working holiday visa, which doesn’t require a degree, but I guess that’s not an option for you.

The bigger companies will also set you up with accommodation, which is a big bonus. I worked for Nova, who recruited me here in NZ - they recruit in Japan, but also have overseas offices: the American one is in Boston, although there were plans to open one on the West Coast. It’s a huge advantage being recruited where you are, since they’ll arrange everything before you even step on the plane: you even get met at the airport!

You can just turn up there off your own bat, find accommodation and present yourself at one of the company offices, of course - Lonely Planet and similar guides give all the addresses you’ll need, and there are a few guides to finding a job in Japan out there - but if you can find someone to do it for you, why not?

Enjoyable? Definitely. I stayed a little longer than I planned, but the life is a lot easier than you’re led to expect - the stereotype of crowded trains and miniscule apartments only holds true in the centre of the big cities - I lived in a shoebox in the middle of Osaka for 18 months or so until I’d exhausted the bar scene, then moved to a larger and cheaper apartment in a nice suburb - and it was still only 30 minutes from Osaka by train. You’ll meet some cool people {and a few dickheads}, have some fun, and drink a lot: I even got a wife and son out of the deal!

I hope that’s helpful: lemme check my archives and do some Googling, and I’ll see if I can come up with some contact addresses and numbers for you.

OK, this site is good: an overview of teaching in Asia, but scroll down and there are some good contact addresses both in the States and in Japan, for Nova and some of the other major companies. Nova’s by far the biggest player, though: they have schools everywhere in Japan.

They also have a lot of info about the JET programme, which I’d forgotten about: that might well be worth looking into. Oh, amd cultural visas: wanna study ikebana?

Here’s the official Nova site: yep, they are in SF now. I’d recommend them as your first port of call just because I know that they recruit in the US and that they’ll take care of visas, accommodation and all the troublesome details.

I did for a few years (it’s too bad lamia and jovan aren’t members anymore, as they’ve done it as well), and what Case Sensitive says is correct. You need a bachelor’s for the visa (you could also get in by marrying a Japanese citizen, but that’s another story), but it’s easy to find a job without any further certifications or degrees.

I disagree with CS about recommending Nova, however. Although they are relatively easy to get work with and they recruit directly in the US, the main reason they do so is because almost nobody who’s already in Japan will work with them. They (along with Gaba, ECC, and Aeon, the major chain schools) have reputations for being obnoxiously petty and having little or no respect for their employees (not much for their students, either, based on what I’ve read in the news). If you do go with them, view it as a McJob that will put money in your pocket while you’re getting your bearings, and then look for a better school (there are lots, but they usually only hire locally).

Whether you enjoy it or not will depend on a lot of things. My first school wasn’t great (it was a tiny school, but like Nova, they hired me directly from overseas because they had burned all their bridges with the local gaijins) but the students were fun (mostly adults in company and military classes). I went back to teaching for a year a few years ago when I was between jobs and this time found a place that I really got along with, and I had a good time doing it.

Could you share some more information about the curriculum? How do you teach a language wthout being fluent in both? I am very, very, very nervous about the language barrier. I know no Japanese and Chinese beyond a few movie stars, martial arts, foods and y’know, Godzilla.

Oh, I’m not really recommending them as an employer - and I speak as one who used to manage a couple of schools for them, and train new teachers - they’re not bad employers in that you’ll get paid on time and they’ll fulfill their end of your contract {smaller schools can be iffy depending on who runs them, so shop around} - but yeah, the bottom line is everything: how to get more work out of less time - increasing class sizes, standardising teaching methods, cutting preparation time… It’s fine if you just want to sit back and take the money, but frustrating for those who care about teaching.

The sad thing was that a lot of really good teachers who actually wanted to teach were stifled, and the students, who were increasingly being viewed as mere customers, were the ones who missed out. It changed a lot over the years I was there, and not for the better. There were a lot of people who wanted to make a difference, as it were, but the company moved in the opposite direction.

I agree with what Sublight says about using them as a jumping off point, though: as they’ll arrange visas, accommodation and take care of the heavy lifting, they’re good for getting you started - you can then take a few months to stack up a few yen, and then find your own place and strike off on your own. A lot of people I knew went to work for high schools, which are administered and hire through the local City Office - better money, shorter hours, longer holidays, plenty of prep time, and no company pressure to rack 'em, pack 'em and stack 'em.

If you do decide to go, though, you’ll build up contacts and ideas pretty fast: the gaijin grapevine is pretty good, and you’ll meet a lot of people whose ideas yu can tap into. I’d say go for it.

Here in Korea, they don’t WANT you to speak Korean if you are an ESL teacher. It’s been difficult for me to find a place that offers equal pay to Koreans and foreigners alike. They think that for some reason, if you can speak Korean, it automatically means that your English is sub-par. Plus the parents want their kids to be taught by the pale-skinned barbarians from the West. (Heh) I’m imagining it would be similar in Japan.

A lot of parents send their kids to ESL schools because it’s cheaper than sending them abroad. So they love it when the institutions assure them that the children will be immersed in an environment similar to one they would experience abroad. Which would include teachers who don’t speak their language. Japan might be different, but again, I imagine it’s about the same deal. Just my 2 cents.

Askia might run into a bit of trouble with the “pale skinned barbarian” part :wink:

Awesome advice, guys. I’m still working on my Bachelor’s (I got a very late start – 26 years old and only 25 out of 60 credits for my transfer degree :frowning: ), but as soon as that’s done, I think I’m going to follow exactly what you all said. I looked at the JET Programme website and it looks very promising indeed. Can I email you, Case Sensitive and Sublight, in the future as this unfolds?

Thanks again.


My sister did that for about 5 years. She not only taught school aged children and adults, but had some translating jobs for companies for instruction sheets, papers, advertising slogans, etc. I recall that she had to move from place to place every day -sometimes several places in one day-, as opposed to having people come to her or having just one school or place that she went to. She was gone for very long hours every day, much of it spent traveling from place to place. I don’t know if that is the norm or if she was just unfortunate to have to go to so many different places or if she was just a particularly hard worker (she is like that). She told me that she was frequently hired before other English speakers because she was a native speaker (and opposed to, say, a European educated Indian).

I went to visit her for 3 weeks at the end of her stint, and had a fabulous time. She would take me somewhere in the morning, drop me off, and tell me “Find your way home and bring dinner!” I found the people exceedingly friendly and helpful, especially since I knew no Japanese and had little difficulty finding my way back home.

Strangers, either singly or in groups, would come up behind me and say “American” or “English”. Because it would have been a while since I heard my language, I would automatically turn and then find myself roped into an English conversation practice! It was fun and interesting.

The only problem I ever had there was some strange Iranian guy who approached me in an outdoor market and then followed me around trying to get me to come to his apartment and meet his friends. He wouldn’t leave me alone and I had to cause a scene to get him to go away becuae he kept touching me and trying to pull me somewhere. I had the idea that he had seen alot of American movies where boy-meets-girl and they go home and sleep together and that he thought, “Hey, an American! Nookie!”, but I could be wrong about that.

Glad to help - my e-mail’s in my profile.

Askia, the curriculum depends on the school. Most of the larger private ones have relatively small class sizes, and set curricula from standard texts: it’s not like you’d be standing up in front of 30 people and improvising - although I have done that :slight_smile: .

Students are also generally sorted by ability, from absolute beginners to the very advanced, so you don’t generally get a huge disparity of ability within a class. Absolute beginners are fairly rare, since everyone studies English in school - the trouble is that the emphasis is almost solely on written grammar, so you can get people who are fine on paper, but barely able to introduce themselves.

Smaller schools are generally more flexible in what they teach, whereas the larger ones are more rigidly structured in using their set text. That can be a double-edged sword: the freedom to create your own lesson plans is great, but some of the smaller schools are just conversation lounges, where students just want to hear you chat. it can be fun for a while, but it gets stale pretty fast.

As far as not speaking the same language as students, I never found it a problem. Different schools vary in their approach - ECC combines native English instructors with bilingual Japanese teachers, whereas Nova was English immersion, which in my opinion is the best way to learn, since there’s only English spoken in the classroom. As I said, though, you aren’t required to speak Japanese, they’re required to learn English: for the relatively rare total beginners - often older students - they often take one-on-one classes, and go low and slow.

As for being a pale-skinned barbarian, as a dark-skinned barbarian you’ll be beating the women off with sticks: the “well-hung black stud” stereotype still holds true in Japan. Luckily for you. :smiley:

I believe the word you are looking for is Engrish.

It’s pretty well-ingrained in the states, too! Alas, I’m built like Manny Yaraborough, albiet much shorter, and without inducing the fear of falling on you or eating you alive.

I did some teaching under the table when I was an exchange student, lo these many years ago. I worked with advanced grade school and high school students at a woman’s home, and also at a regular commercial school with adults. In my case, they didn’t care if I spoke Japanese at all, they only wanted me to help them improve their pronunciation. It helps if you have a good ear and (at least this worked for me) could imitate them back to themselves and then say it “correctly” to help them hear the difference. It also helps if you don’t mind having the students watch your mouth very carefully to see how you are pronouncing words that are difficult for them.

*I put the word “correctly” in quotes, because of regional and national differences in pronunciation. Nothing was more fun in the adult school than following some Brit or Aussie that the class had last month with my bland west-coast accent.

Sure thing, my email’s also in my profile. Be sure to put ‘SDMB’ in the subject line so I don’t miss it.

I’m sorry, I really meant to respond to your earlier thread about teaching overseas, but I got sidetracked along the way (why won’t my co-workers just accept that I’m doing important stuff here?)

In the classroom, the language barrier just isn’t that big a deal, unless you’re working with really low-level students. Most students will have plenty of grammar and structure rules under their belts and are there because they want to learn ‘real-world’ usage. It can help when trying to explain points of grammar (how do you explain the subjunctive voice through hand gestures?), but most of the time it’s more important that your English is clear and consistent.

In Japan, I haven’t encountered what HazelNutCoffee described about better local language skills actually being a negative. While a number of conversation schools do forbid using anything but English in the classroom, the school staff may not speak English all that well, so being able to speak Japanese/Korean when you call in sick or discuss office matters is a big plus in their eyes (and never underestimate the power of being popular with the receptionists and accountants!).

Creating lesson plans can be a problem, but it depends more on the school than your language skill. The first school I worked for had no structure and left everyone to sink or swim on their own (seriously. I arrived on a Sunday night, on Monday afternoon they drove me to a factory out in the middle of nowhere, said “the class is 90 minutes, the students will be here shortly” and then ditched me. No textbook, no orientation, no idea where I was, and jet-lagged out of my skull) Coming up with a lesson was something I really lost sleep over for the first half-year or so until I had finally cobbled together a workable series that the students (mostly teens and adults) enjoyed. The school I worked at later was completely different: they had produced their own series of (good-quality) textbooks that the lessons were based around, so I always knew in advance what I’d be focusing on. Much, much easier for me, and the students were better able to prepare on their own.

Yeah, being a native speaker - ie. English, Canadian, Australian, American or a New Zealander - is pretty much a prerequisite: unfortunately, a lot of the high school teaching is a joke, since many of the {Japanese} teachers don’t even approach fluency - my Japanese is better than the English of the some of the high school teachers I’ve taught, and my Japanese is somewhat flawed.

It sounds like your sister was travelling a lot because she was holding down a few jobs, which isn’t uncommon: if you can land a few well-paying gigs, it offers more variety - and often better money - than teaching fulltime in one place. Company classes can be quite good earners: there are schools which specialise in placing teachers with companies for on-site lessons - English {and, increasingly, Chinese} is become very a very sought after qualification for companies with business overseas.

The downside can be lots of time spent on trains - but one advantage I neglected to mention is that it’s customary in Japan for your employer to pay for your transport. Yep, they’ll pay for your monthly train fare to work. Things like that, coupled with the lack of need to own or run a car and the low tax rate, is where the money you earn starts to really stack up well - although, of course, it depends on the exchange rate.

Sooner or later you’ll run into some dodgy old bugger in a bar who’ll wax nostalgic about the halcyon days of the 80’s when you could earn 10,000 yen an hour for doing nothing, the yen was higher, the dollar was lower and the women were easier. The money’s a strong factor, of course: during the years I was there there was a noticeable drop-off in the number of Americans and Brits as the yen weakened and the pound and dollar strengthened. Lots of Aussies and Kiwis there now.

Ack. :smack: Don’t know why I made such a ridiculous assumption. Sorry, didn’t mean to offend.

He’s a guy, too. Or so he claims.