Teaching English in Japan in Order to Master Japanese — 51 Comments

  1. Ack, I was kinda worried about the 4 year uni degree part..

    I was interested in teaching as a window into translating (I’m 24 and don’t have a degree) since it seemed to have entry level stuff.

    Am I totally screwed(as I am)? I was thinking of taking a TEFL course, and for that they have had people head off to Japan to teach. Not sure if that holds the same weight as a degree in Japan, it costs around £713 for the whole thing, so it must be pretty solid. (But this might fall into jobs for non japanese speaking category..the guy on the phone said no knowledge of the language was neccessary)

    I’ll be following your anki steps to try and level up my Japanese anyway, if I can feel proficient in that I don’t think Uni would be such a drag, especially if I could combine it with studying something related to language.

    • Neil,

      I’m sure there are some slight exceptions (and people who work illegally), but for the most part, a degree is required to teach English. Before you spend the money on TEFL, I’d look into the requirement. All teaching jobs say no Japanese is necessary, so that doesn’t really tell you much.

      Age is completely irrelevant, so just because your 24 doesn’t mean anything. I met plenty of people in there 30s and 40s. Going to university would give you time to work on your Japanese while you are studying something else. Especially since you want to go into translation, this is probably the best route.

      Anyway, if you need any other info let me know.

      • hi!
        how about teaching English in the university level. Would that be a good career path in Japan? I have heard that foreigners are always branded as “outsiders,” hence, not receiving the same benefits and privileges and not having chances of getting a tenured position.

        thanks for any advice.

    • Neil you can study an MA for one year. That will satisfy Japanese visa restrictions. It will also let you apply for the JET programme because that’s exactly what I did. I don’t have a BA so I applied for an MA and was accepted. I then passed my MA meaning I only had to study for one year, it also saved me a lot of money. The JET programmed confirmed an MA is ok.

      • You did an MA (i.e. a Master’s degree) in a year without first having a Bachelor’s degree? I didn’t know that was possible, at least the the US pretty much every Master’s program I’ve seen either requires a Bachelor’s degree as an admission requirement or less commonly is a combined program that takes even longer than a Bachelor’s. Do you mind me asking where you studied and what degree?

  2. Hey I definitely agree with you. I’ve had culture shock a couple times but to me they have never been too extreme (moving from an all white neighborhood to very mixed in HS. Then moving from northeast to the south for two years in college). Now that its a different country I know I’ll get the culture shock but I know I won’t react the same as most who don’t know the culture at all. Plus I read a lot of blogs from people who are living in Japan as foreigners. Thanks for this post. It really put me at ease knowing that I won’t be treated like a child since I’ll know some Japanese and will continue to learn and be kickass! ^_^

    • Yana,

      You’re gonna have a great time. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide you some good insight when I get to the actual “teaching English” part of my posts. Best advice I can give now is make sure you keep working hard at your Japanese! And good luck when you get over there.

      By the way, great blog you are working on so far. I expect some exciting posts. I’m providing a link to it in the links section of my blog.

      • Oh wow that’s awesome, thanks. I will definitely update frequently. I put you on my blogroll as well. I’m looking forward to your next posts. (^_^)//

  3. If you are teaching students who are doing more advanced writing, knowing Japanese can often help you to figure out what the hell they were trying to say and correct it easily – without knowing Japanese I would have been completely stumped a lot of the time.

    I think that Japanese is particularly important if you are an ALT – with students of any age, but particularly older students. ALTs are there to help teach english, sure, but a lot of the students are really will want to become your friend. Knowing Japanese means that you can answer lots of questions about you and your country that the students might have, and means that your students are more likely to enjoy your lessons – especially lower level students.

    My favourite thing about being able to speak Japanese is that it means you can joke around with your students, and this definitely helps to get the students who hate English to enjoy your lessons and actively take part. A well timed ツッコミ can make you VERY popular!!

  4. Great post. My school actually recommends we learn Japanese to get a better experience in living in Japan but they enforce the rule NO JAPANESE IN SCHOOL EVER!! But once you step out of the school it is okay. So I’m finally in Japan and for the first couple of days I’ve tried to talk to an older gentleman and it was horrible but it was fun to try. Once training is over I will have more chances to practice. For now training is taking up most of my time. Can’t wait till it’s over actually. Looking forward to the next post.

    • They all say that at first. But give it a little time. Old men are incredibly difficult to understand, so don’t feel bad about that. I’m glad you are enjoying your first few days. Once training is over with your life will be so much easier.

  5. I totally agree with this. While Japanese is my focus, I’ve been learning Mandarin almost just as long (with slower progress). I’m so glad I decided to learn Mandarin, because this year I have a beginner class of Chinese speaking elderly. Their other two English teachers both are fluent in Mandarin. Other non-Chinese speaking teachers have tried teaching them, but have difficulty. I was told, “the beginners are hard to teach.” But to me, it’s fun. And I think it’s because they have more respect for me because I understand their culture, I understand. They have a lot of fun in class. And when their discussing English in Chinese (which happens a lot), I’m not lost and know what they are struggling with. My Chinese is where their Mandarin is, I just have a little more confidence than they do when it comes to speaking.

    A few years ago, I taught an upper-beginner (just joined the intermediate class) student who was Chinese, and it was very difficult because I didn’t know much Chinese. But now, it’s a whole new experience. It’s like having a Chinese class while teaching English.

    But I think with advanced learners, it’s better to not use their native language. It’s a hindrance. I was always frustrated when in Japanese 301, we still spoke in English for most of the class. The following semester, I tried classes at a different school, held almost completely in Japanese. And it went fine. So I think teachers owe it to their students at the advanced level and even intermediate level a class conducted fully in the target language, or at least 80%.

    • Definitely very true that this doesn’t apply to advanced learners. But most learners seem not to be advanced . . .

  6. Because I have always wanted to go to live and work in Japan I have spent a lot of times in forums listening to peoples experiences. 90% of the time it makes me feel like shit. But it’s hard for me to rationalize that it is for the most part just “negativity”, “misconception”, and “misinformation” because I have never been to Japan.

    Being able to read this article though, written by someone who has been there, makes me feel a lot better.

    Thank you for that.

    • Stop reading those sites and work towards whatever you have to do to get to Japan. You’ll have an unforgettable, incredible experience.

  7. I agree with 100% of what you stated . I went to Japan via The JET Program and my experiences line up to what you have detailed. I loved my time there, I did see that I was treated differently and even saw how older Japanese men wanted to treat me because I was different (exotic). Japan is very eye-opening when one gets there but if you are ready to navigate it you can totally dominate and have an excellent time. My language skills grew tremendously and I was able to integrate and be immersed into local Japanese culture/community. The people are beautiful, humble and hilarious. I best prepared for living over there by taking 3 solid years to research the culture.

  8. I’m thinking of coming out to Japan to teach in a few months, and while I entirely agree that speaking the language (or at least making a serious attempt to learn it) is REALLY important to get the most out of living there, I agree with a lot of schools when they say you don’t need to speak Japanese to teach. They’re right. I taught English in Russia for several years, and although I do speak Russian, I only used it in my teaching when I got lazy. I’d start in the morning teaching all in English, which I’m convinced was far better for my students, and by the end of the day would just explain grammar in Russian when they didn’t understand. Not speaking the language makes you use your imagination and actually think about *how * you’re teaching, which is no bad thing!

  9. I half agree with the post. I completely disagree at needing Japanese to get by in the classroom. I always would say that USING Japanese in class is 99% of the time completely unneeded and more of a harm than it is a good thing. Yes, understanding what the kids are saying especially when they are asking you questions is a good thing, but you should almost never need to use Japanese in class. I think the reason why people feel it helps is that they lack the patience to see an “English only” approach pay off.

    As for kids correcting your Japanese: Use. With. Caution. Sure, junior high kids and high school kids can correct you just fine most of the time but elementary students are another matter. Just think about 10 year olds in English, they are full of every day mistakes. Bad past tenses, horrible grammar, weird word usage, etc. As you progress with your Japanese you’ll actually hit a point where you’re correcting the students in their Japanese (usually under 10 year olds). I never take a correction from a student 4th grade or lower as an actual correction.

    Still, obviously the fact that you can communicate with the homeroom teachers means your lessons will be better with some Japanese under your belt.

  10. While I can agree with a lot of the topics and guidelines laid out in this post, I do have to give readers a word of caution: some eikaiwa will either terminate your contract, fail to renew your contract, or make your life hell such that you quit if you try to do anything outside of their ‘teaching method.’

    Not only am I semi-fluent in Japanese, but I also have a degree in Linguistics and did academic research in the language-acquisition arena. However, for most eikaiwa I have encountered, this is nothing more than a detriment to my employability. Obviously, not all companies are like this, but most of the large, nation-wide ones (the big four) are extremely set in their ways and no longer attempt to truly teach English. They are businesses whose sole purpose is to generate income. If the Japanese students learned English and then moved on, the business would lose customers. So, unfortunately, many times, they simply try to trap a customer at their school and ever-so-slightly allow their language-level to increase so they don’t drop out from boredom.

    On a more happy note, I completely agree with being able to use Japanese in extremely beginner classes (esp. since this is EFL and not a native, immersion-based ESL environment) and how that Japanese-ability serves as a comfort to most students (regardless of what the company may or may not think about that). However, I also believe there should be a gradation of language-use such that at the highest levels, only English is used and at the intermediate levels, Japanese is only used absolutely when necessary. From my own language study (and those of my friends), I have found the mixed-language gradation method to be quite effective for learning the language with native-communication ability as the end-goal in mind. However, if the student’s only hope or goal is survival English, the story is completely different and the teaching methods used should be adjusted accordingly.

  11. This is what I needed to read thankyou. I plan on being a linguist and since I need a degree in something I was gonna take Spanish. If I end up being consumed by Spanish during college will I be able to learn Japanese in Japan? Will I have time apart from teaching? That’s the whole reason I want to move there, to learn Japanese. Besides wanting to live there of course.

    • If you want a degree in language and want to live in Japan, why not Japanese? Of course you can learn while you are there and you will have plenty of time outside of teaching.

  12. I have no experience teaching English in Japan but I’d just like to add that I totally agree information posted on the internet is almost always overly critical. People like to moan, but not many people like to share their good experiences.

    • The internet negativity on teaching English in Japan is really a shame, as I’m sure it has discouraged a number of people from going over who normally would have had a great time.

  13. Another point is that in some countries, depending on the course, a uni will hand out the equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in just 3 years.
    Just one of those left to go for me! ^^

  14. You can use free online matching sites like until you find a “real” teaching job… no degree is needed ! :-)

    • Thanks for providing that additional info. I guess the only issue would be the visa, but this could work temporarily such as if you are on a working holiday visa.

  15. Adshap,

    Teaching English in Japan is definatly an ultimate goal for me. I want to teach at a Japanese university rather than to school children, however both is fine.

    Am I right to assume that the 4 year bachelor degree is a requirment only because it is nessessary to get the working visa in Japan?

    As you already know my wife is Japanese, so I am able to get a partner visa. Can I teach English in Japan without the degree?

    Me and my wife are not looking at moving to Japan for about 5 years, and I have a few personal goals I want to achieve before then:

    1) I want to clear N1 or atleast N2 in that time,
    2) I also want to get my CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

    I am currently enrolled to start a Bachelor of Asian studies majoring in Japanese, but due to work comitments I may have ot move to another city which means I may have to cancel it.

    It is becomeing a real pain trying to work full time and do a degree, so If a 4 year degree is also a requirement then my only option may be to do a degree online or something to tick that box, but Id rather not waist time and money if it is not needed.

    Would a degree in something to do with English hold a greater weight in an interview process?

    I am thinking of doing a Bachelor of Arts (Professional Writing and Publishing) as it is offered in Australia completely online.


    • I’m quite a bit out of date with the current English teaching scene, but yeah, a 4 year degree was usually the base requirement to get the proper visa (though there were some exceptions even at that time)

      The “spouse visa” gives you unlimited right to work in Japan, regardless of having a degree or not. It will put you at a bit of a disadvantage not having the degree, especially with the larger teaching establishments. However I’ve definitely heard of people getting jobs on mere spousal visas (without the degree). Especially in the smaller more remote schools.

      Then again, with N1 and higher (especially spoken), and a spouse visa, you obviously aren’t just limited to teaching English. You can do a wide range of jobs that a typical Japanese person could do.

      As for the type of degree giving you an edge, really there isn’t too much difference affecting your ability to get an English teaching job. Though university teaching is different probably (and maybe requires even a masters?)

      The most beneficial degree I’ve heard in Japan for foreigners is computer programming, as if you combine this with fluent Japanese, you have a good in. Though this is unrelated to English teaching.

      Hope some of this helps.

      If some of this info seems outdated, anyone feel free to correct me.

  16. You’re so right about the negativity. I ended up not going when I was offered a job (had my visa and ticket) because of the things I heard and I really regret it now.

    I just hope I’m able to find another job over there and make up the money again to go. I really screwed over my employer and I’m worried if it will affect the visa process in the future. :(

    • There was a time I also got my spouse visa and backed out of going to Japan, because of the big earthquake. I decided to stay in America and get my degree, and I did.

      I hope my visa is still as easy to get as it was the first time (>_<). I probably shouldn't have to worry.

      These were my thoughts exactly. I had originally sought out to teach English when starting my Japanese learning journey, loved my experience teaching ESL in America, but then realized maybe I want a job that's in Japanese and didn't want to just be an ALT either, but run my own class.

      So I got into translation for a while cause I figured I'd get to at least work with the Japanese language all day, not to mention the material I was translating was manga and I love manga, but I ended up really not liking translating and leaving the field. I love Japanese, but I don't love translating it into another language.

      Now I realize, even if I was just an ALT, according to my husband's dad, it's a pretty cushy job. It'd be an opportunity for me to live in Japan and have a comfortable job, and I love teaching ESL anyways and working with kids. I think I would really like it. And I could explore the rest of Japan outside of my job too, even if part of my day is in English. I’d rather have that trade off than be working as a translator.

  17. Adam, great article. Thank you for writing it.

    I’d just like to ask, though, where you would place your skill level in Japanese at at the time of your initial trip to teach English there? I ask because, if all goes as planned, I’m hopefully going to be teaching English there myself in two years time, and I’ve been studying Japanese myself seriously for two solid years already (with many more “scatter-shot” years of studying on top of that).

    Nevertheless, I often feel like a novice, particularly in listening and speaking. I want to become a translator someday, so while getting better at Japanese while working towards that goal is my biggest motivator for teaching in Japan, your post has me wondering how skilled one must be in the language before you would place them under your “knowing the language” category. Obviously I’ll become more proficient once there, but is my constant drive to become better at it going to be an asset in and of itself?

    Anyway, thanks again for the encouraging words. I’m sure you know the highs and lows that come with the constant pursuit of grasping this language, so I’m always going out of my way to help reassure myself that I’m on the right path to achieving my dream. This entry definitely fit that bill.

    • My Japanese was fairly low when I initially headed over to Japan (maybe around level 10-15). I had been studying for about 6 months, with the bad methods I was using at the time.

      But I used this as massive motivation to learn the language as quickly as possible (to enjoy Japan and the job as much as possible). That constant drive to become better is what will make your teaching and Japan life experience even more worthwhile, and you’ll be in a better off position than I was in the beginning.

      You definitely are on the right path, and sound like you are right on target for your dream.

      I have a somewhat big project in the works here on Jalup regarding my English teaching experience in Japan, so hopefully it may be able to provide some additional insight.

      • Thanks again, Adam. Now I feel much better about where I’m at in my personal studies. Looking forward to seeing this upcoming project of yours, too.

        Keep up the good work. It’s definitely appreciated.

  18. What do you think about going to Japan for college instead of staying here in the US, with the goal of becoming an English teacher at a university in Japan?
    If I haven’t gotten my degree yet, could I just go to school in Japan instead of staying here?

    • I don’t know about Japan but I have taught ESL in both South Korea and China. I remember South Korea had some weird rule (they change all the time) that even if you are a native speaker if you didn’t graduate from a university in an English speaking country you couldn’t get a visa to teach. China was more lax on that stuff, but the pay was way lower. (Don’t ask me how I’m qualified to teach ESL, I have a serious problem with commas and run on sentences but I did just fine somehow).

    • Not really sure about the effect it will have, but Kevin brings up a good point that you might want to look into.

      • I looked at a couple job requirement posts, and they just want native English or 10 years of English medium education, plus a bachelor’s degree.

        I decided to save up my money, work on my Japanese, and go to Japan anyway. Once I get a student visa and get over there, I’ll make it work somehow.

        • I’m certainly no where near qualified to be giving career or life advice, but ESL teaching can be the most amazing or the worst experience ever (and sometimes it can be both at the same time). It all boils down to where you end up working and who you work with.

          Another problem I had was when it was time to call it quits and come back to the states, who was going to hire me? I was in Asia for over 4 years, what did I know how to do but teach and get drunk on the weekends? I was darn lucky to have a friend who got me a job in IT. The longer you stay, the harder it is to come back. 1 or 2 years, especially after graduation is no big deal, but longer than that can become a problem.

          I’m certainly not trying to discourage you from your dreams, but I do encourage you to really plan and research and also realize that when you get there it will be completely different from anything you ever expected. (Unless you’ve lived there before and then you can ignore what I just said lol).

          • I was in the military for a while, I’ve lived in a few different places and have job skills to fall back on if it doesn’t work out. :) Thanks for the advice though.

            • Got it. That’s the problem with trying to give advice online, it’s impossible to know someone’s real situation :)

              I’d also like to add that my post above could be viewed as condescending to teachers, what I should have added was when I came back I was not qualified to teach credential or knowledge wise, not to imply that teaching isn’t a worthy career <3

  19. Hi!
    So I am a student close to graduating with a degree in Linguistics. I am planning to certify as a medical interpreter in Spanish, as well as being conversant in Italian. I have also studied over three years of Japanese in school. That said, I’m still not what I’d consider conversant. I understand a lot, but so far the classroom hasn’t been quite enough for me to get speaking the language at a comfortable level.

    I’ve been considering using one of these English teaching programs to live in Japan for a year, and improve my Japanese fluency. Do you have any advice for me? Moreover, do you know how safe it would be for a single woman to participate in these programs?

    • My advice would be way too outdated to be helpful. However, there is a ton of information available these days on the best programs for what you are looking for.

      For your last question, Japan is comparatively a very safe country. Of course it is perfectly safe for a single woman to participate.

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