Anyone who has ever studied Japanese has probably wondered what it would be like to live in Japan. Some will eventually take a few adventurous trips out to Japan in their lifetime. Others will decide they want to try to live and work in Japan for an extended period of time. The easiest entry ticket: teaching English.
There is a wealth of information about teaching English in Japan on the internet. Some very detailed and in depth, some very critical, and some outright ridiculous. I would like you take all of this information and ignore almost all of it.
99% of what you read about teaching English in Japan comes from the perspective of a foreigner who speaks minimal to no Japanese. It’s very important that you understand this. Teaching English in Japan when you don’t know Japanese and teaching English in Japan when you do know Japanese are two entirely different beasts. I will take you through the latter, the experience that I had.
Before I get started, I don’t recommend teaching English in Japan unless you are serious about Japanese. If you are on this site, I’m assuming that you are, so I will continue.
Q: That was not a proper introduction to teaching English in Japan. You do know you haven’t even touched on the subject yet?
I don’t like standard introductions so here are very brief bullet points of the basics:
– Teaching English in Japan is a way to live, study in, and explore Japan for 1+ years, get paid, and have everything set up for you.
– Requirements: 4-year university/college degree in anything (even something completely unrelated like art history), a nice smile with a somewhat pleasing personality, and can hold a conversation.
– Finding the job: See internet. Yes I know I just got over saying ignore everything you find on the internet about it, but you need to at least read through job sites. You’ll find them easy. Ignore all info except how to e-mail an application and resume.
– Interview: Either occurs in person in your home country, or on the telephone
– Money Needed: Enough for a ticket (~$700-1400?), and to keep yourself afloat before you get your first salary (~$1000)
And now you’re in Japan! Wasn’t that easy?
Q: I really just want to check out some reviews and experiences before I decide to go over. Wouldn’t it be okay to do this just a little?
See title of post. The internet is home to these unfortunate things called “negativity”, “misconception”, and “misinformation”. Teaching English in Japan happens to have an extreme concentration of the 3. If you want to ignore me on this, go ahead, but I guarantee it will end with you either 1) not going to Japan or 2) you hating your life. You are warned.
So you’ve finally made it to Japan
Most likely someone will be at the airport to pick you up and take you to your new apartment. Regardless of how awesome your Japanese is, and how much you’ve immersed yourself in the culture from your home, a new country is a new country, and it will take a little bit to get used to. So having an initial guide can be nice. But from here on out, this is where the Japanese speaking English teachers absolutely dominate.
Culture shock minimized
No matter who you are, you will have culture shock when you first move to a new country, with its highs and lows. The good news is that knowing Japanese will minimize the downs, since you’ve immersed yourself in so much Japanese culture already from your home country.
You have a goal
Most English teachers in Japan don’t really have a concrete goal. Yes, they want to explore Japan, meet new people, and experience new things. They usually finish this in the first few months. Then discontent starts to set in about teaching English. They start to question what they are doing in Japan. You have a goal. You’ve been continuing a goal. You want to rock at Japanese and Japanese life. You know why you are in Japan.
Japanese people will treat you differently
Japanese people will treat you differently just because you are a foreigner. However, you will be treated very positively if you speak Japanese. While Japanese people will often throw out a 日本語が上手ですね (your Japanese is great) to any foreigner who speaks a few basic phrases, get past that, and you will be pleasantly surprised . . .
The locals will really want to get to know you and they will welcome you into their world. Most Japanese don’t speak English past the basics, and even those that do, are usually very shy about speaking in English. Without Japanese, while you may be welcomed, it will be a very superficial world that barely touches the surface. With Japanese, you will lose your “foreigner” status that may be putting up some walls, and will be able to build lasting relationships.
Story. 1: On my way walking to work every day, I used to always pass by this 80 year old woman working as a fruit vendor. I think I can tell you everything about her life. I always enjoyed the daily いってらしゃい！(have a great day at work) she would shout out at me.
Story. 2: I ended up befriending the local doctor in my town. He used to charge me only around 20-30% of the actual cost for my visits.
Story 3: Taxi drivers absolutely loved me. It seems they were dying to speak to a foreigner who spoke Japanese so they could unload all the unanswered questions that they couldn’t get answered by other foreigners.
You are experiencing the real Japan
If you don’t speak Japanese, you are really only seeing about 20% of Japan. I’m not talking about the tourist spots, which don’t require language, I’m talking about Japanese life. By not knowing Japanese, you are limiting yourself to certain restaurants, stores, transportation, people, and most importantly, adventure.
You are in control
A complaint that a lot of English teachers have is that they feel they are treated sometimes like children and patronized. What do you expect? You can’t speak the language of the country and will need help for everything you do, from going to the doctor, to figuring out your electric bill, to buying a bicycle. This isn’t an insult to your intelligence, Japanese people are just trying to be helpful because they observe that you can’t do these things by yourself.
You avoid the English hunters
I definitely have nothing against Japanese people who are learning English, and have many friends who are doing so. However, there are many Japanese who will solely try to befriend you to be able to practice their English. At first this doesn’t sound bad, they will hang out with you, take you to places, and it doesn’t require you to know any Japanese. But eventually whenever you hang out, it turns into a mini English lesson.
While there is nothing wrong with being acquainted with some of these people, you don’t want all your friends to be this way. You also want to meet people who can’t speak English or have no interest in English.
You can escape your school
You don’t want to be completely chained to your co-workers, your school, and the English speaking environment, known as the “English Bubble”. You might as well not even be in Japan. You need a life outside of your job environment.
You won’t just “get by”
A lot of people overcome the difficulties of living in Japan, and manage to just get by through their daily activities with their English and minimal Japanese. While they can do this, they never really get used to Japanese life.
Time to teach
You’ve gotten used to your Japanese life. Finally you are ready to teach! Usually you will have some form of training from your school, which ranges anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Then you are ready for your new students. How exactly will knowing Japanese put your experience way above other teachers?
You will be able to use your Japanese at the school and in your lessons
A lot of schools advertise that you don’t need to know any Japanese to work at their school. They even go as far as saying it is actually better if you don’t know any.
Reasons they give:
1. Not knowing Japanese makes you have more of a lost foreigner appeal, which makes you more exotic.
2. You will mix bad Japanese into your English lessons, messing up students’ learning.
3. Students don’t want you to speak any Japanese.
4. It’s better for a teacher not to know or speak any Japanese in teaching.
This is all misguided silliness on their part. Schools say this in the beginning because they don’t know any better. Once they see that Japanese students actually like you using Japanese, schools will change their minds.
You will better meet the individual needs of students
The goal of schools is to meet their students’ needs. Most students at schools are beginner levels. English only is not very effective for beginning level students. You can see this in the fact that some schools separate English levels, and have only Japanese people teach very beginner level students.
Schools seem to ignore this, or are unable to meet the need, but there are many students who really want their teacher to be able to speak Japanese.
You will ease the tension of your students
A lot of students get pressured in lessons because they think they will get stuck, or have a question, and communication will just fall apart. Just you knowing Japanese, even if you don’t have to use it, gives them an assurance in the back of their mind.
Your students are more likely to respect what you have to say
It’s very hard to follow the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. You are teaching students how to learn and speak English, yet you can’t speak any Japanese yourself?
You will prevent mistakes from other students
When a student doesn’t know how to say something in English, he will often ask a classmate in Japanese how to say it in English. This often results in the wrong English being taught to him by a classmate. If you can’t understand the question he was asking in Japanese to his classmate, you often will have no idea that the English he is trying to use is wrong.
Teaching children will become much easier
Most English teachers in Japan teach a large percentage of children classes. Picture teaching a small group of children when you can’t understand a word they are saying. Remember, kids act up, are noisy, talk back, try to get away with things, and will prey on your weaknesses. How can you expect to control a class when you can’t understand them.
You can participate in advertising and sales
The sales staff of a school go on and on about how great a teacher you are to perspective students, yet those students usually never even get a chance to talk to you before signing up for a class. What better way to encourage them to sign up for a class with you than by talking to them directly, and by promoting yourself with your personality and charisma.
The school is likely to trust you more
One of the biggest problems schools face is the high teacher turnover rate. This is usually due to teachers not adjusting to Japanese life or not finding fulfillment out of teaching. A teacher who knows Japanese is more likely to stay in Japan and live a stabler life, and schools are very aware of this.
Your motivation to study Japanese is constantly reinforced
You will want to avoid using mistaken Japanese with students, so you will continually pressure yourself to improve.
Children become your new Japanese teachers
In a post about taking Japanese classes, I said you should pick a teacher who is very critical and will often correct your mistakes. Japanese children love to do this. Not because they are trying to help your Japanese, but because they like making fun of your Japanese every time you make a silly mistake. While this may sound a little humiliating, it is actually a very powerful way to improve your Japanese mistakes.
You will increase the respect of foreigners everywhere in Japan
Many Japanese people still harbor the image that Japanese is too difficult for foreigners to learn. This idea persists because most foreigners they come in contact with in Japan can’t speak Japanese well or at all. You will break this myth one person at a time.
Go and teach!
If you want to master Japanese, teaching English in Japan is one method to do just that, as long as you approach everything right.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.