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Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

  • 1.  Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 23-06-2017 10:18
    Hello all,

    My son is very interested in teaching English in Japan. He's currently a junior in high school and he's wondering what he would need to do to be able to pursue such a career. I teach ESL to elementary students in the United States, so I really don't know the answers to his questions. Does he have to have a college degree in order to teach English overseas, or is the college degree needed to obtain a working visa? If he has to have a college degree, does it have to be a bachelor's, and should he get it in teaching? Any suggestions you have that I could pass along to him would be helpful.


    Heidi Casper

  • 2.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 24-06-2017 01:41
    Hi Heidi,

    It will all depend on what kind of work your son wants to do, where he wants to work, and how long he plans to do it for.  In general, he will need a college degree, but for many jobs it will not matter what his major is, as long as his mother tongue is English.  There are generally four types of English teaching jobs here:  children's conversational schools, adult conversational businesses, assistant language teaching (ALT) jobs, and higher education.  Whether or not a company sponsors your working visa will depend on how many hours you work for them, and sometimes on how large the company is.  To give you some context, I personally have been living in Japan for over 7 years now, and have worked for 5 years at various English teaching jobs of the latter three types.  I currently teach English at a university in southwest Japan.

    Children's conversational schools are quite common in big cities in Japan.  They usually offer fairly regular work hours and decent pay.  You basically teach mostly vocabulary and very simple grammar to very young children through songs and games.

    Adult conversational businesses have stricter requirements, set curricula, and more demanding working hours, but with better pay.  It definitely is not a job that suits everyone, but for singles who don't mind the work hours (which are inconsistent and vary largely by location), it's a fairly decent job.

    ALT can jobs offer a good balance of schedule and pay.  Work stress varies a lot by company and where you are dispatched to.  The pay tends to be the lowest of the four types in general though, although there are some companies that pay fairly well.

    Higher education jobs of course offer the best pay, and the most freedom if you want to actually teach on your own in a classroom setting.  They also have the strictest requirements, with (as far as I know) all of them requiring at least a Master's degree.

    If your son just wants a short experience abroad, I would suggest applying for the JET Programme.  He would not be able to choose where he is stationed in Japan, but it offers good pay and they provide housing.  If he wants to choose where he goes, there are good choices in any of the other types of jobs as well, however he needs to be very careful about which company he applies to.  There are many cases of companies with legal practices that range from questionable to straight out illegal that take advantage of people who want to get a job in Japan.  Another warning is that it is not easy to make a career out of teaching English here.  Jobs are competitive and many have limited term contracts.  If your son is ok with that, it is a lovely country to live in, and I personally have had mostly great experiences with my jobs here.

    I hope that helps!

    Kyle Kumataka

  • 3.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 24-06-2017 06:08
    Hello, Heidi!
    If your son wants to teach as part of the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) programme, JET Program USA " The Experience of a Lifetime,  he would need to have a Bachelor's degree. This year is the 30th anniversary of this program sponsored by the Japanese government. I participated some years back and highly recommend it. The program places native speakers of English as teaching assistants in public junior high and high schools. Some pre-service and in-service training is provided. Housing may be subsidized and a fairly generous salary is provided. Teaching English in Japan without a college degree is possible but not very lucrative. He would have to teach in privately-run 'conversation schools' which are not always a good experience for the foreign teacher. 

    In order to teach in a Japanese university a Master's Degree or higher is desired. There are Master of Arts degrees in teaching English as a Second Language offered by many schools; some are designed for people who are working abroad, like the School for International Training School for International Training (SIT) Home - SIT Home Page

    I highly recommend that your son first pursue a Bachelor's Degree and get some experience as a volunteer ESL teacher, which can be done in any number of religious or social charitable agencies that serve immigrants. As for the major, Linguistics or Applied Linguistics can be good preparation for teaching a language. I also recommend learning Japanese, as once you leave central urban areas in Japan you really need some skill in the language to live there.  Learning other languages can also help him to gain more understanding of the language learning process. 

    I taught in Japan for 7 years in total, one for the JET programme and six at the university level, when I returned to Japan after doing coursework for my doctorate. I did my doctoral research in Japan and taught there for several years after earning the Ph.D. Feel free to post any more questions that you or your son have.

    Jill Robbins, Ph.D.
    Multimedia ELearning Teacher
    Voice of America Learning English

  • 4.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 24-06-2017 06:55
    I currently teach English in Japan and I have done so for the last ten years. The easiest way to come here to teach is through the JET programme. You can find lots of information on their official webpage. You need to have a university degree to get a visa to teach here. There are other ways to get here and to teach, but they aren't exactly legal. There is no requirement for any specific degree, simply that you have one.

    I would be happy to answer any more specific questions if you son has some.

    Steven MacWhinnie

  • 5.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 24-06-2017 16:24
    there is a program called "The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme" initiated by the Japanese government.

    Please find the URL below. Hope this will help.

    JET P

    Mitch Yamane

    Michihiro Yamane
    Osaka International University/College

  • 6.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 24-06-2017 20:16
    Hello there!

    To what has been said, I would also encourage your son to begin actively exploring the message boards related to teaching in Japan on Dave's ESL Cafe. Of course, you have to put what people say there into context and take some of what is said with a "degree of salt," but the fears long time teachers there have about Japan's shrinking population and increasing competitiveness for university positions (as well as the increasing qualifications Japanese universities are generally looking for these days (published in peer review journals, level of Japanese to at least complete office tasks, etc.)) should give your son a more well-rounded of the teaching situation there at universities, language schools, etc. Of course, university teaching is long term thinking, but in my experience it would do your son well to ask, early on, what kind of commitment he wants to make to teaching abroad. A Celta (the best tesol certificate out there) or MA TESOL could be considerations for him to investigate. I graduated in 4 years from a good college with a BA in English Lit. which did not qualify me for the better teaching jobs out there and then taught with the Peace Corps which again came with no field specific qualifications. If I had to do it all over again, graduating from college as soon as possible (two or three years!) with a state certification that would qualify me to teach in the US (and international schools) and doing a concurrent Celta course would not have been a bad idea. Simply majoring in "something" like English or History or Psychology during college seems like, to me, to be not very forward thinking in hindsight as it qualifies you for little and in terms of education it lets you teach in only the bottom of the barrel positions (such as language schools that take advantage of employees, have long hours, close or don't pay, etc.). I have come to see how much the field of education relies on gatekeeping certifications/qualifications and years of (full time) experience, so essentially if your son wants to commit to it, my opinion is it's better to gain these as soon as possible. This comes from a place of having spent three years committed to the Peace Corps but universities in Saudi Arabia caring little about this because it's not post qualification experience and at least officially it wasn't full time. Job hunting, I then have to wonder if I made the right choices and why I didn't get certified sooner and only stick to full time teaching, etc etc. It all depends on where your son wants to be 5 years from now.

    Jeremy Cahill

  • 7.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 25-06-2017 08:09
    Hi Heidi,

    Good to know someone wants to come to teach English in Japan. We need a lot more enthusiastic teachers. I've been teaching in Tokyo, and around Tokyo, for last 20 years at University levels, so my observation may be a bit biased. I guess it depends on what grade (?) or levels your son wants to teach, and how long. For a starter, he may want to check JET program.  You can check requirements at Eligibility | JET Programme  This could be a good opportunity to give it a try for a year or so to see what it's like to teach in Japan. I would say BA would be advisable, but not necessary. Something about Japanese language/culture or English language education like TESOL would be good. I know some American/British people who have no BA and have been teaching at private language schools in Tokyo, but there are not many choices. To teach as a serious profession, Master's would be good, and Doctors would be ideal, but it's probably almost impossible to think of that for now if he is still in a high school.

    Another thing he could consider is while studying at college in his country, he could come to study at a university in Japan for a while, a couple month, a year or so.  He could try a part-time teaching at a language school or private lessons if he is lucky. If I remember correctly, those who with a student visa are allowed to work up to 28 hours a week.

    One thing I can say for sure, it's always good to learn Japanese language to seek a job in Japan.

    I'm not sure if I'm writing enough that you want to know. Let me know if there is anything more you want to know.


    Michio Tajima
    Associate Professor
    Nihon University

  • 8.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 26-06-2017 19:48

    As a former JET Program Participant (Nagano, 1998-2000), I would weigh in that it was a wonderful experience that has the backing of the Japanese government (you are an actual government employee while working for JET).  Of note, experiences do vary widely based on where you are placed.  There are many resources out there.  Help with housing is provided, but also varies based on placement.  For example, I was in a rural city and paid a minimal amount for a one room, tatami mat apartment in a teacher's apartment complex.  Another friend of mine was in a rural city and paid the same amount, but had an entire  house rented to her that she used.  However, to teach with the JET Program, you must possess a BA.  If you son does not feel language teaching is his "forever career", the JET Program still accepts anyone with a BA that meets their other criteria.  Fellow colleagues had degrees in business, math, science, and other programs, but they were spending the year(s) abroad for the experience and travel.  It would still be wise for your son to gain some experience with teaching and with ELLs.  He could take a few courses in university for electives for foundational pedagogy and (as another colleague noted here) gain experience volunteering at the local level.  Any teaching experience would be beneficial and the more formal the teaching experience the better.

    While I was a JET participant, many friends that were non-JET Participants taught in private programs.  As with anything, teaching for a private corporation should include careful consideration and thoughtful critical inspection of the company just as the company inspects and interviews them. I had some friends that all of their working hours were from 4-10 at night (after school tutoring times), weekends, and holidays.  Other friends had issues with being paid or being paid what they were promised, or securing their visa.  While some colleagues taught for private programs and loved it, I just want your son to be aware as he explores all the options.

    Another option I would mention is that my cousin decided to try EFL teaching in Europe.  She participated in a six week course in Italy (that she paid for) and then stayed to teach there for almost a year.  The course gave her experience and helped place her in a teaching position.  She did already have her BA when she took the course in Italy.   She loved her time and experience there.  It is my understanding (though maybe our large forum could weigh in) that many opportunities for teaching abroad in Europe are set up in this manner (short-term teaching opportunities with a course prior to the teaching).

    I must close with saying that teaching with the JET Program was a life-changing experience for me.  I now teach ELL in public schools as well as train teachers at the graduate level to work with ELLs in public schools.

    All the best to your son as he figures out his path!
    Kind regards,

    Lesley Morgan
    Title III ELL Specialist, Harrison County Schools
    Adjunct Faculty, Marshall University

  • 9.  RE: Info needed about teaching adult ESL in Japan

    Posted 25-06-2017 14:42
    Thank you to everyone for the helpful comments. Your suggestions have given him a lot of paths to investigate. If he has any future questions, I'll be sure to ask here!


    Heidi Casper