Thinking about teaching English in another country? If you can, you should absolutely DO IT. It is not only one of the most rewarding life experiences, but it is also one of the more practical and manageable ways to earn an income somewhere foreign. I had the chance to teach English in Japan and it was such an unforgettable time in my life. It wasn’t just about essentially getting paid to travel (although that was great). It gave me the opportunity to discover so much about the Japan, Japanese culture, and even myself in a way that no trip or study abroad program would. So get excited about taking your first steps towards an adventure of a lifetime with some of my best tips for teaching English in Japan.
10 Tips for Teaching English in Japan
Not fluent in Japanese? That’s ok!
One of the first tips for teaching English in Japan I like to give is that you don’t need to be fluent in Japanese to do so. When I went, I had studied the language for a few years. But my co-teacher had never even been to Japan. And she not only did fine, she did amazing. Our classrooms were English immersion, so we were not allowed to speak any Japanese to our students. And Japan is an incredibly friendly and safe place. If you do the work of learning some phrases and you approach people and places with respect (remember, you’re a guest, even if you’re living there temporarily), you’ll do just fine!
Meet the requirements
One of the great things about teaching English in Japan is that unlike some other countries, you don’t need a master’s degree in teaching or even a TEFL certificate to become a teacher. While it can’t hurt to take a TEFL course to level up your teachings, especially if you have no prior experience, it’s not required. If you are a native English speaker with a bachelor’s degree in any subject, you’re good to go on teaching English in Japan.
Kids or adults?
When it comes to my tips for teaching English in Japan, this is definitely one I talk about a lot. Yes, you have a choice between teaching kids or adults, depending on where you teach. Both options have pros and cons. Teaching kids is fun and rewarding and you won’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the difference between further and farther.
But it’s also something that requires a lot of energy. And you’ll probably get sick a lot (because, you know, kids). If you’ve never taught children before – day in and day out – see if you can volunteer somewhere to try it out and make sure it’s the right experience for you.
Adults, on the other hand, are paying for a lesson and they want it. When you are teaching English in Japan to adults you need to come prepared and to work with them to make sense of this really wacky language. On the flip side, though, they’re paying for a lesson so you won’t have to convince them to pay attention! I did both and while I loved my kids, I ultimately found that I was better at teaching adults.
Choose your program
Finding a job teaching English in Japan is easy. There are so many wonderful programs for English teachers. It’s really up to you to decide what experience you’re looking for!
The most famous one is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or Jet Program. Jet is run in conjunction with local government and places you as an assistant language teacher at a public school. Most of the public schools in Japan are located outside of major metropolitan areas, so you won’t get the full big city experience, but if you’re looking for some cultural immersion while teaching English in Japan, being in the country is the way to go!
Another bonus is that you usually have a lot of time off and down time. Because Jet is so popular and the spaces are limited, it is a competitive program that can be harder to get into.
The other most popular option for teaching English in Japan is to work for a private school or Eikaiwa. These English schools like Aeon or Nova offer English classes throughout the day and unlike Jet, you’ll have your own classroom where you are the head teacher. But also unlike Jet, this will generally be a full time teaching position where you will not have as much freedom.
However, you are more likely to be placed in a city if you request it when you apply. And because there are so many programs and so many schools, it is much less competitive to get a job teaching English in Japan.
But here’s one of my best tips for teaching English in Japan that not a lot of people talk about: there is a third option. It’s something often referred to by English teachers as a “rogue school.” These are English schools that are not part of government or a big corporation. These are often a fantastic option, with more flexibility and a better work environment overall.
One of the biggest problems is that they generally are not in a position to help you get a work visa. So most often, people will come to Japan through Jet or one of the larger Eikaiwas, get their visa, get their training and some teaching experience, get settled, and then when their contract is up, move to a rogue school.
Keep the Classroom Engaged
Ok, you’ve made it to Japan! Now what? Let’s talk about some of the nitty gritty, and the best tips for teaching English in Japan. If you’re in an English speaking country and have experience teaching English as a second language there, you can throw out that experience because it’s just different. You’re working with students who are likely getting 30 minutes of English in their life a week. This is extracurricular for them. So you’ve got to make those 30 minutes count and keep everyone engaged.
As you’re preparing your lesson plans, think about ways to turn something boring, like conjugation, into something fun. The dollar store (Daiso) is a great place to get silly things you can use to spice things up. For instance, students young and old love to mess with their teacher, so one week why not bring in some squishy balls that they can toss at you each time they get an answer right. Or think about how you can use a common game, like Go Fish, to practice numbers, conversation (“Do you have”), or change it up by making your own Go Fish cards with different phrases or words!
Keep the Students Motivated
My co-teacher and I literally started saying, “IGMFLIE” to each other. It was short for “I’m glad my first language is English” because, damn, this language is tough. We got so many questions we couldn’t answer. It was just “because.” We’d sit together during breaks or after work, Googling things and not even understanding the answers. As a teacher, you need to keep people coming back to a language that can be so demotivating.
One of the best ways to do this, and one of my important tips for teaching English in Japan, is to make sure they get an easy win. Something they can talk about when they come home. For instance, I used to love adding something cultural to each lesson. One week I taught all my students that it’s common to say “Bless you” after someone sneezes. I told them next week, I would sneeze during class and the person who remembered to say bless you would get a treat. I did a lot of fake sneezing that week and it was pretty hilarious!
You can also end each class with something you know they’ve got down pat. Let them walk away feeling good because they knocked something out of the park. Remind them how well they’ve done and how far they’ve come!
Use Relatable Objects / Character
This can be an easy one to miss, but when it comes to tips for teaching English in Japan, it’s also a must. An important way to help people learn something new is by giving them something they know to associate it with. While you can, and should, make your culture a part of your lesson plan, you also want to make sure that you’re giving them something relatable. Make an effort to incorporate Japanese culture in to your lesson plan as well.
Use cartoon characters, holidays, foods, events, etc. that are Japanese. This will get easier with time as you, yourself, get more immersed in the culture, but it will always be easy to slip into using things from your part of the world, so pay attention.
Make Time For Speaking Time
There’s nowhere on the planet where students won’t look away when they think the teacher is going to call on them. If students from age 0-100 had their way, they would stay silent. But if you want to help your students succeed, you need to push through that. Use the tips above and make it your mission to find creative ways to engage and motivate your students to talk. You’re the one who makes the classroom a safe space for the terrifying experience of speaking in a foreign language. So approach it with positivity and a spirit of fun!
START EXPLORING RIGHT AWAY
This might not sound like it belongs in tips for teaching English in Japan – but trust me, it is. When I moved to Japan, I’d been there before, I had friends in the country, and I could communicate. And I still got homesick pretty quickly. It took a toll on me and on my ability to teach. The thing is, it’s hard being in a new place. Especially one that is foreign. It wasn’t until my discomfort pushed me to start exploring that the magic happened.
When I made an effort to learn about my city, to go into places even if it meant getting lost or making mistakes, to try new foods even if I couldn’t read what was on the menu (I got really good at asking for “Your recommendation, please”), that’s when everything changed. I started having fun, making friends, and having amazing experiences.
I hope these tips for teaching English in Japan will help you get started on your journey. The only regret you’ll ever have is not going, so don’t wait any longer. Ganbare!
Have any tips for teaching English in Japan? Drop them in the comments below!
Founder of Girls Who Travel. Penchant for travel, yoga, writing, marketing, high heels and words like penchant.