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Teach English to Japanese Learners

teach English to Japanese

What You Should Know When You Teach English to Japanese Learners

Guest Blogger: Ryuichi Sakai

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I’m Ryuichi Sakai, a Japanese learner of English. I made a website to provide useful and practical information for current and prospective English teachers. Written from a Japanese point of view, the website has unique and useful content.

You can see the website here: Teaching English in Japan.

Today I’d like to take the opportunity to write about some topics picked up from my website. The theme is what you should know when you teach English to Japanese learners.


Aren’t Japanese Language Skills Required for English Teachers in Japan?

The answer is no. You don’t have to speak Japanese to become an English teacher in Japan. There are a few reasons for this. First, Japanese people generally have some English education as a part of public education and understand a little English. Second, English schools, employers of English teachers, have ways to teach Japanese learners with no or limited English skills. Some English schools hire Japanese teachers of English to teach entry-level learners so non-Japanese teachers don’t have to teach them. Some schools offer materials to enable non-Japanese teachers to teach without speaking Japanese. Usually English schools in Japan have Japanese staff who speak English and they serve as a bridge between teachers and students. Third, this may sound strange, some English schools in Japan actually prefer teachers who don’t speak Japanese. They think that not knowing Japanese makes teachers look more “foreign” and may therefore attract more customers.

However, Japanese language skills can actually give English teachers an advantage. It’s not easy to teach entry-level students without Japanese language skills and organized support from schools. It’s often difficult for Japanese learners to really express their needs with their native English teachers without speaking Japanese. This type of talk is really important because Japanese learners of English have unique needs and unique goals for learning English and being able to convey these to their teachers can help both the learner and the teacher.

Teachers who speak no or limited Japanese might be better off getting hired by well-organized English schools or choosing to teach learners with intermediate level of English or higher.



Learning English is Much More Difficult for Japanese than Expected

Both English speakers and Japanese people often misunderstand this. The English language and Japanese language have far less similarities than other language pairs. For example, English and French have many similarities, so English speakers have many base points in common when learning French, and vice versa. However, Japanese people take far longer to learn English than, for example, English speakers to learn French. According to one research study, Japanese people who were not so good at English in public education need more than 200 hours of learning time to acquire enough English to travel abroad easily. Average Japanese people with academic education need 600 hours of additional learning to acquire English useful in their business.

This fact offers us some remarkable suggestions. First, the success Japanese students with their  English learning is highly influenced by whether they can keep themselves motivated or not. Therefore, motivating students is a very important task when you teach English to Japanese students. Secondly, Japanese learners don’t only need classroom English, they also need to have everyday learning opportunities. They will greatly appreciate it if teachers give them some suggestions for enhancing their opportunities for everyday learning. This can be reading suggestions, or situations where they can utilize their English skills, or groups and clubs where they can interact with other English learners and/or native English speakers.


Being a Teacher  is a Highly Respected Position in Japan

Japanese people call some types of professional workers “sensei”, which is a Japanese word to address respectable people. Politicians, lawyers, qualified accountants, medical doctors, successful artists, etc. are called sensei, and so are teachers.

This means that Japanese people expect English teachers to be professional and passionate about their job. At least they should behave as if they have a passion and aren’t teaching only for money. Japanese students sometimes ask their teacher why they chose an English teaching job and the teacher often answers that it’s because it’s a quite easy job or because the salary is pretty good. I know they answer honestly but these answers can sound a bit off-putting to Japanese students. Some better  answers are, for example, because they love to teach or because they like to talk with Japanese people, etc.

Additionally, Japanese people expect professional people to be put their health as a priority in order to provide excellent service to their customers/students. Teachers shouldn’t look sleepy, tired or disheveled during lesson time. Also avoiding drinking too much and getting enough sleep on nights before teaching will build a great level of trust and respect with your students.


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The Website Information

Visit Ryuichi’s website for many other topics and valuable information for English teachers.

Teaching English in Japan:

If you have any comments or suggestions about the website, please let me know. You can send a message via the CONTACT US page on the website.

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1 Comment

  1. 月乃 on October 21, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Best advice read since ten years of living in Japan.

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