Teaching English in Nagoya, Japan was a great way to initiate our journey abroad. Because of my husband’s background working in architecture and his interest in Asian design, Japan has always intrigued him. We knew we wanted to live abroad and so we decided to apply for English teaching jobs in Japan.
We taught English with ECC (Education Through Communication for the Community) starting in July 2012. The application process was fairly simple, but knowing more about living and teaching English in Japan would have made our transition easier.
English Teaching Programs in Japan
The most common ways to teach English in Japan are as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in a public elementary, middle, or high school, through eikaiwa (English conversation schools), with business English organizations, and through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program (JET).
Some of the top eikaiwa in Japan are ECC, Aeon, and Berlitz. ECC and Berlitz also have business English divisions. If you have previous experience teaching English and/or a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certification it will be easier to land business English and university English teaching positions.
Business English jobs usually require six months to a year of English teaching experience. Blaine was hired for a position with Phoenix Associates, the business English division of Berlitz, after teaching for ECC for a full school year. Business English teachers often travel to local businesses and typically have a more flexible schedule and higher pay than eikaiwa teachers.
In November 2011 we completed the online application for ECC. We heard back within two weeks and we were invited to interview in late December in Toronto. ECC mentioned they would likely be hosting interviews in Los Angeles or San Francisco in a few months, so we decided to wait for the closer interview. In late January we found out ECC was not interviewing in California until the summer of 2012, so we scheduled an interview in Toronto in March 2012 (and while Toronto is a cool city, it was freezing in March).
About three weeks after our ECC interview we received an email invitation to work for ECC in Nagoya. We accepted right away and were thrilled. The job offer came at the end of March, we finished at our US jobs on June 1, left for Japan Friday, July 13th, and began ECC training 3 days later (while still recovering from our 48 hour journey to Japan).
I highly recommend taking at least one month off before your leave date. There are so many minute details that are easy to mess up (like forgetting to update my passport to my married name) and of course you need lots of time to have farewell dinners and parties with friends and family.
- ECC does not pay for flights or accommodation for the interview or for your move to Japan.
- To be eligible to teach for ECC you must have at least a bachelor’s degree. ECC does not require any teaching certificates.
What do you do?
At ECC we taught kids and adults ages 1 and up. The parents accompany the 1-3 year olds and participate in the lesson (lots of singing and dancing). The kid’s classes last 30min-1hr and regular adult classes have an average of 2-8 students while conversation-based lessons have 1-4 students.
For business English, Blaine traveled to different businesses around Tokyo and taught one on one lessons to business executives at companies like Goldman Sachs.
Pros and Cons of Teaching English in Japan
- Teaching kids classes can be exhausting. Some people love it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
- We worked strange hours. Our normal schedule was 3-9:30pm Tue-Fri and 10am-4pm Sat.
- Japan is expensive
- Good pay for 29.5 hours/week of work
- ECC treats their teachers very well
- 5 weeks paid vacation
- Paid sick time
- A great opportunity to live abroad
- At ECC, you do not have to create lesson plans just prep current lesson plans
- We made enough money to travel throughout Japan
How do you teach English as a foreign language?
At both ECC and Phoenix Associates we taught English through full immersion. Meaning the classes were completely in English. Children were taught through repetition and games and adults had mainly conversation-based lessons.
How much can I expect to earn?
While working for ECC in 2012 we each earned 252,000 yen/month (about $2500/month) for 29.5 hours per week of English teaching.
ECC did not pay for our tickets to Japan, but they did help us arrange housing and answered all our questions promptly.
At Phoenix Associates and the ECC business English department Blaine earned about $40/hour. Business English teachers work 20-30 hours per week on average.
Do I need to speak the local language?
The majority of English teaching jobs in Japan do not require Japanese. At ECC, even the teachers who were fluent in Japanese were not allowed to speak it in the classroom. ECC teaches by full immersion method, meaning the classes are all in English all the time.
Do I need a TEFL certification to teach in Japan?
Many English teaching jobs in Japan do not require a TEFL certificate. ECC did not require a TEFL certificate or any past teaching experience. Instead they have an extensive two-week long paid training for all new teachers.
Will I make friends with other teachers?
At ECC you will quickly and easily make friends with other expat teachers, with Japanese staff and teachers, and some of your students.
What is life like in Japan?
While life abroad can be difficult, Japan is a wonderful culture to experience. The food is delicious (we ate sushi and ramen multiple times a week), the cities are crowded but organized, and the sights are gorgeous. While teaching English we traveled around Japan and eventually moved to Tokyo.
Some of our best Japan experiences are Ohanami (Cherry Blossom viewing festivals) at Okazaki Castle, hiking through Fushimi Inari Shrine (the shrine of a thousand red gates) in Kyoto, and waking up at 3:30am for Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.