the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting a job and having a life in Japan

I just finished writing my umpteenth email to some one about "how to get
a job in Japan" and "live in Japan". I'm tired of writing it over and
over again, so here is an excerpt from my most recent email. If anyone
asks me again, I'll copy and paste this to you with a few modifications
for your situation.

Recent email starts here:

There are two basic kinds of English jobs in Japan.


I'm sure you've heard of these. They're small businesses or big chain
stores that specialize in teaching people conversational English. Their
main clients are housewives, 20 somethings looking for purpose, students
who want extra English, and small children whose parents are trying to
give them a head start.

Classes are usually small - under 10 people. Hours are usually
afternoons and evenings Tuesday to Saturday.


ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher. In the public system, ALTs
usually work at multiple schools and are a kind of cultural resource for
homeroom teachers. They don't do much planning, they help the teacher.

Applications for public ALTs:

The application process tends to hire young "internationally minded"
college graduates with no experience in actually teaching. So large city
governments hire head hunters. If you want to work in a large city like
Osaka or Tokyo, try an ALT recruiting agency like


You could also try smaller, more personal websites like: or

As for my major in college I was a computer science major with a
journalism minor. It wasn't quite related to English teaching.

About needing a certification, it's true that you don't NEED it, but
even now I think about going back to get one. In fact that's probably
what I'll do when I'm done here. On the other hand, I've met people here
who were education majors with about 3 different ESL-type
certifications, and they still say they don't feel prepared to enter a
classroom. In short, a certification defiantly doesn't hurt, but don't
expect it to be a magic ticket either. You could teach and then get a
certificate, or vice versa.

About learning Japanese, I was never required to learn Japanese. But I
live outside the major metropolitan areas, and I believe it's made my
life in the office and outside school much easier. There are people who
live here for years without being able to speak at all, but I don't know
how they stay sane.

If you're going to be living in a major city like Tokyo or Osaka, many
people do speak English - both at work and at large. And I think it's
possible to "get by" without speaking Japanese. But I still wouldn't
advise it. It says "I don't care about you or your country".

You can learn Japanese as you go, but working full-time and studying at
the same time is hard. However, if you think you can just sit and learn
Japanese from the people speaking around you, I don't think that's true
either. You can learn some words like that, but the people I see who
learn that way end up just shouting words (not sentences) at people
years later. To be able to express yourself you need to study and then
use that new knowledge in daily conversation with real people. And of
course, I learned most of my Japanese after I moved here.

Anymore questions? mail me or write a comment.

Good luck!


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