English in Japan is everywhere but at the same time it’s not. In many cases it exists in varying degrees of correctness as decoration on T-shirts and so on, or the “OPEN” and “CLOSE” signs on the stores. From this you can begin to see that there is a real need for Japanese to seek help learning English. But on the train, in a coffee shop or when you just listen to people passing on the street, it won’t be long before you hear someone say “Eigo” ｛英語｝ in the middle of his/her conversation. Many Japanese, not everyone mind you, have in the back of their minds at all times the concern that they need to or should finally learn to really use English. Usually they are referring to their need or desire to learn English conversation. You see, in Japan English conversation is separate from English as it is mainly taught in secondary schools. However, young people want to learn conversation so as to improve their chances of making foreign friends, getting a job or for use when they travel. Company employees often need it for their work and older people what to keep polishing their English as a hobby or for general mental exercise. Whatever the reason, there is truly an enormous demand for English coaching. It is so large that people have been known to lay out $7,000 to $10,000 or more at one time to sign up for a year or more of lessons.
So what is particular about the English in Japan? Imagine that you have been forced to study a language for 6 years without really being challenged to acquire the ability to speak it or pronounce it correctly. You have a quite a bit of vocabulary knowledge and knowledge of English grammar but the most delicious and useful part of English has been withheld from you in favor of preparing you to take a college entrance examination which requires the ability to translate, fill in the blanks with the correct gerund or infinitive forms etc. and to apply arcane grammatic rules that most native speakers have never heard of or don’t care to even know. So when you finish high school you will either fall into the group who now completely hates English or the other group who is really interested to finally become able to speak and use it. Members of the latter group most likely have already taken steps to acquire speaking ability by attending some private English conversation schools prior to finishing high school. All of these students are potential students for a private school, but the latter group will most likely join a school and make great progress. Many of the first group have become completely disenchanted with the study of English due, in many cases, to the unnatural separation of written English from spoken English at most secondary schools. This is truly sad but still some of that disenchanted group will take the plunge and may well come to enjoy learning and speaking English also. That will, in many cases depend on their English coach.
So as an English teacher in Japan, you will meet and have a chance to teach all kinds of students with all kinds of goals, preconceptions, concerns, desires and, in some cases, a deep fear of English. This situation surely provides a truly exciting opportunity for you to apply your knowledge and skills to teach each student in a way that will bring out their highest potential to use all parts of English. I really cannot think of a better place to teach English than Japan. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a challenge and will work hard to provide great coaching to his/her students. It is really great fun and very rewarding everyday.
Your mentioning of T-shirts reminds me of some pretty ‘aggressive’ ones that I’ve had the pleasure (?) of seeing a couple of times on the train. I’ve asked a couple of people if they actually understood what was printed on their clothing. They all answered, “No”. Not only are a lot of the English phrases, advertisements, commercials, and newspapers floating around Japan that are filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, but many of them don’t make any sense or would be considered offensive to an English speaker. It’s such a shame because most Japanese people honestly want to learn how to use English correctly, especially spoken English, but only have rigid textbook lessons to base their comprehension on.
Eikaiwa schools give the Japanese people an opportunity to correctly learn the English language with an actual native English speaker, which is what is generally preferred. This also gives the students the chance to learn about different cultures, countries, and accents. And, as English teachers, we also get to learn more about Japan and the Japanese culture through the students who are only too eager to share their ideas and opinions with us.
It’s great to read about someone enjoying their work so much. I’m sure your students appreciate it too!
Nevermind the financial advantages of teaching English here, I think what has brought me the most happiness is forming good relationships with all my students and having genuine cultural exchanges with them. I can’t put a price on what they have taught me about Japan and Japanese culture.
The role of a teacher/coach/instructor/tutor is a many and varied one. It’s very true that students and pupils of any subject come with their own ‘baggage’ and many of them require the gentle coaching that only a skilled teacher can offer. I know that for many of us the idea of taking up a maths class or a algebra classa again would strike fear into the hearts of most adults. But the ablilty of the coach to be able to allay the students’ fears and to put them at ease is the sign of a really capable teacher. But thankfully the most difficult part of this process is already over by the time they walk into the classroom, that being plucking up the courage to actually take the plunge and come to the school.
As for the T- shirts, I’ve been here 15 years and I haven’t seen any improvement in them……now there’s a niche market, English T – Shirt consultant!