Here are some questions I get asked frequently, given my experience living and working in Japan, and my candid answers. I am currently living in Tokyo on a contract as a university English professor. I have lived and worked in Japan twice before, in two other different cities and on two different job contracts. My flights, my moving expenses, and a good quality of life have been taken care of each time.
1. I don’t currently speak any Japanese, but would like to learn the language. I realize it is a serious undertaking. So can I move there and teach English without being a Japanese speaker?
Of course it is helpful to know Japanese when you live in Japan. It would be a good idea to start studying. It will make your life a lot easier, and you’ll feel better about yourself if you can interact with the locals in their language. But is it a prerequisite? Definitely not. The majority of English teachers in Japan are not fluent in Japanese. Your students will most likely already know quite a bit of English — enough for you to interact and understand each other. Even if you end up teaching true beginners, you do not need to speak Japanese in order to teach English.
2. I have a MS and a BA in other fields and have been working for several years. What more do I need in terms of qualifications to teach English in Japan? How much of a financial outlay is required to get qualified as an ESL teacher?
Nowadays, having any 4-year degree is generally a prerequisite to land a decent English teaching position. Having a Master’s degree is even better. You would do well to explore positions teaching business English in a private school or perhaps even in a corporation. To make yourself more qualified, I would suggest taking a TESOL, TEFL, DELTA or CELTA course. For a reputable course, this will mean an investment of $2,000 and up. There are other TESOL-related courses, even one online course featured for $99 on the Groupon site, but something like this is not considered enough training since it offers no classroom experience and the material is very “lite.”
Keep in mind that in order to teach at a university you definitely need to have a specialized Master’s or even PhD degree in TESOL, Linguistics, or a similar field. This is a significant investment of time, effort and money. You also need at least 3 years of experience to be considered for a university position in Japan and elsewhere.
If you decide that you are OK with teaching children or teenagers, you’ll have a wider field of opportunities to choose from.
3. I am curious how I get healthcare, and costs?
If you work full-time at a reputable school, you will probably get the national health insurance. The amount depends, but expect to pay the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a month.
4. How much money can I earn?
An average English teacher working full-time will earn around $2,500 – $3,000 /month before deductions. Certainly, it is a a job that you do for the experience and not to get rich. If you decide to stay in the field, gain experience and earn a Masters or PhD in the area, you could potentially earn double that. However, keep in mind that nowadays it is quite competitive to get a decent English teaching job in Japan.
I would recommend asking yourself why you really want to teach English in Japan. Your answer will help you determine the best path to take. If you want to travel Japan, maybe it’s a vacation you’re looking for. If you’re looking to experience living here, then I would advise securing a contract for a job before you come here.
I whole-heartedly recommend taking the leap — just do it for the experience, be open to learning a new culture and language, and don’t look back!
Flickr creative commons photo credit: ~ezs