Monday, August 26, 2013

Teaching in Japan as a Non-Native English Speaker

There seems to be a myth going around that if you are a foreigner who wants to work in Japan as an English teacher that you must be a native English speaker (English is the your first language). Although that may be true in a country such as South Korea, it couldn’t be more wrong in Japan.

I spent several years working in South Korea in the education sector and in order to get a valid working visa to be a teacher you had to be either from Canada, America, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. You had to have received your university degree from an accredited English university as well. I have met some Canadians who were not able to get a job teaching in Korea because they went to a French language university.

In Japan, the rules aren’t as demanding. I’m not really sure why this is the case. Maybe Japan has been open to foreigners working as teachers for a longer period of time. Maybe officials realize that non-native speakers can teach English just as well if not better than many native English speakers. I really don’t know.

Over the years, people from various countries around the world have been emailing me and asking me if it is possible for them to teach in Japan even though English is not their first language. The answer I give them is “YES.” In my years in Japan I have worked with a large number of teachers from a wide variety of countries. Many of them have not been native English speakers. I have had coworkers who taught English from India, Pakistan, Sweden, Philippines, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Spain, France, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Brazil. Many of them were fine teachers.

Many people around the world have a profound interest in Japan. Some love Japan for the food and language. Others are more interested in the pop culture; things such as manga and anime. Some are attracted to the fashion and cool and fast-paced life in a city like Tokyo. Many are interested and want to come to Japan to work and live. Some of those people see the route of becoming an English teacher as an effective path in getting here.

In order to teach English in Japan and qualify for either an Instructor’s Visa (needed to teach in public schools, colleges and universities) or a Specialist in Humanities and International Relations Visa (needed to teach in private language schools and kindergartens), you need a completed university degree (one or two year diplomas/Associates Degrees don’t count) and a very strong grasp of spoken and written English. If you have those qualifications, there’s nothing stopping your from trying to get a job as a teacher in Japan.

Long story short, if you are not from a native English speaking country, don’t let that stop you from trying to come to Japan if you are really interested.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev


EJ SHUMAK said...

Very well written Kev. I believe this is the best and most concise piece I have seen on the subject. To the point and without shading.

EJ SHUMAK said...

Also it wouldn't let me post/comment from my IPhone -- perhaps Google doesn't particularly care for Apple :--))

Rurousha said...

It has been argued, in rather serious academic articles, that a fluent (NB fluent) second-language speaker can teach the language better than a native speaker: L2 speakers went through the process themselves, and have a better understanding of challenges that would never occur to native speakers, who tend to speak on auto-pilot.

PS: Interesting that South Africa is on the list. English is an official language in SA, yes, but we have ten others! I've been working, writing and teaching in English for a very long time, but it's not my mother tongue.

Jasmine T. Blossom said...

Not entirely true.

I'm one of those non-native speakers who teaches English in Japan. I'm German.
While it's true that non-native speakers can find a teaching job, it's a different story for the work visa.

I also had a lot of problems changing my status of visa (from "Working Holiday" to "Specialist in Humanities").
At first my application was rejected and it looked like I had to leave the country.

In the end I had a lot of people (my former boss, for example) who helped me and I was able to get a proper work visa, but let me tell you that it's not easy!

If you're a non-native speaker of English you'll have it easier if you've either studied in an English speaking country and can show a university degree of such a country.
Or you should have ESL qualifications.

Mike said...

Hello jasmine, can you please share in detail as to what happened?

OpiumQueenH said...

This was very nice to read and it represents a light at the end of the tunnel...but then I remember that I just read a whole bunch of job requirements for applying for a teaching position in Japan and they all say that I should be a native speaker of English, which I'm obviously not. Now, that's honestly very discouraging since I do have a BA written entirely in English and a sincere interest in Japan. Your post is the only positive thing I've read, but still, if I can't live up to the single most important requirement of being a native speaker, then how can I apply for a job as a teacher in Japan? What steps do I take? I'm currently doing my masters and learning Japanese, but I have no idea what to do to teach in Japan. Long story short I'm totally bummed and would appreciate some concrete information.
But anyway, this was nice to read, gave me some hope.

Laura P said...

A great concise article, thanks. I am looking to complete CELTA qualification to become an English teacher while I am not a native speaker. I wanted to clarify one thing though, when it says you should have a degree - does it have to be a teaching degree or can it be in any subject? I happen to have an unrelated one, but it is from the UK.

Wesley De Oliveira Fernandes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wesley De Oliveira Fernandes said...

According to the internet , a degree in any field is sufficient to apply for the visa, it just need to be at least a bachelor degree from an university.

selvendran Ganapathy said...

my name is Selvendran. I would like to work as an Communicative English teacher. I am from India. I semi skilled I have done M.A TESOL from England and 10 years experience in Communicative English. My email presently I am in UK can I have a chance to work in Japan.
Thank you

Tshonjay Tashichoden said...

Hi i am from bhutan. I have always had a keen interest in japanes culture and always wondered if i could get a chance to go there. Therefore m interested in teaching english there. Im just a recent graduate with a bachelors in english and environmental studies. I was wondering if you coukd help me with what ever i needed to know about getting a job in japan. :-)

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jigme Yeazer said...

Hello, am from Bhutan. I am very much interested to be English teacher in Japan. I have minimum qualification of Bachelor degree in English and Geography. Am looking forward for your help.

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Worthy said...

Hello everyone, I'm sorry but I have to burst the bubble on this article a little.

Just to warrant myself, I have worked as a manager for English teachers for around a year, and I have applied relentlessly to get some of my employees visas, for which some were declined, some were accepted.

It seems that there was a "change" at some point in 2014-15, which caused immigration offices to stop handing out visas to people who were not native English speakers. Let me be super clear about what I mean:

1) Your country does not have "English" listed as a native language on Wikipedia.
2) You are applying specifically for a humanities visa (Engineering, Specialties in humanities) or an Instructor Visa.

I only have experience with Osaka and Kyoto's immigration offices.

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