Whether they’re born speaking it or have learned it as a second language, some people who speak fluent English consider teaching it as a way to travel and see the world. With Japan being such a popular travel destination, many consider taking their linguistic skills there, but what should you know about teaching English in Japan, and what’s the answer to that long-asked question – can you teach English in Japan without a degree?
With colleges being more expensive, and many simply choosing different career routes, lots of people around the world decide not to get a college or university degree. Some simply decide they would like a little life experience before they settle into higher education. Whatever the reason, there’s a long list of countries that will happily let you teach. Yes, there are some ways to teach in Japan without a degree English without a degree. It’s not impossible but most well-paid English jobs in Japan require a college or university degree.
We’re going to discuss 5 things you absolutely should know if you’re thinking about teaching English in Japan, with or without a degree.
5 Tips For Teaching In Japan With Or Without A Degree
1. Yes, you really should have a degree to teach English in Japan
I know I literally just said that we’re going to look at ways to teach in Japan without a degree, and I’ll get to that I promise, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t make it clear that most employers will require that you have one before they even consider you as an applicant. Whatever your reason for not having a degree (no judgement here – there are lots of ways to learn that don’t cost thousands of $$$), once employers see that it will close a lot of doors and limit your opportunities. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a degree in teaching, it can be in any subject for you to be considered.
Some sources will tell you that you need a TEFL language course as well as your degree to teach English in Japan. While this may be true for some specific employers, it isn’t a general requirement for all of them. However, it’s worth considering that many people go to Japan with both a TEFL certification and a degree, so if you go with just one of those things (or neither) you’re in for some serious competition.
Japan on the whole has a very competitive attitude towards work – people are well-educated and hard-working, and they expect foreigners to adapt to their pace. If you’re a native English speaker (whether that be British English, American, Australian, Canadian, etc) you have an enormous advantage, so you won’t be totally left in the dust behind all the educated and efficient people clamouring to work in Japan. Make sure you highlight this in any interview, resume, or online application.
2. You should experience the culture before you commit
Look, maybe you’re brave and willing to try anything new, and that’s great! But you ned to know that Japan doesn’t take its commitments and obligations lightly, so if you accept a job position there you’d better be sure you can hack the lifestyle and work ethic. The reason I highlight this so strongly is because the Japanese pace of life could be difficult to adapt to for anyone who’s not familiar with it. Especially for those from a predominantly western background.
For me, experiencing Japanese culture for the first time was a shock, but a welcome one. I loved every second of my time in Japan, and I found the culture, the food, and the pace of life pretty easy to adapt to. But, I know my experience is not universal, and others have struggled to fall in line with the expectations of Japanese employers and people. If you travel all the way to Japan with the expectation that it’s going to be just the same as a job in your own country, the chances are you’ll be in for a big shock.
If you don’t quite have the funds to make several trips to Japan, there are still lots of ways to learn whether Japanese life is for you – you can read articles on great sites like ours (there’s one I wrote here about Japanese work culture, and another here about working in Japan). Head to an authentic Japanese restaurant and try the food (one of the most important parts of a culture if you ask me), and if you’re lucky enough to know some people who were born in or lived in Japan – talk to them about their experience!
3. Being able to speak Japanese will really help you
This might seem like an obvious one, but since the majority of jobs advertised don’t stipulate that you have to learn Japanese to be hired, many assume they’ll be fine without it. In many English classrooms it’s forbidden to even speak Japanese. It’s true, you could probably survive without a basic level of Japanese for a little while, but not as many people in Japan speak English as you would expect, and without some knowledge of spoken Japanese you’re going to struggle to get by.
This is especially true if you’re teaching anywhere other than the major cities. You find some in the city that speak enough English to cover for your lack of Japanese. That’s not to say you need to be fluent before you go – one of the best ways to become fluent in a language is to live in the country where it’s spoken. A basic understanding of Japanese, or even just a few of the most common phrases you’ll need for work and social aspects of your new life will go a long way.
4. The classroom experience might not be what you expect
I’ve written about education in Japan here so if you want a little more detail check it out! In short, though, your classroom experience in Japan might not be what you’re expecting, because Eastern and Western styles of learning are very different. Unfortunately, some travel to the country bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and are discouraged when they are met with the silent, seemingly uncooperative nature of Japanese students.
It’s not that they don’t want to cooperate per se, but right from their first days in school Japanese students are expected to sit silently, listen, and take diligent notes. Teamwork and group projects aren’t common in Japan, nor is speaking up or answering questions. So when new teachers head to Japan with enthusiasm and zeal, they are surprised (and often disheartened) when their passion is met with non-participation.
I’m not exaggerating either – one Quora user described the teaching experience in Japan to “getting blood from a stone”, but this is of course in comparison to a Western classroom, where participation is a measure of progress, and children speak up often (which can be a problem all on its own). You needn’t let this put you off, though. All you need to do is alter your approach and expectations. If you anticipate the reality of the classroom experience and adjust your expectations you can have a rewarding and meaningful time teaching here.
5. There are lots of different ways to teach English in Japan
There are lots of different types of schools and ways of teaching in Japan, which creates a greater chance of a perfect fit for different teaching and personality types. None of these different avenues require you to have any teaching experience, but many will ask that you have a 120-hour TEFL or CELTA certificate, so keep that in mind when making your choices. You’ll be best enquiring individually to jobs you’re interested in whether they require anything like that, as there’s no set rule across the board.
Here are some of your options!
One of the easiest positions to obtain is teaching in a public school, and one of the simplest ways to apply for a public school job in Japan is through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (commonly known as JET). Public schools offer great entry-level perks in terms of all the teaching options available, and there are arguably more opportunities in these positions too. Your role will include a full-time schedule, usually 8-5pm Monday to Friday, and during each day you’ll have 4 classes containing around 40 (well-behaved) kids at a time.
There are several ways to get a teaching job in a Japanese public school, but many who’ve tried state that JET is the best way to go. You’ll have a lengthy application process, and you’ll need to have an in-person interview in your home country too. Despite the extra leg work though, most agree that JET is one of the best ways to go, because they offer higher pay than most of their rivals and a guaranteed job if you’re successful.
Harder to come by, jobs in private school involve smaller classes but longer hours. It can be trickier to learn about these kinds of roles, but scouts can often be found hosting job fairs in English speaking countries so a quick search online should let you know if there are any in your area. Interestingly, pay can be less than you could get teaching in a public school through JET, so you’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons for your own individual circumstances.
Academies give you the opportunity to work with people of varying ages, backgrounds, and abilities, so if you like a challenge or a diverse range of students this could be the teaching position for you. You’ll be expected to work evenings and weekends to accommodate the schedules of adult learners, and your pay is per hour and usually without any additional benefits, so it might not be for everyone.
International schools in japan are like many others in that they’re popular, come with a lot of benefits, and are incredibly competitive. You’ll need to already be an accredited/qualified teacher in your home country, but the benefits are numerous (your flights into the country, paid holiday time and additional teaching courses, housing assistance, even a retirement plan). Whether you put the effort into getting this type of work depends on how long-term you want your time in Japan to be.
If you know you want to move there long-term, it could be worth putting in the extra time and effort to secure a teaching degree in your home country, making it more likely you’ll get one of these coveted positions. If you’re unsure, you could always try a year in one of the low-commitment positions, and head back home to get the relevant qualifications. It might set your life plan back a year or so, but surely it’s worth it for your new, amazing life in Japan, right?
There’s no right or wrong answer really, different people advocate for different types of teaching, so it really just depends on what works for you. You’ll need to take into consideration what kind of visa you’ll need for your chosen position, so check out this article on the different types of visas available in Japan.
Now we’ve considered all your different options if you do have a degree…what are your options if you don’t have a degree?
Yes, there are some ways to teach in Japan without a degree
For one, you can teach English in Japan while you’re getting your degree. Working in any other field in Japan without a good knowledge of the Japanese language is incredibly difficult/close to impossible, so many people choose to teach English on the side to cover the cost of school. You could do this online through several different websites (check some of them out here).
You’ll even benefit from the fact that you can teach anyone from around the world online, no matter what language they already speak, widely increasing your potential client base. Sure, you’re not technically teaching Japanese people English, but it’s a great way around the system if you don’t have a degree but still want to experience Japan.
Alternatively, you could offer your linguistic skills via private, one-on-one lessons to interested people in Japan. Research online shows that this can have mixed results, and you’ll have to be really dedicated to keep your lessons interesting enough to keep paying customers…plus, you’ll need a working knowledge of Japanese to be able to generate work and communicate with your customers. It’s not the perfect option, but it’s not impossible either – your success will depend how dedicated you are.
Whichever avenue you choose – make it the experience of a lifetime!
It can be pretty overwhelming trying to figure out what to do, especially when those choices involve you moving to an entirely different country, but please take comfort in the fact that you’ll no doubt have an amazing time in Japan whichever you choose. Whether you stay for 6 months, a year, or simply decide you don’t want to leave, you’ll appreciate the beautiful country and culture during your time here just like the thousands of travellers before you.
Do you have any experiences, or tips from teaching in Japan? Let us know in the comments!