Do you need to learn to speak Japanese if you want to teach English in Japan? ITA alumna Becca Simas shares how she got by in Japan without speaking Japanese.
Written By: Becca Simas|Updated: February 3, 2023
Written By: Becca Simas
Updated: February 3, 2023
I didn’t study the Japanese language or history in college, and this is my first time in Asia. This is actually my first time living in a foreign country too.
I didn’t study the Japanese language or history in college, and this is my first time in Asia. This is actually my first time living in a foreign country too.
When I first announced that I was moving to Japan to teach English, without fail, the first question everyone asked me was either “Do you speak Japanese?” or "Do you need to know Japanese to teach English in Japan?" I would always say in return, “no, but I am willing to learn.”
I Don't Speak Japanese (But I'm Teaching English in Japan!)
Do You Have to Know Japanese to Teach English in japan?
You don't need to speak Japanese to teach English in Japan. Your classroom will be held entirely in English to fully immerse your students. However, you can learn Japanese if you wish, and many schools offer free Japanese lessons for teachers.
Read more: Requirements for Teaching English in Japan
I first discovered International TEFL Academy in January 2014. I was thinking about teaching English in Spain, but I was a little nervous because my Spanish wasn’t great. I was an adjunct writing professor in Connecticut at the time, so I never doubted my ability to teach, but I worried that because I didn’t speak a second language or study abroad, no one would hire me. I desperately wanted the teaching abroad experience, but I didn’t know how I would go about doing it.
After some research, I realized that many Asian countries are forgiving of English teachers coming to their countries without knowing the language beforehand. I was also working part-time at an after-school program, and two of my students were from a prefecture in central Japan. I loved playing Scrabble with them and teaching them new English words. The more I worked with them, the more I wanted to learn about Japanese culture and education.
I poured my heart into my Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program application in October, and enrolled in ITA’s online course for January 2015. By the start of April, I had completed my teaching practicum and received an email saying I was shortlisted for the Assistant Language Teacher position on JET! I would head to Tokyo for orientation on August 1st. Yatta!
Now I’ve been living on Amami Oshima— a tropical island in southern Japan— for two months. Besides me, there are only two other native English speakers in my city. I am entirely surrounded by Japanese in my school, at local restaurants, and at the grocery store. My floors are made of tatami and the only doors inside my house are shoji. I take off my shoes when I go out to eat (though I’ve forgotten to do this once or twice). And these days, I think I consume more green tea than I do water.
I am entirely immersed in Japanese culture. But I still don’t speak Japanese. I know how to say "Ohayo Gozaimasu" when I walk into the teachers’ room in the morning, and "suzmimasen" when I need to pass someone on the sidewalk when I ride my bike. I also know how to say 'daijjoubu'when I am okay with something. (That phrase comes in handy every day—it’s like “no worries” in English.) Aside from a few other simple greetings and kampai (cheers), that’s about it for my Nihongo.
I am trying to learn, but when you’ve never studied Japanese before and you move to Japan, the language is daunting. There are three components to the Japanese writing system: hiragana for Japanese syllables, katakana for foreign words, and kanji for Chinese characters. Writing, speaking, and reading Japanese are three different beasts. And let me tell you that the grocery store is the most overwhelming place for foreigners living on their own in Japan. Google Translate is my new best friend.
So how do I get by without the language? It’s the kindness of the people on my island. It’s my army of JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) who are willing to help me out any time they see me struggling, especially when it comes time to read my mail. The first night in my apartment, I confused the button for my air conditioner with the button for heat. I knew island life would be hot, but I was sweltering in my apartment until I asked a teacher to come over after school and show me what I did wrong. I felt silly, but we had a good laugh. Living abroad, I’ve learned the importance of laughing at yourself when you’re lost in translation. Laughing at the mishaps is always better than crying.
It’s also my incredible students. I teach at an academic senior high school, so not speaking Japanese actually has its benefits. My students know I don’t understand their language, so they always practice their English when I see them in the halls. “Hello, Becca! See you!” I help out with my school’s English club, so the students have the chance to practice translating Japanese into English for me. If it weren’t for them, my Japanese speech to my teachers would have been a Google-translated disaster.
Read more: What is the Difference Between Private and Public Schools in Japan?
Struggling through daily language barriers may be exhausting, but it helps me to appreciate how easy I had it back home in America. Besides, I was looking for a challenge when I decided to come to Japan.
So... Do you have to know Japanese to teach english in japan? No you don't! But that’s not to say that I don’t feel like a helpless baby bird at times. When I first got here, I couldn’t do the simplest things like change the setting on my washing machine, or order coffee without confusing the server. But I am so grateful to be on this tropical island where I feel at home, even though I don’t speak the language yet. I am shown so much kindness and patience every day. Daijjoubu des.
- How much can I earn teaching English in Japan?
- 5 best places to teach English in Japan
- Japan is one of the top 5 countries to make the most money teaching English
Posted In:Teach English in Asia,JET Program,Teach English in Japan
Becca Simas lived in New England all her life until she earned her TEFL certification from International TEFL Academy and applied to teach English in Japan through the prestigious JET Program. Upon her acceptance, she moved to Amami Oshima, a subtropical island in southern Japan. She went to school for creative writing but hasn’t touched her young adult fantasy novel since graduating with her MFA in 2013. Now she is inspired to write about her life as an English teacher in Japan through the JET Program and train for the Sakura half marathon on her island.
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What do I need to know to teach English in Japan? ›
To teach English in Japan, you will need a TEFL certification and a 4-year college degree. You must be a native English speaker without a criminal record. You can expect an average salary of about $2,500 - $3,000 USD per month.How difficult is it to get a job teaching English in Japan? ›
Teaching English in Japan without a degree is close to impossible. In fact, landing a job in Japan in general as a foreigner without a degree is really, really tough. That's because regular working visas in Japan require you to have a university degree (a four-year Bachelor's degree in the United States).Do you need to know Japanese to work in Japan? ›
Can I Really Work in Japan Without Knowing Any Japanese? The short answer is yes, but it's not that simple. You can get a job without needing Japanese, and that job doesn't have to be only an English teacher. You have more limited options, and they depend largely on your skills and the current job market trend.Is it hard to get around Japan without speaking Japanese? ›
Do you need to speak any Japanese to travel around Japan? Absolutely not. You can travel to Japan without learning any of these words and have a great time.Is teaching English in Japan worth it? ›
Teaching English in Japan is definitely worth it! It is a fantastic experience both professionally and personally. Moving abroad to work shows great determination & stability in a person. You will have an opportunity of a lifetime to live like a local and dive into Japanese lifestyle, customs and cuisine.Does teaching English in Japan pay well? ›
Most first-time English teachers in Japan get paid between 247,700 and 286,200 Yen ($2,250 - $2,600 USD) per month. First-year participants teaching English in Japan on the JET Program earn an average monthly salary of 280,000 Yen ($2,550 USD) per month with yearly wage increases.How much do Americans get paid to teach English in Japan? ›
How Much Can You Earn Teaching English in Japan? As an ESL teacher in Japan, you can expect to earn anywhere between 200,000 and 600,000 Yen ($1,700 - 5,000 USD) per month. Hourly tutoring rates hover around 3,000 Yen ($28 USD) per hour.How many hours is teaching English in Japan? ›
A 30-35 hour workweek is common. Leave entitlements can vary significantly depending on the individual school or company you are recruited through. Some public schools prefer their teachers to have a CELTA/TEFL qualification and/or teaching experience.Can an American get a job in Japan? ›
You'll need an appropriate visa if you're working in Japan as a foreigner. Teaching programs, schools, and other companies often provide support, but make sure you and your employer have taken all necessary steps before you arrive. It's very difficult to get a visa once you're in the country.Is it safe for Americans to travel to Japan? ›
Individual tourists may visit Japan starting October 11, 2022, subject to vaccine or testing requirements as further described in the U.S. Embassy's “Information for U.S. Citizens Traveling to Japan” webpage. Tourists with U.S. passports no longer need a visa to stay up to three months.
Should I go to Japan if I only speak English? ›
Many people remark that it sounds nice and is fun to try! English is in common use in Japan with Chinese and Korean also becoming more common meaning that you can certainly get around without using Japanese. This is most true in the big cities and in areas frequented by foreign visitors.Is it OK to travel Japan alone? ›
Is Japan good for solo travel? Yes, solo travel in Japan is great – as mentioned, it's very safe, and it's easy to get around thanks to the country's excellent transport links. If you're planning to travel for a month or so by yourself, it's a good idea to purchase a Japan Rail Pass (also known as the JR Pass).Is doing job in Japan worth it? ›
Take the chance and you will have the confidence to take on more challenges and live without regrets in the future. You will also have some awesome stories to tell, too! The idea of working in a foreign country may seem high risk. But Japan is famed for its low crime rate.Is it easy to work in Japan as a foreigner? ›
Japan's job market is as extensive as any country, which means there's always something for everyone. However, there are specific industries where foreigners seem to thrive the most, making them popular choices among foreign job-seekers in Japan.How long does it take to learn Japanese in Japan? ›
Approximately it will take 88 weeks, or 2200 hours of studying, to become fluent. But this article shows tips and tools to expedite and make the process easier. This article is a part of our extensive series of articles on Self-studying Japanese.Can I teach English in Japan without a degree? ›
Although your options might be more limited, it is still possible to teach English in Japan without a degree, especially if you are a highly experienced EFL teacher and have native-like fluency in English.Are teachers respected in Japan? ›
Generally Japanese teachers have won respect and gratitude from parents and the public at large and enjoy a relative high social status, secure positions and good salaries. Almost all teachers take pride in their work and have high professional ethics.Can you teach English in Japan without being a native speaker? ›
Teach in Japan
It is possible to get a job in Japan as a non-native speaker, but it's not easy. If you can prove you've received twelve consecutive years of English-only education, and you have a four-year college degree (in English), you may be eligible for a job in Japan.
The average rent in Japan varies by city, but the overall national average falls somewhere between 50 to 70,000 JPY (470–650 USD). Tokyo is the most expensive city in which to rent.Do English teachers get free housing in Japan? ›
In Japan, those teaching in public schools may receive free housing or a stipend for housing. However, this will vary from school to school and region to region.
What country pays English teachers the most? ›
- South Korea ($1,850-$2,650 USD a month)
- China ($1,200-$2,600 USD a month)
- Japan ($1,700-$2,600 USD a month)
- Taiwan ($2,000-$3,000 USD a month)
- Gulf Arab States ($2,000-$5,000 USD a month)
- Honorable Mention: Vietnam ($1,500-$2,000 USD a month)
Luxembourg. According to an OECD report, Luxembourg (a European country) has the highest-paid teachers in the world.How much of Japan is fluent in English? ›
Ans: Although English is not a very popular language in Japan, 30% of the population still speaks English in Japan.Why are English teachers in demand in Japan? ›
Most universities and companies in and outside Japan want applicants to speak and write basic English. This makes the job of an English teacher highly demanded in the major cities of Japan. Further, the job pays pretty well in Japan compared to other Asian countries.Is there an age limit for teaching English in Japan? ›
Have at least a bachelor's degree in any subject from an accredited university. Be a team-player that is professional, flexible, cheerful, and energetic. Be under 60 years of age.Can I teach English in Japan for a summer? ›
And there's no better place to teach abroad for the summer than Japan. Although English teaching contracts in Japan tend to run from six months to a year, there are short-term teaching jobs available, at English language schools in Japan.Is living in Japan cheaper than America? ›
In the US, the average price per square foot to buy a residence in the city center is around $335, whereas in Japan a comparable figure is $760. This is an approximate 57% increase. However, on the whole, house prices are generally lower in Japan than the US, especially since the Covid pandemic.How long can a US citizen live in Japan? ›
If you will be staying longer than 90 days with an appropriate visa, you must register your address with your residence's municipal office and obtain a Resident Card (“Zairyu Card”) from regional immigration offices.Is moving to Japan easy? ›
The process of moving to Japan is easy as long as you are prepared. In general, expats can move most household goods into the country without a problem. It is a good idea to have an itemized list in both English and Japanese.What qualifications do I need to teach Japanese? ›
- Bachelor's or Master's degree.
- Transcript evaluations (if degree is from abroad)
- Japanese language competency.
- English language proficiency.
- Teacher training from a teacher preparation program (Japanese preparation program list here)
Can a foreigner become an English teacher in Japan? ›
Yes. English teachers in Japan must be able to prove that they have a Bachelor's degree to get a visa. Many schools will want to see a photocopy of your diploma before they even interview you.Can you teach TEFL without a degree Japan? ›
If you want to teach English in Japan and you don't have a degree then, unfortunately, your options are pretty limited. A degree – in any discipline – is required to get a work visa to TEFL in Japan, so without one, you aren't eligible.What is the average salary of an English teacher in Japan? ›
The salary for an English teacher in Japan is often between 200,000 to 600,000 Yen per month ($1,700 to $5,000). Of course, Japan is an expensive country; its economy is robust and powerful. However, these salaries are more than enough to live a great lifestyle, especially if you're living in rural Japan.Is there an age limit to teach in Japan? ›
Have at least a bachelor's degree in any subject from an accredited university. Be a team-player that is professional, flexible, cheerful, and energetic. Be under 60 years of age.How many years does it take to become a teacher in Japan? ›
The requirements of national colleges of education range from 124 credits (the total number normally earned in 4 years) to 159 credits. To obtain more than one teaching certificate, students usually take even more credits, averaging between 160 and 180 and exceeding 200 credits in extreme cases.How can I teach Japanese in USA? ›
- Step 1: Research. Visit your state's Department of Education website, and research the license requirements. ...
- Step 2: Decide which license to get. States usually have several different ways to get a language teacher license. ...
- Step 3: Find a mentor. ...
- Step 4: Apply to the state.
Yes, you can teach English abroad in your forties, fifties and beyond. Having a TEFL certification and years of career and life experience can be a major asset. You don't need a teaching qualification or even a degree to teach English abroad as an older adult.How long do English teachers stay in Japan? ›
Normally teaching contracts in Japan last anywhere from six months to a year. But, if you're not ready to commit to living there that long, you can always start out small with a short-term summer job in Japan to get a real feel for living and teaching overseas.Do jobs pay well in Japan? ›
While most of the popular jobs in Japan for foreigners pay well enough, especially if you have plenty of experience, entering more specialized fields usually entails higher salaries.Can I live in Japan without a degree? ›
It is possible to work in Japan without a degree, but it makes things a little difficult and requires you to hustle and network, which are more appealing to some personality types than others. However, for those willing to put in the effort, it can be a good opportunity.
How old do you have to be to teach English in Japan? ›
The minimum age requirement to teach English in Japan is 20 years old. There is no maximum age limit, but most schools prefer teachers to be under 50. And the majority of schools prefer to hire teachers who are at least 20 years old.