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teaching English abroad to young learners in Japan

Ah, Japan. From carving up fresh-fallen powder in Honshu to dining on mind-blowing Nigiri, Sashimi, and Maki (I mean, it’s a sushi lover’s Mecca), Japan is a country rich in incredibly beautiful cultural anomalies and unique opportunities. Perhaps, what’s most exciting to the Teach Away team are the opportunities to teach English abroad in Japan to a most curious audience; the young learners.

With a population of 126.9 million living in a geographic footprint 26 times smaller than the Canadian continent, the island of Japan is comprised primarily of native Japanese people. This has kept so much of its beautiful culture intact but has had the drawback of leaving it largely unfamiliar with the English language. Approximately 72% of Japanese people ages 20 to 49 suggest they cannot speak English or cannot speak it proficiently. It is, therefore, a country ripe with opportunity for certified ESL teachers looking to teach English in a spectacular setting where the population has a huge appetite for learning English, especially from a very young age.

Learning English in Japan starts (very!) young

teaching English to young learners in Japan

Due to continued expansion and widespread adoption of English as a “global” language, it has become pretty common for non-English speaking countries to invest in teaching English (yay for Teach Away!) as a language within the core school curriculum.

In Japan, foreign residents (i.e. non-Japanese people) make up only approximately 3.8% of the population, with more than half of those being from non-English speaking countries (such as Vietnam and China). So you can imagine that hearing any spoken English can be pretty rare!

As a result, ensuring Japanese youth are learning English has become a key area of focus for the country, with children being introduced to ESL as early as nine months of age! These “Young Learners” present a unique and exciting opportunity for certified ESL teachers. The delight of seeing an infant clapping after using the right word would bring joy to the hearts of most people. Now imagine that as a part of your day-to-day job? So awesome!

What’s great about teaching young learners in Japan?

Teaching young learners abroad in Japan

To start with, younger students learn incredibly fast, making it a really rewarding experience as a teacher to watch their progress. Not to mention, the enthusiasm for English from younger learners can be infectious. And the learning experience is super fun too, with teachers enjoying the crafts, games, and other activities just as much as their students.

As well, Japan’s education system is changing in response to the ever-expanding global workplace and the technological advancements that continue to break down physical barriers. This means there are more opportunities than ever for certified English-speaking teachers who are keen to explore this great country while using their skills and talents. Teaching others (particularly little humans!) how to master a new language, especially one as challenging and highly nuanced as English, is an impressive strength. And it is now one that is deeply appreciated in Japan, where the government and education system understand that English plays a larger role in international collaboration.

Of course, really excellent communication skills are a must when teaching English and especially to very young children. As a result, native English speaking teachers are in high-demand in Japan. Employing teachers from countries such as the U.S. and Canada gives kids exposure to a new language, but also to new ideas and perspectives. It’s a window into the world beyond the only world they know, at an age where their curiosity is at an all-time high.

Teaching English to young learners in Japan is about more than just learning the language. For Japanese parents, it is about exposing their children to a global mindset, something that people all over the world can relate to and appreciate.

What you will find as an English teacher to young learners is that most parents of these young learners are enthusiastic, supportive, and appreciative for the chance to engage their youngsters in English. This openness makes for a very active parent participant, supporting deeper learning and engagement in both the school and home spaces.

What you need to know about teaching young learners in Japan?

There are, of course (as in life!), many options when it comes to teaching young learners in Japan. There are traditional methods and schools, and there are alternatives. For example, there are a number of schools and programs that address young learners as one of many audiences, including teaching programs for adults and kids of all ages. There are also those that are entirely focused on teaching English to young learners and tend to have a more youth-centric focus (read: they’re pretty fun!).

Not all programs are made the same

One of these youth-focused organizations is Benesse BE studio Inc., which offers exciting English learning programs for children. BE studio currently operates over 1,700 schools across Japan, with over 2,000 teachers focusing on supporting young learners with their English skills. Teach Away had the chance to chat with Alex Barnes, Training and Quality Supervisor at BE studio.

The North Carolina native has been teaching and working in Japan for many years, and with BE studio since Spring of 2018. He notes that when it comes to teaching for an organization like BE studio, “Teachers might have a lot of students but schools tend to be small, so a typical work environment is more personal and friendly than many large private conversation schools or public schools. We also have regular workshops to improve teaching skills, and because new and experienced teachers come to share ideas, it’s a very supportive environment.”

Programs that focus on young learners also benefit from having more tailored programs and greater parent engagement, which leads to an active and collaborative learning environment.

Invested parents create engaged kids!

Teaching activities to young learners in Japan

As any parent knows, the difference between how a two-year-old learns and a five-year-old learns is as vast as the geography that separates Canada and Japan. In certain settings and with certain young age groups, it can be challenging to manage expectations of excited parents ready to see their children thriving in a school environment. This is mostly because it can be very hard to show progress at such a young age. For example, a three-year-old flipping through an English book and identifying certain small things can seem irrelevant. However, if provided with enthusiastic praise, these young people can deepen their connections between what they learn verbally and what they see visually.

BE studio encourages the use of praise and enthusiasm to ensure their lessons are less about tests and rewards, and more about fun and encouragement. Teachers create a classroom environment where students don’t have to worry about making mistakes and can just be themselves. Every child has a dream, and English can help them achieve that dream. At BE studio, teachers find opportunities to teach children English in a way that relates to their interests and also supports them on their journey toward their dreams.

Teaching young learners abroad in Japan

This really helps parents get excited and invested in supporting their kids in a natural way at home as well as at school. And of course, the more you practice, the better you get!

It might be the most rewarding thing you ever do

Teaching little kids is obviously not without its challenges. However, as Mr. Barnes suggests, “When you see the ‘oh, now I get it’ look on a student’s face, or a parent tells you their child had a conversation with foreign tourists last weekend, or a student is finally able to give an English speech in front of the class by themselves, it makes it all worth it.”

Alex Barnes shares a story about his early days teaching with BE studio: “I once taught a boy who started lessons at two years old. At first, he didn’t speak much and only participated in activities when encouraged by his mother. However, we continued to make sure he had lots of English input, focusing on building his listening recognition skills until he became comfortable speaking. One day, he suddenly started singing half of the lyrics to the song we had been practicing the last few weeks. It was a huge relief for his parents, and he soon became the most talkative student in the class.”

There is truly no greater service than that of a teacher and the reward of shaping young people’s futures.

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Wondering how to get started?

Get started teaching English to young learners in Japan

If you think this all sounds incredible and you’re wondering where to sign up, take a minute and give some thought to the following tips and hints to make sure that teaching English to young learners in Japan is, indeed, right up your alley.

Tip 1: Ask yourself if teaching little kids is right for you

Many students hesitate to speak English, usually due to a fear of making mistakes or having a negative “study” image of English as a school subject. Our friends at BE studio suggest that you offer encouragement to your students and focus on having both an educational and fun approach to your lessons.

When asked about the best teachers at his organization, Mr. Barnes said: “Since BE studio is focused on teaching children, especially younger learners, the training and school atmosphere is very fun. Games, songs, and crafts are a big part of lessons, so teachers that enjoy these types of activities and enjoy teaching young children are the kind of people who work here.”

He noted that bringing energy and having the ability to turn on a “fun switch” is pretty critical to success. Mr. Barnes also suggested that “while there is always a ‘lesson partner’ in the room for all preschool ages to help, [the teacher] is in charge of the class, so keeping the kids engaged is always necessary. It’s also important to remember that there are different kinds of energy and teaching styles needed for different age groups. Teaching six-year-olds can be drastically different from teaching three-year-olds. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the classroom environment and how it differs with each age group, in order to develop a sense of how to adjust teaching styles to different class levels.”

Tip 2: Learn everything there is to know about teaching in Japan

There is so much information out there on what you need to know that how prepared you are is entirely up to you. So do your research!

First, make sure you have the necessary requirements to teach English in Japan. Next, find a few guides to teaching English in Japan and read them end to end. In fact, some of our very own Teach Away-ers have shared their favorite tips for teaching English in Japan. It’s also a great idea to really read up on Japanese culture and some unique experiences teaching ESL in Japan so that you can minimize culture shock and maximize excitement.

Tip 3: Ensure you’re TEFL or TESOL certified

There are a few things to know about getting TEFL, TESL, or TESOL certified. Fear not! We have covered most aspects and answered most questions on the Teach Away blog in the past few years. Teach Away also offers two TEFL programs with a couple of pretty notable Universities (oh hey! U of T OISE and I House Berkeley U!).

Because we offer these programs, we know a thing or two about TEFL and have shared a bunch of it through our TEFL Certification Guide. Ultimately, how you get certified is entirely up to you, of course. But do make sure you do your homework so you have the right number of hours, certificates, and education before submitting an application to teach abroad to young learners in Japan.

Tip 4: Find your dream job!

There are so many outlets and agencies offering teaching abroad opportunities, but not as many that include opportunities to teach young learners in Japan. Teach Away’s job board is a great place to start! In particular, BE studio has recently posted an exciting job opportunity. As long as you are well versed in what is required, and have done your homework so you know what to expect, finding your dream job should be easy as making Maki (disclaimer: Making Maki is actually NOT easy. But eating it is delicious!).

Tip 5: Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime

Japan is a country where adventure abounds. And as anyone who has worked with young people before can tell you, every day is a new adventure and every moment is a new opportunity to learn, grow, and smile.

We suggest making a list of the activities you’re most excited to learn more about because there is a lot to do and you’re going to want to pace yourself! From incredible food to wonderful festivals, such as Setsubun, Japan has much to explore and discover.

Overall, we cannot imagine a more rewarding experience or a beautiful setting to put your English language skills to use. So the only question we have left is this: what are you waiting for?

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