In part one of this interview, Aki talked about the lack of work/life balance for many Japanese people, the benefits of working in an English conversation school, and the impact on her job of the Japanese notion of ‘customer service’. Read on to find out more about what it’s like to be involved in the English teaching industry from a Japanese perspective.
The English teaching industry in Japan has, to some extent, been marred by the lack of professionalism of native English teachers. In your experience, do you think some native teachers need to adopt a more professional approach?
Yes, I think so, from my experience. When I was working at another branch, we had a cover teacher, but that teacher, the day before work, had drunk too much, and when he entered the school, the smell was so bad, I couldn’t stand it! A mixture of alcohol and yaki-niku! [fried meat] The classroom was really small, and it was winter time, so we had to close the door. It was terrible – disgusting! I tried to say something nicely, but he didn’t notice. In other cases, during the lesson, teachers have complained to the students about how busy their schedules were! It’s unprofessional to mention those kind of complaints to the students.
Recently the Japanese government enacted a new law making the study of English compulsory at elementary school. For new teachers wanting to come to Japan, do you think teaching children will become much more important?
There is still a balance between children’s and adult’s lessons. They don’t have to focus just on teaching children.
How about teachers who don’t want to teach children at all? Would it be hard to work in an average English conversation school in Japan?
Yes I think so. The language school business in Japan has a tendency to focus more and more on young learners.
At your school, what was the ratio of children to adult learners?
About 65% or 70% were children – so it was the majority. From the age of around two to Junior High level.
For someone who has worked in an English school for a long time, and is also an advanced speaker of English, what do you think are the three most important qualities for a teacher?
A positive personality, patience, and a cooperative attitude with administrative staff.
How important is Japanese ability?
I think, of course, Japanese ability, especially listening ability, to have that ability is better. At my school, for example, the company’s policy was to give lessons in English without any Japanese. But, sometimes, especially when kids fight with each other, if the teacher can at least understand what they are saying, maybe it’s easier to organize the whole class.
So, for discipline reasons, Japanese is useful?
Yes. Also, not only discipline. Sometimes, native speakers don’t realize that the students haven’t understood the lesson. Even one or two words of Japanese will help the students to understand. The teachers don’t have to speak in full sentences – just the keywords.
How important is grammatical knowledge? Not just for teaching children, but for adult students?
It is important. Especially in Japan, in our school days, we first learn reading and writing, we just focus on grammatical things, so some students ask questions about grammatical points such as “why is this sentence correct”. If they do that, I think the native teachers should answer those questions. But if they lack the grammatical knowledge, it’s hard to answer.
Do you personally like to have a grammatical explanation of new language?
Yes. Also, personally, more than the grammatical point, I like to know in what situations I can use words which have very similar meanings – for example, “opportunity”, “possibility” and “chance”. I don’t want to focus too much on grammatical points – more importantly what situations I can or should use certain words as opposed to other similar ones.
Many thanks to Aki for the interview.