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Teaching in Japan: Problems of Local Learners

Teaching in Japan: Problems of Local Learners | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In this essay I will be discussing the problems for young Japanese learners of English, and what problems Japanese learners often encounter as well as explaining some of the reasons why teachers can run into problems while teaching in Japan. I will be referring to the book “The Smart Guide to Teaching English in Japan’ by Charlie Moritz and Martin Bragalone, as well as drawing from my knowledge and experiences of studying and volunteering in Japan. Japan can be a challenging but rewarding country to work in, despite stereotypes of Japanese people being polite and studious so it is important to consider that reality can be different when teaching in Japan.

When TEFL teachers aim to teach in Japan, the most common jobs available are largely primarily catered to children. The most common types of jobs where you will encounter child learners are; Eikaiwa (English conversation school, Juku (After school program or cram school), ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), and Kindergarten or International preschool, all of these roles comes with their challenges and problems for learners.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Elizabeth E. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.


Eikaiwa jobs are some of the most common positions available for TEFL teachers, due to many companies offering teaching positions throughout the year. Customers at an Eikaiwa vary in age from very young children to businessmen and women and the elderly. Although many Eikaiwa will often have classes dedicated to groups of children only. The best-known examples of Eikaiwa companies are Aeon, ECC, Nova, and Gaba. Some of the problems for learners in an Eikaiwa relate to the materials provided to teachers, and companies in Japan are especially strict with the need to adhere to the textbooks provided even when there are mistakes in them and they aren’t suitable for every learner. There is no easy way around this problem and one of the major faults with Eikaiwa learning is that inflexibility and the teacher having to adhere to a strict formula for teaching, sometimes even geared around selling textbooks and bringing in more customers to the Eikaiwa. This commercialization of the teaching process can affect the learners because they are possibly missing out on learning options that would better suit them, and things that teachers can do to alleviate this such as creating their materials or modifying the textbook materials are discouraged. Sometimes teachers feel that they step into a salesperson role rather than remain true to their teaching role.

japanese flag and office objects

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Juku (cram school or after school programs) have a similar environment to Eikaiwa, so some of these problems are the same but there is another major obstacle for learners that teachers must consider. It is important to take note that children attending Juku will most often be tired and worn down from school and various club activities that Japanese schoolchildren participate in and therefore teachers need to find ways to keep the children engaged and interested in the lesson, even when there is often very little flexibility around the materials provided. Likewise, with Eikaiwa, a problem that learners will encounter is around the company’s strict adherence to the materials and textbooks, which may not suit every student. This job description entails that you must prepare students for tests effectively, so it is important to take note of what students need to succeed.

Also Read: Differences in Acquiring a Second Language by Children and Adults

ALT (Assistant Language Teacher)

A common job that is often mentioned due to the well-known JET program, is that of the Assistant Language Teacher (or ALT for short). This job has a different approach to the other jobs described in this essay because as an ALT teacher your job is to teach English alongside a native Japanese teacher in a Japanese elementary or high school. The main teacher being the one who is the one in control of the class and what content is being taught to the children. In this situation, there are some important points to consider such as the ALT has very little control over the curriculum or none at all, if a student is struggling in class with the content you may not have the authority to remedy this on your own, depending on the Japanese teacher’s English ability and their personality you may find that collaborating with them can prove to be challenging. The dynamics in the classroom can affect the way your students can learn. In Japan, there exists a top-down hierarchy, and if you want to make a change that benefits the students learning you must seek approval first. Also, keep in mind, the age group of the children you are teaching. High school children will become embarrassed engaging in playing simple games and singing songs. In Japanese schools, some children tend to bully one another so there may be children who stay completely silent while at school and are afraid to contribute to the lesson.

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Kindergarten/International preschool

In this position you are working with all very young learners so the responsibilities will be different based on that fact, some problems that learners can encounter are that because they are young you must keep games and activities simple but engaging. Not all kids will be interested and they can act out and cause trouble. There is a lot of play-based learning required, and teachers will need to have strong stamina, be very energetic and creative to keep the kids engaged. Taking care of the kids may also mean being responsible for their safety, so including dealing with any learning problems that pop up so you must also consider safety. Lesson planning can often be left to the TEFL teacher so there is a lot more freedom in that aspect, so you can focus on targeting learning problems. Of course, this depends on your company and employers as many Japanese employers can be rigid and inflexible. As with all of these TEFL jobs, you must consider this when targeting learners' problems.

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