do you need to know japanese to teach english in japan?

Do You Need To Know Japanese To Teach English In Japan?

Do you dream of teaching English in Japan but worry about not speaking Japanese? You may be surprised to learn that it’s possible to teach English in Japan without speaking Japanese. While it’s true that knowing the language can be helpful, it’s not always a requirement.

There are many L2 (second language) teaching methods that can be used effectively without knowing the local language. In fact, some argue that not knowing the language can even be an advantage, as it forces you to communicate more clearly and simply.

However, there are also some challenges to teaching in Japan without speaking the language, such as difficulties in communicating with co-workers and navigating daily life.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of teaching English in Japan without knowing Japanese, as well as some tips for making the most of your experience.

Key Takeaways

  • It is possible to teach English in Japan without speaking Japanese, but it may come with challenges such as difficulty communicating with co-workers and cultural immersion.
  • Knowing Japanese can enhance teaching effectiveness, cultural understanding, and student engagement, but may also expose foreign teachers to discriminatory behavior and potential isolation.
  • Recognizing potential challenges and effective communication strategies can create a more positive and effective teaching environment in Japan.

Teaching English in Japan Without Speaking Japanese

You might be wondering, “Do you really need to know Japanese to teach English in Japan?”Well, the answer is nope, you don’t! As long as you can communicate effectively with your students and colleagues, you can succeed as an English teacher in Japan.

However, cultural immersion can be a challenge if you’re not familiar with the language. To overcome this, you can immerse yourself in Japanese culture outside of the classroom, such as trying new foods, attending local events, and practicing the language with locals.

Language barriers can be a concern for many English teachers in Japan, but there are effective communication strategies that you can use to overcome them. For example, using visual aids, gestures, and body language can help convey meaning to your students. Additionally, incorporating Japanese culture into your lessons can help bridge the gap between language barriers and enhance your students’ understanding of the English language.

Motivating your students can also be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. One effective way to motivate your students is by incorporating their interests and hobbies into your lessons. For example, if your students are interested in music, you can use song lyrics to teach them grammar and vocabulary. When your students feel motivated and engaged in the classroom, they’re more likely to retain what they’ve learned and continue to improve their English skills.

L2 Teaching Methods

Using props and realia, along with visual aids like Powerpoints and videos, can make L2 teaching more engaging and effective for language learners. When teaching English in Japan, it’s important to keep in mind that many students may have a limited understanding of the language.

By incorporating these tools, you can help students grasp the language more easily and keep them interested in the lessons.

Here are some L2 teaching methods that work well in Japan:

  1. Use props and realia to create a more immersive environment for your students. This can include anything from flashcards to real-life objects. By bringing in these items, you can help students connect words to their physical representations, making it easier for them to remember new vocabulary.
  2. Integrate visual aids like Powerpoints and videos into your lessons. These tools are great for teaching anything from emotions to weather and more. By incorporating these visual aids, you can provide students with a more comprehensive understanding of the language and keep them engaged throughout the lesson.
  3. Simplify your instructions by breaking them up into steps and using simple language. This can help students better understand the tasks you’re assigning and ensure that they don’t get overwhelmed or confused.
  4. Remember that nonverbal communication is also important. Use hand gestures and other visual cues to help students understand what you’re saying, and make sure to act out activities as you go. By leveraging nonverbal communication, you can help students better understand the language and ensure that they have a more immersive and engaging learning experience.

Overall, L2 teaching methods like these can help make teaching English in Japan a more effective and engaging experience for both you and your students. By incorporating these tools into your lessons, you can help students better understand the language and keep them interested in learning more.

Why Some Schools Prefer Japanese-Speaking Teachers

If landing a teaching job in Japan is on your list, it’s important to understand why some schools prefer teachers who possess Japanese language skills.

One reason for this preference is cultural understanding. Japanese schools and their staff operate in a specific cultural context, and teachers who don’t speak the language may struggle to understand and navigate the nuances of that context. This can create communication barriers that negatively impact the teacher-student relationship and the overall learning environment.

Another reason some schools prefer Japanese-speaking teachers is hiring biases. Japan is a homogenous society, and some schools may have a preference for hiring teachers who fit a certain mold in terms of language ability, appearance, or cultural background. This can be frustrating for non-Japanese teachers who may feel they are being passed over despite their qualifications and experience. However, it’s important to remember that hiring biases exist in every country and industry, and it’s up to individual schools and companies to decide what they value most in a candidate.

Teacher training is another factor that may contribute to the preference for Japanese-speaking teachers. Many English teaching programs in Japan are designed for native Japanese speakers who want to improve their English skills. These programs often utilize a specific teaching methodology that may be challenging for teachers who don’t speak Japanese. As a result, schools may prefer to hire teachers who are already familiar with the methodology and can easily communicate with students in Japanese. However, it’s worth noting that there are also many programs and schools in Japan that prioritize English-language instruction and welcome teachers from diverse language and cultural backgrounds.

Pros of Japanese-speaking teachersCons of non-Japanese-speaking teachers
Cultural understandingCommunication barriers
Hiring biasesDifficulty navigating cultural nuances
Familiarity with teaching methodologyPotential for exclusionary hiring practices
Ability to incorporate authentic materialsLimited understanding of Japanese language and culture

Realities of Living in Japan Without Speaking Japanese

Living in Japan without speaking the language can be incredibly isolating and frustrating, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from the world around you. Language barriers can make even the simplest tasks, like grocery shopping or ordering food, a daunting challenge.

Communication struggles can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities for cultural immersion. Adapting to a new environment is never easy, but not knowing the language can make it even more difficult. You may feel like an outsider, unable to fully participate in the local community or make meaningful connections with those around you.

It can be tempting to rely solely on the English-speaking expat community, but limiting yourself to this group can hinder your personal and professional growth. While it’s possible to teach English in Japan without knowing Japanese, fluency in the language can greatly enhance your experience.

By learning the language, you can better understand the culture, connect with locals, and navigate the country with ease. It may take time and effort to become proficient, but the rewards of cultural immersion and personal growth make it well worth the investment.

How Speaking Japanese Will Improve Your Teaching

Becoming fluent in Japanese can greatly enhance your experience as an English teacher in Japan, allowing you to better understand the culture and connect with your students on a deeper level. Here are some reasons why speaking Japanese can improve your teaching effectiveness:

  • Clear Communication: Speaking the local language can help you break down the language barrier and communicate more effectively with your students. This makes it easier to explain complex grammar rules, provide feedback, and give instructions during class. It also helps you understand your students’ needs and concerns.
  • Cultural Understanding: Learning Japanese can give you a deeper appreciation of the country’s culture, history, and customs. This can help you create lesson plans that are more relevant and engaging for your students. It also shows your students that you respect and value their culture, which can improve their motivation and engagement in the classroom.
  • Student Engagement: Speaking Japanese can help you build rapport with your students and create a more relaxed and comfortable learning environment. This can lead to greater student engagement, participation, and a more enjoyable classroom experience. It also helps you connect with your students on a personal level, which can improve their trust and respect for you as a teacher.

While it’s possible to teach English in Japan without speaking Japanese, becoming fluent in the language can greatly enhance your teaching effectiveness, cultural understanding, student engagement, and overall experience.

It can help you communicate more effectively with your students, create more relevant lesson plans, and build stronger relationships with your students. So, if you’re planning to teach English in Japan, consider investing the time and effort to learn the language. It’ll be well worth it in the long run.

The Negatives of Teaching in Japan When You Know The Language

Knowing Japanese as a foreign teacher in Japan can expose you to the harsh reality of discriminatory behavior from students and peers. While it may be advantageous to understand the language and culture, it also puts you in the position of being an outsider who understands the negative comments and attitudes directed towards you. This can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, especially if you’re unable to address the situation or communicate effectively with your colleagues.

Language barrier challenges can also arise when working in a Japanese school as an English teacher. While you may be able to communicate with your students, there may be times when the language barrier makes it difficult to fully understand their needs and concerns. This can lead to cultural misunderstandings and a lack of trust between you and your students, which can negatively impact the learning environment.

Additionally, it may become challenging to build rapport with your colleagues and school administration if you’re unable to fully participate in conversations or meetings.

Knowing Japanese may not necessarily lead to more job opportunities in Japan. In fact, some schools may prefer to hire non-Japanese speakers to create a more immersive English environment for their students. This means that your language skills may not necessarily be a desirable trait when applying for teaching positions. Additionally, if you’re fluent in Japanese, you may be more likely to be assigned to teach other subjects or administrative tasks instead of teaching English, which may not align with your career goals.

If You Really Can’t Learn a New Language, Consider Vietnam Instead

If you’re struggling to learn a new language, Vietnam could be the perfect destination for teaching English as a foreign language. The job market for English teachers in Vietnam is growing rapidly, with many opportunities for both experienced and novice teachers.

With a basic understanding of the language and a TEFL certification, you can easily find a job in one of the many language schools or international schools across the country. One of the major benefits of teaching in Vietnam is the cultural immersion that comes with it. You’ll have the opportunity to experience a different way of life, taste new foods, and make friends with locals who are eager to practice their English.

Vietnam has a rich history and culture, with many beautiful landmarks and festivals that you can explore during your free time. Additionally, the cost of living in Vietnam is much lower than in many Western countries, so you can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle while still saving money. In terms of visa requirements, Vietnam is relatively easy to navigate.

Most teachers will need to obtain a work permit and a business visa, but these can be easily obtained with the help of your employer. The process is straightforward and much less complicated than in other countries such as Japan or South Korea. So, if you’re looking for a new adventure and an opportunity to teach English without the added pressure of learning a new language, Vietnam could be the perfect destination for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the requirements for teaching English in Japan?

First and foremost, you’ll need a teaching certification, such as a TEFL or TESOL certificate. In addition, you’ll need to obtain a proper visa that allows you to work in Japan. It’s also important to have a high level of language proficiency in English. Check out our post on requirements for teaching English in Japan for a detailed guide. 

How much can you expect to earn as an English teacher in Japan?

As an English teacher in Japan, you can expect to earn an average salary of around ¥250,000 to ¥300,000 per month. However, the amount can vary depending on the school you work for, your experience, and the location of your workplace.

Is it difficult to find a job teaching English in Japan?

Teaching English in Japan can be both challenging and rewarding. There are many opportunities available, but finding jobs in this field can be competitive. Typically, a Bachelor’s degree is necessary to teach English in Japan, although requirements vary depending on the school or program

What is the work schedule like for English teachers in Japan?

English teachers in Japan typically work around 35-40 hours per week, with classes scheduled throughout the day and evening.While schedules may vary, most teachers can expect to have a mix of morning, afternoon and evening classes.

What kind of support can you expect from your employer as an English teacher in Japan?

As an English teacher in Japan, you can expect to receive a variety of support from your employer. Many companies offer training programs to help you improve your teaching skills and become more effective in the classroom.


So, do you need to know Japanese to teach English in Japan? The short answer is no, you don’t. However, it can certainly make your experience easier and more fulfilling.

L2 teaching methods can be used effectively without knowing the language, but being able to communicate with your students and colleagues in their native language can improve rapport and understanding.

While some schools prefer Japanese teachers for their ability to handle administrative tasks and communicate with students and parents, there are still plenty of opportunities for non-Japanese speakers to teach in Japan.

However, it’s important to be aware of the realities of living in Japan without speaking Japanese, such as limited social interaction and potential misunderstandings.

Overall, speaking Japanese can greatly enhance your teaching experience in Japan, but it’s not a requirement. If learning a new language is not feasible for you, consider exploring teaching opportunities in other countries, such as Vietnam.