6 Tips for Your First Private Language Lesson

On January 6, 2015

Photo by Kill Pop

Wether you are in front of a room full of young kids, cram school tutoring or lessons at a coffee shop, teaching English in Japan is an adventure no matter how you do it. When you teach with an organization or school, though, you will often get more guidance than in a private lesson done on your own. To make sure your private lessons go smoothly, here are 6 tips to master your coffee shop lessons.

1. Be on Time

In Japan, timing is everything. If you’ve been in the country long enough, you can tell this simply by taking public transportation or attending a meeting; both are rarely late. Coffee shop lessons are no exception. From the first lesson to the last, it’s important to remember two things about timing.

First of all, never be late. It is considered rude and unprofessional, and can especially give a bad first impression. Secondly, never be too early. That’s right, if you are too early for your lesson, it is also impolite. The reason has to do with seniority etiquette in Japanese culture.

Regardless of age or social status, as a “sensei,” you are automatically the senior in your lesson; this is especially true during lessons with older students or businessmen/women. Therefore, as your junior, your student will show you the respect you deserve by arriving early to the lesson, and probably saving you a seat at a table. So, don’t be alarmed at your student’s early arrival each time, it’s actually to show their lower position by not making you be the one to wait.

2. Being a Customer

Another specific aspect to the coffee-shop lesson is that of playing the role of the customer. If you’ve had much experience in Japan, you probably realize the importance of making a purchase at the establishment which you’re using.

The same goes for English lessons at coffee shops. Each time you meet, every day, you will be expected to buy a coffee, pastry, or something of the sort to show your patronage. Your student will also be expecting this of you, and will be patiently waiting while you place your order. You do not need to buy anything for your student however, just get something for yourself.

3. Table Etiquette

After you’ve bought your coffee and sit down with your student, the etiquette rules continue. Most of the time the student won’t be too strict and uptight with cultural rules, but simply have practices that aren’t given a second thought. For one, it is usually expected that you place a napkin under your drinking cup. This is something that might not apply with each student, but is typical. Most importantly, though, always sit on the opposite side of the table from your student, especially with someone who is older. It might feel strange in some table settings, but even if you have multiple students at once, they will all expect to sit across from you. Again, this is because of your seniority over them.

4. Lesson Payment

As for lesson payment, it will usually come in an envelope, but some students will give it to you without one. As usual with the Japanese culture, they will pay you in full, each time, without fail.

However, there may be times when they might forget to hand it to you, even though you’re wrapping up the lesson. In this case, just simply mention it before you leave and they’re sure to give it then, along with a long apology. Overall, lesson payments are considered standard and non-negotiable for Japanese private lessons.

5. Giving Gifts

One fun aspect of having students in Japan, private lesson or not, is receiving gifts. Each time your student leaves on a business trip or vacation, you can expect an “omiyage” (souvenir) from them at your next coffee shop lesson. It’s not necessary for you to do the same when you go out of town, but is always welcomed and appreciated. This omiyage exchange is another cultural practice that is just assumed, so they may be a little heartbroken when they don’t receive one after your trip.

6. Time expectation

The last major point to know about private lesson students is about their loyalty and time commitment. More times than not, the student will commit to staying with you, and only you, as a teacher until you are unable to teach any longer. If you are in a temporary position in the country such as with the military, its important to be open about your time limit in Japan and make them aware of your leave date. If this situation happens where you are the one to end the lessons, its also appropriate to find a replacement teacher for when you’re gone.

Even with these cultural expectations, meeting students privately at coffee shops is a fun experience. By paying attention to these unspoken rules, you’ll be prepared for a smooth first coffee-shop lesson with your new student, and can focus more on their learning experience.


Navy wife, esl teacher, travel enthusiast.
  • ja says:

    Hi, I just have a few questions if you don’t mind. I will be in Japan by early next year and I am planning to do private lessons like this during my free time, especially weekends. [1] How much is the appropriate starting fee for business class? free talking class? conversation (with book) class? [2] where do you usually get your teaching materials, any website or book title is okay [3] aside from hello-sensei & find-students.net do you know of any other reputable site to gain more students?

    I would really appreciate your answer. I find your post really helpful and informative. Thank you in advance for your time. Cheers! ^^,

  • Anderson says:

    Hello, nice article. How much is proper to charge per hour in a tutorial like the one you mention? 🙂

    • kelsey says:

      Thanks Anderson! For one student, the rates are anywhere from 2000-3500¥ per hour, but I found that building a good student base meant charging 2000¥. Then, for group lessons, teachers typically charge a little less per person (1000-1500¥).

      • Rebecca says:

        I would say it depends on what you can offer, your age, the student’s age and your teaching experience and qualifications. Older students who have a specific goal are prepared to pay around 5,000 yen. I’ve taught a heart surgeon who was preparing to give a poster presentation in English in Italy, high school teachers who aren’t confident enough to correct returnees English exams, edited English passages for books, pamphlets and manuals translated into English by the student.etc. Those students are hard to come by and you need to be able to offer more than “chatting in English”. However, I’d rather teach four interesting, intelligent students a week for 20,000 yen then 10 for the same amount!

      • Anderson says:

        Thanks a lot for your response. I will work on building that good student base 😉

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