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Teaching Business English In Japan

Teaching business English in Japan can be very lucrative but teachers should remember that it isn’t just about being genki and a winning smile. They mean business and so should you.

By 4 min read 16

Most teachers in Japan tend to find employment down one of two routes: a large corporation eikaiwa teaching a broad range of students from little kids whose parents wish them to have an early step up, to obaasans looking for something to do to pass the time; or in a public school as an Assistant Language Teacher. However, there is a third, increasingly popular, not to mention potentially lucrative, option for gainful employment.

Teaching business English in Japan can pay higher rates than either eikaiwa or ALT work – sometimes dramatically so, but that is because there are high expectations from the teaching establishments and the corporations that hire them. It isn’t just about being genki and a winning smile. They mean business.

I recently spoke to Johan af Uhr of The Tokyo Center for Language and Culture, a company that specialises in supplying teachers in a corporate environment, about the world of business English.

What is it that companies like yours are looking for when hiring teachers for business English?

Apart from the obvious, such as academic background, a professional attitude, language abilities and experience in the field, i.e corporate classes in Japan or elsewhere, we also look for the overall personal appearance and the teacher’s attitude to the job.

Teaching corporate classes means that the teacher is exposed to a variety of working environments and classroom situations. Good organization and effective planning are essential skills. However, flexibility and willingness to adapt to sudden changes are also important. Even though we support as much as we can, once the class is up and running the teacher is on their own and must be one step ahead at all times.

What do you think makes for a good business English teacher that might differ from a teacher at an eikawa or public school?

I would say the attitude to the students. They are not children or teenagers; they are adults with a heavy workload. They have lots of responsibilities in their jobs and often demanding expectations from their superiors. Therefore, there is a definite reason for them to spend time and energy to learn English, or any foreign language for that matter.

The teacher must understand this and realize that a lesson is definitely not ”just another lesson” – it is a part of something bigger. It’s a part of the student’s overall personal corporate education and development within his or her company.

An awareness of the Japanese and the international business environment and what kind of English that is necessary to function is this environment, is another essential skill for the teacher.

What do you think your clients expect from the teachers you supply? Does that differ from what the students expect?

The corporate clients today very often have a serious and goal oriented view of any training program. Many students however, even though they are serious about learning English, at the same time they want to practice free conversation and ”have fun with cool English” and learn not only business related language functions and patterns. As a teacher you need to be able to strike balance between these two requests.

A good class is not only a happy client, it’s also a happy student.

A high level of professionalism, obvious continuity from lesson to lesson, effective usage of class material, etc. are all important ingredients for a successful class, but also a continuous readiness to respond to student questions and request concerning daily matters or more cross cultural issues, are just as important.

Do the students face any penalty from their employer for poor attendance or poor results?

Some companies sponsor their students provided they reach a certain level of attendance, often somewhere around 75 to 80 %. Therefore, it’s important for the teacher, as well as the class master, to maintain an accurate record of the attendance. We report the attendance back to the client.

At the end of any training program, we evaluate each student and report back to the client. Students with weak or poor performance will often join the same class again. Students with improved performance often join the next, higher, level.

I haven’t seen any kind of penalty for poor results. Education officers and managers seem aware of the students’ struggle. As mentioned, students with poor results very often join a training program again.

What common mistakes do first time business English teachers make?

Again, attitude. We are working with organized and motivated adults, not childish youngsters, and lessons must be conducted accordingly.

Also, level of energy and variety. A lesson on “first gear” with little, or no, variation is not interesting for the students.

I would say, in general, working with adult students means that you can cover a lot more and in a higher tempo, compared with young students.

However, each group is different, with different chemistry and report, and both teacher and students need time to adjust to each other. This “time to adjust” tends to be a bit stretched for first time teachers. Experienced teachers quickly realize what can possibly be covered in a lesson for a certain group of students. And, with an effective and varied lesson structure, a good rapport will quickly establish itself.

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  • Lancaster says:

    I’ve thought about teaching Business English. Bachelor of Commerce, working on my MBA, worked at a variety of offices from government to banks, etc…. but never upper management.

    Are students of Business English look toward to communicating with Business lingual (ex. RoR has not kept up with R&D for the last 5 consecutive years.) or just being able to communicate without contractions, slangs, and colourful language?

  • mary says:

    Thanks for the very helpful article. My friend`s small engineering company is asking me to tutor some of their staff Business English. Five students in one class, once a week and they are asking me how much it will cost. The truth is I have no idea because I have no experience teaching Business English. I have stopped my one on one Eikaiwa job since I gave birth to my children and is unemployed as of now. Before I was just paid a monthly salary by the school I worked for. This time this is like a freelance job and eventhough I am not a graduate of Engineering, I think I can teach them as much as I could by using reference books, etc. Please give me an idea how much they should pay me per hour for multiple students per class.

  • Jenise says:

    I have a degree in business management and another in education. I previously held a series 77 FINRA stockbrokers license, various insurance license, and currently hold a real estate brokers license in California, I also have a multitude of finance certifications and designations. My most recent prior employment was running my own small business consulting firm in San Francisco. However; I am currently living in Japan and teaching at a private English language school. I am interested in teaching Business English in my free time, but my employment requires that it be online or skype only as not to compete with their school. Is there a demand for Business English instructors via skype?

  • kayumochi says:

    Few gaijin teaching English in Japan have any real-world business experience.

  • Zan Li says:

    “Teaching business English in Japan can pay higher rates than either eikaiwa or ALT work – ” Most business english gigs pay hourly and only offer part-time work on a contractual basis that could be from three months to one year. Thus very few if any sponsor visas. Business English teaching as a sole means of employment is a tough hustle and one must have many irons in the fire.

  • Jon Teeul says:

    After reading all of the comments below, I am just a little bit confused by them. Has everyone who commented here actually worked as an English teacher in a foreign country? Or is it that they are just angry they have not been hired by a “certain” company?
    In my experience, as a Business English teacher, it takes both knowledge of the field “business” or core competence as well as knowledge of teaching English as a subject to people who are learning English as a foreign language. It is true that people who teach specific areas do not necessarily make good language teachers and this point needs to be stressed.
    I do not care if you are a native speaker, when I hire people for my own company (which is geared for “business English”) just because you are native or because you got a high score on your TOEIC. It is just an indicator of how well you understand the English language, however, not an indicator of how well you can transmit the idea or use of such language. The best way to be a better foreign language teacher (teacher of a language not native to the country) is to learn the language of the country you are in first and with this experience of knowing what problem areas were faced, now transmit this in a “reverse-engeineered” manner.
    It is of necessity you take your TESOL course and get the certificate, not only to understand the idea of teaching, but also to recognize that teaching is not just repeating and hoping that the students will understand. Instead, the knowledge is necessary to find an interactive and enjoyable lesson that improves the amount of English assimilated by the students. “Osmosis” only works with water. Only with practice and motivation will students become competent in English, and if you do not know how to direct that practice correctly, it is like trying to swim upstream.

  • Dina Ezzeddine says:

    I’m a Canadian artist with a bfa and master’s degree in visual arts and design. I’m a native English speaker and I’m seeking assistance to either teach English in tokyo or art at a university. What are my options? I’d need accommodation as well because this is the first time I take this leap so I’d like to know what approach I should take.

    • AK says:

      Hello Dina,

      It doesn’t matter if you have an Art BFA. I have an MBA and most people in the world with Masters in English can’t teach Business English. You have to have experience in business world with a strong back ground if Management terminology. My suggestion would be to apply for regular schools. An experienced business professional would immediately recognize an artist by language and their ways. Not that I’m trying to hold you down but as a business man and a ameture photographer. Business world demands business experience.

      In addition, I have studied Japanese for years and I can say that most people looking to teach Business or legal English just don’t qualify for the Job.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      Best thing to do is to start applying for jobs on GaijinPot that accept overseas applications.

      Another option is to look at coming to Japan as a language student. You can get a 2 year visa and work part time as you study the language.

  • Interesting. Definitely looks different to the “norm” of English teachers we see throughout Japan.

  • jron42 says:

    What would the chances be for an American Software Engineer with 30 years software dev experience to teach technical english for software systems developers and related management and sales personel?

  • Lucas Spoel says:

    Childish youngsters???? I don’t like the “attitude” of this individual Johan af Uhr at all, neither the TCLL mission from reading the above interview. Get real!

  • rudolphk says:

    First of all, the name “The Tokyo Center for Language and Culture” immediately brings to mind “a company that specialises in
    supplying teachers in a corporate environment”. Doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. Let’s keep things real, shall we.

    What is it that companies like yours are looking for when hiring teachers for business English?

    The answer ought to be professional background. Why? It is easier for, say, a Japanese engineer to work and improve language skills with an English-speaking engineer than with the most experienced English teacher. An engineer with some teaching ability is better than a teacher with some knowledge of engineering. These are working professionals, after all! It works the same across all fields be they finance, management, accounting or whatever! Schools such as The Tokyo Center for Language and Culture likely know this but cannot find suitable matches to send out to companies. Substituting style for substance is a common (and tired) response.

    “Flexibility and willing to adapt to sudden changes” is code for being ready to acquiesce to sudden schedule changes, because students claim to “have real work”. Isn’t studying English real work? Isn’t making sales “work”? Isn’t liaising with English-speaking groups “work”? Isn’t attending a congress and sharing research in English “work”? All these pay off and need to be looked at when studying English.

    Japan has a certain business/research culture that is what it is. A good school risks losing clients by telling them what time it is! Instead, schools ask teachers to be flexible… to clients who do not know what side of their bread is buttered. A good school would introduce Bernoulli to their clients! Here is a little time well spent: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_researches_happiness# Is “The Tokyo Center for Language and Culture” a good school?

    “As a teacher you need to be able to strike balance between these two requests” is code for being criticised when the clients say they are bored AND when they say they are not learning something substantive. Making small talk is a huge part of human communication. It serves an important role in relationship building.

    “A good class is not only a happy client, it’s also a happy student.” As an HR consultant, I have seen many HR Departments cede too many of their responsibilities to consultants like me… and to consultants who don’t merit them. The HR professionals are out of their depth and unable to set goals or judge progress.

    Attendance? Attendance! The HR department that judges things according to attendance is poor! Again, a good school will tell them what time it is and keep things real. The best thing a teacher can do is to keep students “happy” and have them focus on WHY they are happy. It may not start off being for work-related reasons, but it always gets there over time. A student who relates his/her language progress to work is both happy and makes the HR department (“the client”) look good.

    What common mistake do first-time business clients make? <— Better question! They do not know what they are buying and go all in for the "nobody-ever-got-fired-for-buying-an-IBM"-type of defensive mentality. Bad supply schools prey on these know-nothing businesses. Supply schools have been stating those platitudes above since the 80s! If
    your business is supplying blind scouts, then The Blind Leading The
    Blind must sound like a mighty fine business opportunity!

    As for the first-time business English teachers… know that (so-called) business English is just English for special purposes. For example, it is persuasion, description and comparison for sales people. In addirion, find your own students and cut out the middle man. Those are the two best pieces of advice I can give you (for your consideration). Good luck! 😉

    • Jamming James says:

      “It is easier for, say, a Japanese engineer to work and improve language skills with an English-speaking engineer than with the most experienced English teacher. An engineer with some teaching ability is better than a teacher with some knowledge of engineering. These are working professionals, after all! It works the same across all fields be they finance, management, accounting or whatever!”

      I disagree with this way of thinking. It depends entirely on what ability they currently have, what level they want to reach, and for what purpose they want to speak another language. It would far better using a dedicated English teacher to get a professional up to a competent level of English before introducing complex terminology; otherwise you’ll just end up with low level English speakers who spit out specific words without context. While I absolutely agree that having someone who can speak English and has real world experience in the same field will do wonders for someone’s English, I think that comes at a much later stage. If we are talking about people who already have a good grasp of the language, then more exposure to someone in the same field will offer more rewards, but learning through osmosis is a poor substitute for active learning. In fact, if you want to talk about professionals who can already communicate in English at a high level, then all they really need is to go over terminology, which is focused much more on learning new vocabulary than actually learning English. It’s also worth mentioning that just because someone can teach Engineering; it doesn’t mean that the same person can teach English, even if it is focused around Engineering.

      An issue a lot of people face with some doctors in Japan is with those who know a lot of English medical words but have no idea how to use them in an English sentence, and instead hope that the person listening can figure it out themselves. This is purely anecdotal, but a few years ago I visited a doctor’s office (Who advertised that he spoke English) who clearly completely exaggerated his English ability. Now, my Japanese is OK, but during times when important information is being discussed, like my health, I’d rather either visit an English speaking doctor, or attend a clinic with someone who has a better grasp of Japanese than I do. So one of the reasons I chose this particular doctor was that he advertised that he spoke English. Anyway, after a few routine questions, all in Japanese, which definitely threw up red flags, he kept saying the word cancer when speaking to me. When it was clear that I didn’t understand him, he just kept repeating the word cancer, but without any context it was unclear what he was trying to say. He even stopped speaking Japanese around this time, and instead repeated the word cancer again and again. As you can imagine my mind was racing. So, a few nerve wracking days later I returned with a friend, who spoke to the doctor with me, and it was made clear that I didn’t have cancer. The reason I bring this up is because this same doctor told me that he had worked with other English speaking doctors, which is why he thought he could speak English. I have no idea how well that went.

      My point is, this situation could have been easily avoided if the doctor didn’t have the hubris to think that knowing medical terminology meant he could speak another language. I know lots of French culinary words, but it doesn’t mean I can speak French. There’s a big difference between teaching someone the words they need to know in their field, and how to form sentences and grammatical structures so they can express themselves using those words accurately.

      Another thing, I can’t see many professionals willing to take hours out of their schedules to teach English to colleagues. Teaching a language is a serious time commitment if you want to do it properly. The only ones who I think would do that are either those who have been employed with that being one of their responsibilities, or those who have a personal interest in linguistics.

      Now, discussing how good these ‘Business English’ teaching jobs are is a whole other post in and of itself.

    • Shawn says:

      “It is easier for, say, a Japanese engineer to work and improve language skills with an English-speaking engineer than with the most experienced English teacher.” – I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, the last time I pointed this out to a recruitment agency they completely dismissed this point of view. They reasoned that they don’t care if I’m very good with English and regardless of the fact that I’ve been teaching English for quite some time already (I have a part time job as an ESL teacher) because they only interested if I had a TESOL certificate.

      I got back at them and presented my TOEIC certificate (975/990) but they still refused to honor my application because it should be a TESOL and IT IS ABSOLUTE. Then why do they bother saying “or other relevant certificates related to English proficiency”? It’s no wonder Japan’s average English proficiency level among its population is still “anemic”. Heck, I have seen and known some teachers who are TESOL certified and they don’t even compare to some of my friends who are not even English teacher but teachers of other subjects.

      Teaching a foreign language should be at the very least be dynamic and adaptive enough to be effective. And English has its own variations not only country or place (e.g. British English or American English) but also in particular fields (e.g. English for engineers) because English for engineers is not the same for medical doctors.

      TESOL and other equivalent certifications are valuable indicators of a teacher’s English teaching capabilities but it shouldn’t be the only tool to gauge someone’s overall teaching capability and potential.



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