Teaching Business English In Japan
By Mark Guthrie
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.