Teaching In Japan As Non-Native English Speaker

Teaching In Japan As Non-Native English Speaker

Many non-native speakers of English want to teach English abroad, particularly Japan because they’re a bit more open to hiring teachers from countries other than the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Here’s some research I’ve done on the topic so far. Feel free to add or revise where required. It’s a work in progress.


  • If you’re a non-native speaker of English but have lived/studied in the US (for example) and can prove it, there’s a chance you could get hired as a teacher in Japan.
  • Non-native speakers are permitted to teach at both private and public language schools in Japan provided they meet specific educational and English fluency requirements.  These schools vary from small mom and pop language schools, to huge franchised language schools with dozens of locations, to public elementary and middle and high schools in Japan.
  • Gaba Corporation in Japan has been known to hire teachers whose first language isn’t English.  Although there haven’t been great reviews of Gaba, is is a starter school and the school will require a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. On the qualifications page Gaba states: Must have a bachelor’s degree (or above) from an accredited university where English was the medium of instruction OR three years of verifiable full-time ESL teaching experience. So it appears they are open to hiring non-natives.
  • I’ve also heard Gaba isn’t particular what your major is, as long as you have a 4 year BA degree and the courses were taught in English, and you can prove your English proficiency.
  • This is great option for anyone who grew up attending international schools and received a degree from the US, Canada, the UK or Australia, for instance.
  • One tip for the job interview is to LOSE your accent, whichever country you are from. This is a tell-tale sign “for the Japanese recruiters anyway” that you are not proficient.
  • Check out Peppy Kids Club, Shane English School, ACC, Berlitz as well. Non-natives might get their foot in the door at these schools.
  • The JETT Program is also a possibility for non-natives to get hired. They do hire teachers from other countries. Check the list of countries participating in the JET program here:  http://jetprogramme.org/en/countries/
  • If you can speak a decent level of Japanese and are from a participating country in the JETT program, you could apply as a CIR. A CIR is a Coordinator for International Relations. Here’s a quote from a CIR  who spent 2 years in Japan JETT Program.

Because teaching English (or one’s native language) is not a primary duty, more CIRs than ALTs come from countries where English is not an official language. In my prefecture, we had CIRs from India, Belgium, France, Russia, China, Brazil, and Korea as well as the US, the UK, and Canada. https://shinpaideshou.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/applying-to-jet-as-a-cir-part-1/

  • Teachers I’ve heard who’ve taught in Japan but weren’t native speakers come from Africa, Israel and Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica, Netherlands, Germany and France.
  • I’ve  heard of a Polish woman who was fluent in Japanese and had a BA degree from a US university. These two qualifications improved her chances greatly.
  • One German fellow came to Japan on a Working Holiday Visa so it was easier to get a teaching job as a non-native, since he already had a visa, and the company did not have to sponsor one for him. Of course, he did have a Bachelor’s degree.
  • Having a working holiday visa, student visa, or spousal visa obviously helps in making the transition to a teaching visa. But, please don’t mistake these as the legal requirement to teach English in Japan.
  • Not sure if there is a working holiday agreement between Sweden and Japan yet for all you Swedes interested in working and/or teaching there.
  • Sometimes language schools in Japan will allow non native speakers to teach in their native language, like Spanish and then they’ll ease them into English classes, once management is confident in their fluency. I knew a girl who taught at Berlitz, who was hired to teach Spanish, and ended up teaching English when they didn’t have enough English teachers for classes on certain days.
  • While the above situations are “legal examples” of non-natives teaching English in Japan, you will also hear of non natives teaching English in Japan at coffee shops, private tutoring, etc. Keep in mind they are teaching illegally, but OFF the radar, and do not have the proper teaching visa. They are also few and far between. I would NOT recommend going this route. Eventually immigration catches up to them, and they’re deported.
  • If you’re a non-native expect to work harder than native speakers. You may need to be prepared to write an essay about “why you want to teach in Japan” and spend a lot of time crafting a compelling cover letter for each job. Modify it for each school and location. Don’t just provide a boilerplate cover letter.
  • Bottom line is… whichever country you’re from, Japanese schools want someone who is vibrant. If you do get an interview, be lively and look your absolute best.
  • If you do get a Skype or in person interview, dress sharply. Suits and ties for guys. Show that you take teaching English very seriously, even though you’re not a native speaker.
  • Once you land a job teaching in Japan you should continue to make connections with teachers and other school owners (for your next job). Be prepared to travel a bit to from class locations to teach your native language. Since there is less demand for Spanish, German or French in Japan,  you may have to work harder to keep students motivated and retain them. Although the same could be assumed for English learners at well.
  • Filipino teachers are recruited to teach English in Thailand too.
  • To work as an ALT I’ve heard that the main requirement to getting a teaching visa is that you must speak English better than the average Japanese national. For most Japanese people, their level of English is minimal.
  • There is a rule that if you’re a non-native speaker who wants to obtain a visa to teach in Japan, you’ll need to have 12 years of experience living in an English-speaking country.  Don’t forget to include high school if you attended there.
  • Some schools may be able to skirt around the 12 year rule. Not sure how they do it. Be warned, if you get hired without a teaching visa you are illegal, and this could result in jail time and/or deportation.
  • Another option suggested by a teacher is the Heart English School. Heart has schools in six locations in Japan – Tokyo being one of them.
  • On Heart’s website they have a long list of FAQs. Their response under the question  “Do I need to be a native speaker to teach a language?” is…. It is not required, though it does improve one’s chances of an employment offer.  Here’s a link to their FAQ where they provide a more detailed explanation. http://www.heart-school.jp/en/faq.html#work03
  • One suggestion is to look for language institutes in rural prefectures and small eikaiwa that typically hire teachers for other languages. Less competition to get hired. Moving outside of the bigger centers like Tokyo or Osaka just to get hired and become a foreign resident in Japan is the first big step. Once you’ve proven yourself you can apply for the better jobs in the big cities a year or two later. Don’t be picky and be willing to accept the lowest salary that you can feasibly live on. Consider your first year or two in Japan as an apprenticeship or study year. You can earn more money later.
  • There have been other suggestions to come Japan and study Japanese at a Language School. This will get you a student visa. If you study hard, within a year you’ll speak Japanese reasonably well. Then after, you can start applying for jobs while you’re already “residing in Japan.” It can be much easier getting a job while in Japan and if you speak Japanese.
  • It’s important to note, that while you may pass the interview test with the language schools (that may hire non-natives) above, there is no guarantee you’ll be awarded a working visa from Japanese immigration. Immigration makes their own decisions as to whether you are qualified. I’ve heard of non-native teachers who were ultimately rejected by immigration because they weren’t a citizen of an official English-speaking country.  So, don’t quit your existing job back home once your hear the school has agreed to hire you, send you the contract, or before you buy your plane ticket. The JAPAN COE has the final say in your employment. Just be aware of this, but certainly don’t let it stop you from applying.
  • It’s also important to remember that the majority of teaching jobs in Japan require teachers to be native speakers and be “currently residing in Japan”. So, it’s not easy, but not impossible to get a job teaching in Japan. You just have to be creative and find the right school willing to hire you. If you can prove you have up to 12 years of experience living in an English-speaking country like the US, Canada, etc, then you have a much better chance of getting hired.
  • Not sure how influential this will be in getting hired in Japan, but having a very high IELTS or TOEFL score on your resume could make a difference in getting you an interview. So, make sure you highlight it on your resume. Nevertheless, make sure you include all your credentials in your application. Degrees, TEFL certificate references, volunteer English teaching experience, the duration you lived or studied in an English-speaking country.
  • The real key to standing out and getting a teaching job in Japan is to PROVE your English fluency. Everything you can do to prove this will work in your favour.
  • If you don’t succeed at finding a job teaching English in Japan, there’s always China. I haven’t done research on the China teaching market for non-natives, but in speaking with recruiters there, they are open to hiring non natives. The devil is in the details, so do your due diligence.

So, YES, it definitely is possible to get a job teaching English in Japan as a non-native speaker. Bookmark this post and refer to it often to help you through the Japan hiring process.

Best of luck and please leave a comment below about your experience getting a job teaching in Japan if you’re a non native speaker of English.


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