Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?
As I have written before, there is NOT a huge range of salaries for working as an Assistant Language Teacher, or ALT. Most of this is true for working at a private English Conversation school as well. The one thing you need to keep in mind is choosing a company that will start you at a higher salary if you qualify. Some companies Do Not pay more than the total beginners if you have years of experience. Skip those if you have any of these going for you:
If you have already taught English in another country, or to people in your country, it can be counted as experience and possibly get you paid more. Even volunteering as an ESL teacher, working with students, or teaching experience of any kind can be helpful. Teaching English in Japanese public schools is not the same as how you were taught English – At All.
If you have taught English abroad before and are applying to teach again/somewhere else, this would count as experience. If you renew your one-year contract with the same company, most companies will potentially give you a small pay increase each additional year you stay on.
If you have any masters degree (especially Education, English, TESL, or Linguistics) and/or a teaching certificate (especially with a degree in math or science), skip the ALT route and just apply for international schools, private schools, and universities. These always pay a lot more than ALT work through a recruiting company, although they require a higher degree of responsibility.
Any type of Bachelor’s degree will qualify you for the work visa, so if you’re in college now, no need to change your major. If you know you want to work in the education field and not just temporarily as an assistant teacher, an education major, masters degree, and/or teaching credential will help with qualifying for the highest paying teaching jobs in Japan.
Most of us are used to English and know when something sounds wrong, but explaining why to your students is a totally different story. TESOL/TESL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language/Teaching English as a Second Language) Certification is not required to teach English in Japan, but is preferable and helpful for feeling more confident about teaching English grammar and pronunciation. (Don’t let TESL certificate program websites fool you – I have seen some that say you Need a certificate to get a job, which is absolutely Not true.)
If you are interested, this is the TESOL certificate I got online, and if you tell them ‘hello alissa’ sent you and use the code “Tesol@Chicago,” you can get $20 off a 150 hour TESOL course.
One reason to take college courses in TESL and/or complete a certificate program is that some recruiting/dispatch companies will pay a little extra. If you choose a quality and affordable online (under $500) TESL Certificate program, the salary increase could cover the cost. Most non-online certificates are at least $1000 and include around 100 hours of training plus at least 6 hours of in-class observations of your teaching to help you improve any potential weaknesses. This certificate is good forever, in any country, including the United States. If you want to teach English at private schools in America when you’re done in Japan, it will help you qualify for a job here as well.
The quality of TESL Certificate you choose really depends on how serious or long term you are thinking about teaching and at what level you want to teach. If you only plan to teach for one year in Japan and get a totally different job in America later, it probably isn’t worth it to get a highly reputable certificate like the one offered by CELTA. Their program is one month long, in person and full time, and costs around $2500 at this time. It is one of the most widely recognized certificates, but is also a Cambridge/British English based organization with accredited schools in many locations. Japan is more interested in teachers with North American English accents, so companies want to know if you have a TESL or TESOL certificate. I rarely see them asking for CELTA in job listings.
If you take any type of TESL Certification course, check to see if they will offer job placement. This is an included service with a lot of certificate programs, including MEG. It doesn’t hurt to tell them what you’re looking for and see if they can help you find something appropriate.
It doesn’t always get you a higher salary, but it will definitely help you feel more comfortable adjusting to a new culture if you have traveled abroad, learned another language, and/or studied Japanese.
Learning a second language yourself is also a great way to understand what it’s like for your students. Some companies will pay someone with conversational Japanese ability a little more than someone who knows close to no Japanese. Do you need to speak Japanese to teach English in Japan? No. Your company will expect you to make an attempt to learn at least a handful of phrases, which is understandable because with no ability, your daily life will be a lot more confusing.
The good news is, learning Japanese in Japan is tons easier than at home. Not that it can’t be done anywhere else, but being in a Japanese environment all the time makes it exponentially faster to learn Japanese. You will probably learn a little purely by accident. I recommend All Japanese All the Time for some great tips, if you’re learning.