Teaching in Japan as a Non-Native English Speaker

There seems to be a myth going around that if you are a foreigner who wants to work in Japan as an English teacher that you must be a native English speaker (English is the your first language). Although that may be true in a country such as South Korea, it couldn’t be more wrong in Japan.

I spent several years working in South Korea in the education sector and in order to get a valid working visa to be a teacher you had to be either from Canada, America, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. You had to have received your university degree from an accredited English university as well. I have met some Canadians who were not able to get a job teaching in Korea because they went to a French language university.

In Japan, the rules aren’t as demanding. I’m not really sure why this is the case. Maybe Japan has been open to foreigners working as teachers for a longer period of time. Maybe officials realize that non-native speakers can teach English just as well if not better than many native English speakers. I really don’t know.

Over the years, people from various countries around the world have been emailing me and asking me if it is possible for them to teach in Japan even though English is not their first language. The answer I give them is “YES.” In my years in Japan I have worked with a large number of teachers from a wide variety of countries. Many of them have not been native English speakers. I have had coworkers who taught English from India, Pakistan, Sweden, Philippines, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Spain, France, Sweden, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Brazil. Many of them were fine teachers.

Many people around the world have a profound interest in Japan. Some love Japan for the food and language. Others are more interested in the pop culture; things such as manga and anime. Some are attracted to the fashion and cool and fast-paced life in a city like Tokyo. Many are interested and want to come to Japan to work and live. Some of those people see the route of becoming an English teacher as an effective path in getting here.

In order to teach English in Japan and qualify for either an Instructor’s Visa (needed to teach in public schools, colleges and universities) or a Specialist in Humanities and International Relations Visa (needed to teach in private language schools and kindergartens), you need a completed university degree (one or two year diplomas/Associates Degrees don’t count) and a very strong grasp of spoken and written English. If you have those qualifications, there’s nothing stopping your from trying to get a job as a teacher in Japan.

Long story short, if you are not from a native English speaking country, don’t let that stop you from trying to come to Japan if you are really interested.

(This was originally posted August 26th, 2013)



Kevin O’Shea is a Canadian PYP (elementary school) teacher at an international school in Kobe, Japan. He is a podcaster, birder and insect enthusiast.

Check out his Birds of Kansai Facebook page for lots of great nature photography and information about wildlife and the beauty of Japan and of course the Just Japan Podcast.

Follow him on Twitter: @madformaple


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