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In Defence of English Teaching

By Kevin Burns

I have one of the greatest jobs in the world. I get paid to do what I love doing. I teach English in Japan. I have always enjoyed meeting and conversing with interesting people, only now I get paid for it.

Yet, teaching at English conversation schools ("Eikaiwa") seems to be a much-maligned profession, especially on certain websites. One of those is Arthur Caversham's The Truth About Shane and Nova Pages at

Let me examine some of his claims.

1. "Eikaiwa" schools employ teachers with no teaching experience.

So what? Some of the best teachers in the world are like a diamond in the rough. If you hire people who have an aptitude for teaching, train them and help them along the way, they will be better teachers than many teachers who have an advanced degree.

2. "Eikaiwa" schools employ teachers with no teaching qualifications.

Again, so what? Famous Japanese companies do the same thing. They employ people with no specific qualifications and train them to work in departments which have nothing to do with their university degrees. "Eikaiwa" schools have their own in-house training programs and they train their teachers, too.

3. "Eikaiwa" schools employ teachers with NEITHER teaching experience NOR teaching qualifications.

So do many other businesses in every industry imaginable. Do you believe that university training is the only thing that matters? Many successful people have no formal education beyond college, yet they are now company presidents. Some of the worst teachers in the world have a PhD.

If the schools train them to teach, isn't that sometimes better than a university education that is full of theory and sometimes a waste of time? Isn't practical on-the-job training sometimes on a par with or better than a university education?

4. Some "eikaiawa" schools demand that students pay a huge amount of money before beginning their lessons. This money is not refundable.

Yes, but so do many other businesses. There are also many "eikaiwa" schools that allow students to pay by the month. They don't pay up front. Most schools are run by trustworthy people. How do I know this? Because if they weren't trustworthy, they couldn't stay in business for very long; the word would get around that they are shady operators.

5. Nova's pay and conditions for teachers are among the worst in Japan; therefore Nova teachers are usually so bad they cannot find a job elsewhere. This is also why Nova advertises for teachers every week in the Japan Times.

Perhaps. Or maybe they have so many schools - over 500 now - that they constantly need new teachers. If Nova is so terrible, why would anyone choose to work there? Some Nova teachers would be hired anywhere. They are very good teachers, they enjoy working for Nova and they care about their students.

6. Nova uses the same boring textbooks (American Streamline, available from most bookshops) for every lesson.

Some schools allow their teachers to choose which textbook they use, others don't. For some teachers, choosing the textbook for them is a good thing. For others, giving them more freedom is better. It really depends on how independent the teacher is.

7. Teachers are not given time to prepare for any lessons.

Most schools do give their teachers time to prepare. As a professional, you are expected to show up to work and give yourself enough time to prepare or to prepare at home. This is similar to public school teachers in North America.

8. Nova teachers are not allowed to prepare their own lessons for students.

For some Nova teachers, giving them a structure to follow, I'm sure, is a good thing. For other teachers, allowing them the freedom to plan their own lessons is better. That is what we do at our schools.

9. Nova teachers are not allowed to fraternize with students outside the classroom.

True. However, most schools have no problem with students and teachers becoming friends. I have never understood Nova's non-fraternization policy myself. I like it if our teachers become friends with students. I feel it helps the school.

10. Some "eikaiwa" schools fire teachers who talk too much in class.

It isn't the teacher who is supposed to do the talking. The students are supposed to talk and the teacher is supposed to listen and correct. Some experts suggest the teacher should try for only 15% speaking time and allow the students to speak 85% of the time. I think that is a great goal for all teachers.

11. Some "eikaiwa" schools claim to specialize in teaching English to children, yet most of their teachers have no qualifications or background in teaching children.

I think you can train people to do many things. Isn't this complaint a tad picky? The person who wrote this comment seems to think people can't learn anything new.

12. Some "eikaiwa" schools' sales pitch persuades students they can learn English in just one hour a week (or in some cases, half an hour). Unless a student is also studying elsewhere, this is totally inadequate for learning anything.

I think that it will take a very long time to learn that way. That is what we tell students when we meet them for the first time, and on our homepage in Japanese. We let them know that learning English is more akin to learning classical piano than like learning how to swim. Classical piano and English take a long time to master. Why hide that from them? Some schools do hide that fact. I don't agree with that personally and don't follow that business practice. We try to be honest with students about what they are up against. I think a lot of "eikaiwa" schools are like ours that way.

13. Shane's sales pitch persuades parents to send children as young as two years old to its English lessons. Unsurprisingly, these poor kids learn nothing.

I think that children this age can learn with the right teacher. Of course, the parents have to do their bit at home though. Unfortunately, few parents are willing to help out. Teachers also need to explain to the mothers when they come with their children what they should do at home to help their kids learn. The school also needs to explain this.

14. Shane recruits teachers in England with the promise of providing them with company accommodation. In practice, Shane provides sub-standard accommodation (e.g. apartments with neither shower nor hot water in the kitchen) at inflated prices. Shane leases apartments from landlords and rents them to teachers at a profit.

Are these apartments furnished? I assume they are. We also provide furnished apartments to our teachers and the cost of upkeep is astronomical. Shouldn't the teachers share in that cost if they are using the facilities? If they break the TV, shouldn't they contribute to the repair? The Shane apartments I have seen have had a bath. They were no worse than what Japanese nextdoor were living in. They may charge more than the rent to cover for damage to the furniture and other utilities. The company shouldn't have to pay for damage.

The alternative to this is having to furnish your own place. Believe me, that isn't fun either. Apartments in Japan come with nothing usually, sometimes not even a light bulb. Our apartments are very clean and average to above average when compared to Japanese apartments in general.

15. Should a teacher, recruited 6,000 miles a way, realize that Shane's methods of operation leave something to be desired, the company requires three months notice of resignation.

Recently, it has taken well over four months to secure working visas for our last two teachers. Staff at Panache, a recruitment office for companies, report the same thing. Three months are not long when you consider that it usually takes over four months to get a working visa for the next teacher. You could only hire people with a working holiday visa, or another proper visa but then it restricts your choice of teachers.

In Vancouver, when I worked for Pitney Bowes in sales, I knew I wouldn't do it forever. The job was not my cup of tea; yet I respected the fact that my colleagues thought of it as a career. I never once uttered, "I'm only doing this until I get a real job." I would never have thought to make such a crass comment. It was a real job in spite of the fact I didn't like it.

I think good English teachers make Japan a little more open if only in a small way. I have taught well over 2,000 Japanese. They meet me on the street with a greeting. They tell me, "thank you, for teaching my son, my granddaughter, my husband." It is a nice feeling. I have touched people's lives in a way I never imagined. What started out as simply an English class has grown to mean much more over the years.

Not everyone can catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. Not everyone can teach English in Japan. Good teachers are born. It is a God-given gift. Sure, you can refine it, but either you are or you aren't a good teacher. All the PhDs in the world can't change that fact if you are a lousy one.

Good teachers are personable, caring, sensitive, intelligent, well-read, curious and have a sense of adventure - to name but a few characteristics. They care about their students and want to help them improve. If you have the gift, I encourage you to use it. By using it in Japan, you are making the world a better place.

The writer, a Canadian, is the owner of Kevin's English Schools, The Canadian Schools in Japan.

There are four schools in Kanagawa.

About The Author

Kevin Burns is the owner of Kevin's English Schools, the Canadian schools in Japan:

He is also the Editor of Burns' Guide to Central Japan:

When not writing or teaching, Kevin and his wife manage Merry Lue's

General Store in Kanagawa, where they sell food from home, antiques,

games, hobby items, clothes, books, children's stationary and more.

*Editors are free to use this article, however no changes may be made and all links must be active.


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