I teach English in Japan, but I am not a native speaker… How?

Hello Stasia, I have a question…

“How did you manage to get the job as a Polish woman? I’d be so happy if you can tell me that it’s not impossible for me to work as a teacher in Asia, even though I’m not an English native speaker, because I wanted to be a teacher since elementary school and it’d be a pity if I couldn’t do that in Asia.”

“How you are able to manage to stay in Japan for so long? I know there is a holiday working visa for 1 year and the student visa which can be extended depending on the school you go to if I  am correct. If it isn’t a personal question what visa are you on?”

” How were you able to get a job in Tokyo?”

“I don’t know if it is okay for you if I ask, but I’m a bit curious on how you got to Japan?”

(↑actual quotes from some e-mails I received)

Take a seat, make yourself a cup of piping hot coffee. This is going to be a long read.

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For as long as I can remember I have been good with words. As a child I read tons of books, wrote short stories (which were mini-copies of my favourite books but anyway), and took part in literature and language competitions (with bigger and smaller successes). When I was 9 I found books with Russian stories for kids, so I taught myself to read Russian (but I guess it wasn’t that difficult for me since my mother is Russian). When I was 10 years old, I started studying English at school. Kinda late, huh. When I was in Junior High School I watched German TV everyday and accidentally taught myself German. I was a pretty ambitious kid, but one day I realised that there will always be things I will never be satisfyingly good at. So I had to focus on skills that I knew would never fail me. I went to a good high school, there were some really smart people, super talented at maths, physics, history and other stuff. I was good at languages. It was pretty much the only thing that made me feel better about myself at that time (I swear to everything in this world, I would never again want to go through that hell high school was for me). Studying English was never a boring chore for me, I got a lot of satisfaction out of finally being able to read books from my childhood in their original language (Harry Potter!) and to watch favourite dramas without subtitles.

Now we have to jump straight into 2009

I passed my high school exams with flying colours and the only thing I had to do was choose a university. It was not the proudest moment of my life, I admit, but instead of joining my parents in the UK, where I could have probably gotten into a good uni without any big problems, what did I do? I chose to stay in Poland. Advice for my Polish readers: if you ever get a chance to study in the UK or somewhere like that — DO IT. Do NOT repeat my mistake.

I fixed my mistake a few years later, but I’ll get to that.

I started studying Far East Studies at Jagiellonian University. I know it won’t tell you much if you’re not Polish, but it’s kind of relevant. I studied a wide range of subjects connected to Asia — Religions in Asia, History of South East Asia / China /Japan / India, Confucianism, Chinese and Japanese Literature and Art, even Philosophy or History of Manga and Anime. I also started studying Japanese there. I completed 2 years of studies.

 Here you might stop and think: “Wait wait, only 2 years?” Please continue reading, and you’ll know what happened next.

 

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OK. We’re in the year 2011 now

For a bunch of reasons, I was trying to come up with some ingenious plan that would take me to Japan after my graduation. One of the reasons was the same as yours probably — because I wanted to live here. I figured that as a Polish person with a Polish diploma from a Polish university my chances were rather slim. Could I change it?

Yes, I could. 

I sent out a bucket full of e-mails to universities in the UK asking whether transferring directly onto the 3rd year would be possible. I’m pretty much sure I emailed all the British unis that offer Asian courses. I got one positive reply.

From Leeds University.

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My offer was conditional. Successful completion of two years study at my uni and at least 7.0 in IELTS. I still have this letter, so why not show it to you?

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The first requirement wasn’t a problem, I had pretty good grades. I was super stressed before my IELTS test because I didn’t study that much, but at that time I was staying in London with my parents and I had a part-time job, so you could say I had speaking practice everyday. A week before the test I bought textbooks for IETLS and hoped for the best. My overall band score was 8 (with 9 in Listening and Reading parts, 7,5 in both speaking and writing) — I was over the moon, because it was even more than they required.

Long story short, I transferred directly onto the 3rd year of Asia-Pacific Studies at University of Leeds.

I loved my time at Leeds. I truly regret I hadn’t started my studies there, as it all turned out better than I thought. I joined the Japan Society there, met lots of lovely people, and first and foremost – I spoke English everyday. I wrote essays in English, read complicated stuff in English, passed my exams in English.

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I had my last exam on the 25th of May, 2012. On the 29th of June 2012, I was admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours Class II Division i (= upper second-class honours) in Asia Pacific Studies.

Leeds will always have a special place in my heart.

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But at the end of the day, having a diploma from a British university was only one of the things I needed to get into Japan.

One thing you have to know: Poland DOES NOT have a working holiday visa system. That left me with 3 choices: 

1. Studying Japanese in a language school in Japan.

2. Getting married to a Japanese national.

3. Getting a job and getting a sponsored working visa.

Let’s discuss the choices.

1. It costs an insane amount of money and I did not have anywhere near enough. Besides, students can only work part time and if I were to study in Tokyo, I wouldn’t be able to support myself. Asking my parents for a monthly allowance was NOT an option.

2. No, I’d never do that just for a visa.

3. The only option left. I knew that I didn’t have much to offer on the Japanese work market, except language skills. But how could I compete with thousands of native English speakers, who had the same dream of living in Japan? Every night before going to bed I would check job listings, and every night I would see this → “Requirement: must currently reside in Japan / must have a valid visa / must be a native speaker”.

Anyway, I had nothing to lose so I didn’t give up. I did the TEFL course and got a Japanese language exchange partner, so I could practice teaching.

In April 2012 my father agreed to help me, so I could keep saving money and bought me a ticket to Japan, 11th of July ~ 9th of October. As you know, I never got to use the ticket back to London.

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I was ready to take a risk and go to Japan without a visa, find a job and get my visa status changed while already there. That was my plan. I knew it would take time and I needed a substantial amount of money to survive in Tokyo. Moreover, I needed some experience working in an all Japanese environment. At the end of April 2012, I got two part-time jobs in London. From 7 AM to 4 PM I worked for a Japanese catering company based in London. I prepared airplane food for the economy class passengers of JAL (Japan Airlines) and business passengers of Virgin Atlantic (flights London → Tokyo). From 5:30 PM to 11 PM I was a waitress at a sushi bar in Golders Green in London, Cafe Japan. I had Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian and Mongolian coworkers. It was tough, but a week before I left for Japan I had almost 3000 pounds of savings (my parents and my sister helped me too).

If you traveled to Japan by either JAL or Virgin Atlantic some day between April and the beginning of July in 2012, there’s a pretty big chance you ate something I prepared.

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The most important part comes here. After my last exam I moved to London and stayed at my parents’ house. I worked part-time, studied English on my days off and continued to check job listings. There was one company that regularly posted job offers on Gaijinpot.com. They didn’t require being a native speaker, they required a native level proficiency in English. I found out that they were holding seminars in a few British cities, and one of them – in the middle of June — was scheduled for London. I attended it and expressed my interest in working for them. I got invited to an interview a few days later. I remember it took place somewhere near Grosvenor Gardens in London in a super fancy building. I was interviewed together with a British guy. I don’t know whether he got a job. I informed my interviewer that I actually was coming to Tokyo soon, and a few days later I got an invitation to the last interview. And it was supposed to be in Tokyo.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

/Me from 2 years ago really loved filters/

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ON THE DAY OF THE INTERVIEW (in London)

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As you know, I came to Japan on the 12th of July 2012. At Narita Airport I got a stamp saying “temporary visitor visa” with an expiry date, 10th of October.

On the 17th of July I had my final interview.

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A week later I got a reply from the company. I got the job! Maybe they saw a potential in me, maybe they knew that as a person dependent on them, I wouldn’t easily quit my job after a month. I don’t know, but anyway, I have to be grateful that they gave me a chance.

I got my working visa on the 25th of September. If you want to know what visa I have, no problem — I can tell you that. Language teachers in Japan get a Specialist in Humanities & International Services visa. There’s one more thing I’d like to add here: when I was still a student I sent an e-mail to the Polish Embassy in Japan asking what options Polish nationals have if they want to live in Japan, and I asked whether it was possible to change one’s visa status from tourist to a working visa…. and I was told it was not possible. It’s not true. I am not the only person who has done that, in fact a lot of people come here, get a job and get their visa status updated.

IT IS POSSIBLE.

 I started working on the 8th of October 2012 and I haven’t changed my job. I teach all kinds of people, of various occupations and ages. I teach business English and daily conversation English. Do my students mind that I am not a native speaker? I don’t think so.

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So this is it! This is how I managed to get a teaching job despite being a non-native speaker of English. It’s all about studying hard and working hard.

If there’s a will, there’s a way.

Good luck!

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29 thoughts on “I teach English in Japan, but I am not a native speaker… How?

  1. I, as Japanese and a non-native English speaker, and as a person who has lived in England and has some connections with Poland, enjoyed this article very much. I really pay respect for your efforts and incredible endurance to make your dream comes true. 🙂 (BTW staff in Polish embassy are always…!!!)

  2. I grew up bilingually (English, German) but grew up in Germany and graduated from a German university and always read “native speaker” and “graduated from an English speaking University” so I’ll hope I’ll still be able to get a job as an English teacher… Could you tell us what company you work for?

  3. You really worked your butt off! I have yet to try and get work in Japan (still at uni so I’ve got a while to go) but I know that my being a native English speaker will likely make the whole process easier for me in terms of options and whatnot. However it’s great to see that you were able to make your dreams come true even without being a native speaker! It just goes to show that hard work pays off 🙂

  4. I’m British but I currently work in private bilingual schools in South America. I’ve worked with a lot of colleagues from Poland who teach English, no one cares they’re not native speakers of the language.
    Great post, I’d love to work in Japan, but I’ve not been able to find an opportunity that appeals to me…yet!

  5. It’s great that you were able to find a job after all that hard work! I think it’s actually an advantage in a way to not be a native speaker because then you also have experience learning English yourself, and I bet that helps you be an even better teacher 🙂

  6. Fantastic post! Useful for both, native and non-native speakers:D.

    The whole only native speaker hiring policy is moronic in my opinion, I’ve met plenty of native speakers who are horrific at teaching and have terrible English.

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  8. Hej hej!
    Bardzo podobał mi się twój post, głównie dlatego, że obecnie jestem w niemal identycznej sytuacji. Mianowicie, studiuję japonistykę (obecnie master’s degree) na University of Sheffield – cały kurs trwa jedynie rok, więc już teraz myślę co powinnam robić dalej, ponieważ również moim celem jest wyjazd do Japonii, zdobycie pracy i pozostanie tam na stałe. Przemaglowałam strony z ofertami pracy w Japonii (hah Gaijinpot to chyba najczęściej odwiedzana przeze mnie strona ^^), powysyłałam CV ale póki co nastąpiła niemiłosierna cisza, zero odzewu, co człowieka może lekko zdemotywować 😀
    Chciałam zapytać o kurs TEFL, jaki był jego koszt i okres trwania? Bo zastanawiałam się czy nie warto byłoby gdybym także się na niego zapisała. Zawsze warto mieć potwierdzenie swoich umiejętności 🙂

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  11. Hello!! 🙂
    I really found your entry useful. Thank you so so much. I am kind of hopeless towards working in Japan, it is one of my dreams too but all these obstacles that you mention above(must currently live in Japan, must have a visa, native-english speaker) are making it difficult . I’ve been working as an English teacher for some years now and in different countries(Spain, France and Ireland). I am Spanish but I have a good proficiency in English. However, my CV’s been turned down in gaijinpot for not being a native-English speaker. Isn’t that unfair? well, I suppose you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, I will keep on trying. I’m currently studying Japanese in Madrid and hopefully will be visiting Japan in September-October.
    Take care and good luck 🙂

  12. Hey, may I know how much (at least approximately :D) did you pay for completing your studies at the Leeds Uni? I am trying to do a similar thing, but I’m not sure how much it costs… Anyway, great post!

  13. Hello Stasia!

    Wow, your post motivates me quite a lot. 🙂
    Actually currently I am looking for a teaching job in Japan and yeah, most of them requires native speakers. I am Indonesian and actually I took my bachelor degree in New Zealand and I stayed there for 3.5 years. So I’m very confident about my English.
    Do you think I still could get a chance to work in Japan..?

  14. This is so super wonderful! I am so glad I found your post! I was extremely worried if I could get an English teaching job as a non-native English speaker especially about acquiring a working visa. My first choice is Korea however but Japan would be awesome too! Thanks for your tips!!

  15. Thank you for sharing such an inspiration for the world to see. I am from India and had all my schooling in English and I got TEFL a year back. But I was rejected countless times because of being a non native English teacher. Your story has given me courage to keep believing and working towards your dream.

    I wish you best wishes in life and well keep rocking 🙂

  16. Hej!
    Przyznam, że twój post bardzo mnie zainteresował. Moim marzeniem jest właśnie mieszkanie i pracowanie w Japonii jednak dalej nie jestem pewna czy jest to możliwe w mojej sytuacji (przyznam, że twoja historia trochę mnie… przestraszyła). Mieszkam w Polsce (nie byłam na tyle odważna żeby wyjechać z kraju) i mam licencjat z filologii angielskiej (Uniwersytet Śląski) a teraz robię magisterkę jednak stwierdzam, że nie jest to coś co mi odpowiada i prawdopodobnie zrezygnuję. Chciałam jechać w wakacje na kurs japońskiego do Japonii (moi rodzice pomogą mi finansowo) jednak wiem, że nie chcę skończyć na tym mojej przygody z tym krajem.
    Zastanawiałam się nad nauczaniem angielskiego w Japonii już od dłuższego czasu, a niedawno zaczęłam też rozważać nauczanie polskiego. Jednak nie wiem czy mam jakiekolwiek szanse zdobyć pracę w Japonii. Zwłaszcza biorąc pod uwagę twój post i wzmianki o tym, że ukończenie studiów w Wielkiej Brytanii zdecydowanie pomaga.
    Myślisz, że mam jakiekolwiek szanse na sukces? Byłabym wdzięczna za wszelkie porady, uwagi (najlepiej na maila).
    Pozdrawiam!

    • Niestety nie znam kryteriow zatrudniania wszystkich firm, wiec naprawde ciezko jest mi ocenic czy ktos ma szanse czy nie. Jest duza konkurencja, jest tu duzo native speakerow i nawet jako osoba pracujaca jako nauczyciel od ponad 3 lat, przegrywam z native speakerem bez doswiadczenia. Obecnie szukam innej pracy i powiem szczerze, nie jest latwo. Mysle, ze z dyplomem j. angielskiego bylaby szansa, ale naprawde nie moge nic powiedziec na 100% procent i nie chcialabym pozowac na autorytet w tej kategorii.

      • Dzieki za odpowiedz 🙂
        Rozumiem, ze nie mozesz odpowiedziec na moje pytania ze 100% pewnoscia. Zwyczajnie bylam ciekawa, czy uganianie sie za moim marzeniem ma jakus sens, ale tak sobie mysle ze skoro tobie sie udalo to moze tez mam jakad malutka szanse 😉
        Prawdopodobnie bede w Tokio w te wakacje, wiec pewnie wtedy zorientuje sie tez jak to faktycznie dla mnie wyglada 🙂

  17. Really glad I came across your post! Can you please make a post about your two interviews? The details of how it went down and any tips/advises to make a good impression (and get hired)? I did send you an email but i think it probably went to spam.

  18. I felt relieved. I am from the Philippines and a non-native speaker too. I have been teaching English online to Japanese for about 5years now and at the same time a lecturer for a college school. It feels so great reading your article. Currently, I am focusing on job hunting for a school in Japan and some agencies here that sends teachers to other Asian countries. I am keeping myself positive. I am so happy to hear your story. I hope to make it too!

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