The below is an email exchange between myself and Si Wei which I thought might be useful since many people might have the same questions. With the JET Programme results out recently, people might have more questions on ways to get teaching jobs here and he very kindly gave me his permission to post this here. Just a note though, I sorta edited the answers a little.
How did you first enter Japan to teach?
I’m not sure if you already read this on my page but I actually came to Japan as a student of a Japanese language school in Okazaki City, Aichi prefecture. As I applied for a 6-month course, a visa was required. It used to be a pre-college student visa （就学ビザ） then, which has less privileges but the school has now switched to student visa （留学ビザ）, which is in many sense, better. Then again, it doesn’t make heaven-and-hell differences either way. So towards the end of my studies, I began applying for work. Honestly, I only started job hunting in the last 2 weeks of my studies which really is like trying to unzip your pants when your bladder’s about to burst. If you intend to go that route, I’d suggest you begin hunting at least 2-3 months before your course ends. Don’t wait till you’re about to pee in your pants.
Were you an ESL teacher before you entered Japan?
No, I wasn’t an ESL teacher before I came over. I worked as a broadcast censor for 2 years back when I was in Singapore. Yes, all the programs you get on SCV cable’s Syfy, Universal and Hallmark channels are cut by… me. = = But please don’t kill me for cutting out the juices. I don’t decide what to cut. Well, technically speaking, I do but there are guidelines to follow and I get checked by our client who cuts way more than I do. See? now I’m digressing. OK, so during my time doing censorship, I took a month’s leave to do CELTA in Thailand to up my credentials and also to learn the art of teaching. I did apply to teach ESL after I left my job but I only had a month then before leaving for Japan and the school said a month was too short so they’d hope I could contact them again if I end up not leaving for Japan. Anyhow, apparently my Diploma in IT was one factor in me getting the interview at the school too since they had just built a computer lab in the school and they’d want someone who has IT skills to conduct some lessons with the incredible power of the internet. Apart from that, I also did projects aimed at helping students from middle-low income families improve their English skills. I actually did 2. One in 2007 and one in 2010 and both were featured in the local newspapers in Singapore. I do not know for sure but I believe that might have helped me somewhat. Giving home tuition doesn’t seem all that important to recruiters here in Japan but I’d suggest you mention it all the same. Whatever that is related and helps, let them know. During the CELTA course though, I did 8 Teaching Practices where the students were refugees from maybe over 10 different countries.
What kinds of qualifications are Japan language schools looking for? E.g. Is CELTA required?
Actually the schools do not specify the qualifications they are looking for. In fact, I can tell you with much certainty that a lot of ALTs and Eikaiwa teachers have neither teaching qualifications nor teaching experience. However, most of these teachers are native speakers of the language (i.e. American, British, Australian, South African, Canadian), thus they are sought after. They are highly valued for their native accent which is why there is difficulty for us to get teaching jobs here (coz we sound Asian) and I believe a lot of people do not realise Singapore’s first language is English.
Since they don’t specify the qualifications they are looking for, I wouldn’t say CELTA is required but it would definitely boost your chances a good amount. Let me dwell a little into teaching certs. CELTA is awarded by the University of Cambridge and TESOL is awarded by Trinity College London. Either are highly valued across the world. However, be aware of the term TESOL because it can refer to:
1) the cert awarded by Trinity College London
2) a general term for “teaching english to speakers of other languages”
Would having a Masters in Education (English) help? I am considering whether I should take up a CELTA or Masters course to boost my qualifications.
Would having the Masters help? Yes. Would it get you a job here? Not for sure. Again, nothing is for certain but it is good. You asked a very good question about CELTA and Masters. Now, what are the differences? A Masters degree in Education or Linguistic or anything along that line is about the same as a DELTA cert. Most schools around the world see DELTA and Masters on the same level. So what is a DELTA?
As you know, CELTA is the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults. DELTA is the diploma version of it. A higher level called Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults. But not anyone can take the DELTA. To take the DELTA, you must have at least 2 years teaching experience after you obtained your CELTA. So, whether to do the CELTA or Masters is really up to you depending on your plans.
Do I require high proficiency in Japanese to start working in Japan?
I do not believe a high proficiency of the Japanese language is necessary but it would definitely help a lot, especially if you’re an ALT. From what I have experienced though, you must know some Japanese (and I think ‘some’ can actually mean just really simple greetings) to be an ALT but none to be an Eikaiwa teacher. It would definitely benefit you to have a good level of knowledge for reasons I think you know too.
I notice that some countries (e.g. Taiwan, Korea) usually specify the nationalities of the ALT as Canadian, Australian, American or British. Is it difficult for Singaporeans to get an ESL job in Japan?
Not just Taiwan and Korea actually. In fact, almost everywhere around the world is asking for the same thing. It’s easy to see why though. Like I mentioned earlier, it is definitely more difficult for us than native speakers. That does not actually mean that native speakers have it easy too. They just have it easier. If you saw an earlier post, I mentioned that I was teaching part-time via Eikaiwa AEON and I wasn’t the only one from outside the countries that were listed on their page. There was also a lady from Kenya. I’ve also met a few Filipinos who are working as ALTs.
Is it advisable for me to apply directly to language schools like Aeon, Interac etc.?
I think if you really want to come, there is no method that you should not try. That is of course referring to legal methods. Don’t do illegal stuff and say I told you to try anything O_O!!! So yea, go ahead and apply all over. But you must understand AEON and Interac are not the same thing. Eikaiwa teachers and ALTs don’t work the same so be sure why you would want to do each and be prepared to answer questions like “Why AEON” or “Why an Eikaiwa instead of ALT” and vice versa.