Teach English in Japan with GABA

Hi to all loyal readers, occasional lurkers, and random passersby of GJH’s blog. I’m not GJH, as you would have noticed, if you saw the name in blue below the title. I’m D!

I see that he has written a very detailed post to introduce who I am. I’m not going to refute what he wrote which seems to suggest that I totally dig him (omg how dare he) even before we became friends but instead, I shall focus on what you guys need to know, which is about moving to Japan.

Many of you are probably interested in Japan and perhaps at some point in time, or even right now, are contemplating or taking steps towards living in Japan, like our dear GJH did. Well, so am I. The bad news is that I have nothing that attracts Japanese employers — no NUS degree (cos Japanese seems to revere NUS), not even any English language related degree, no teaching experience, no TESOL no CELTA, no remarkable proficiency in Japanese, and neither am I in an industry or job that is in demand in Japan e.g. healthcare, tech field (programming), finance.

Are you like me? Lol.

The good news is, it is not hopeless at all because according to GJH, lots of English teachers in Japan do not have English teaching qualifications and many do not have prior experience as well. Granted, many of them are native English speakers (by that, in Singapore, we call them ‘angmohs‘) but that also means we have hope. How do I know? Because there is actually a huge Eikaiwa (English conversation school) company in Japan, GABA, that does global recruitment from outside of Japan where they actually fly their recruiter to different countries to hold information seminars to get people to apply and work with GABA.

And they do come to Singapore! If they choose Singapore as one of their recruitment site, it can only mean that they recognise Singaporeans’ English language proficiency and are willing to hire us to be English instructors. YAY.

On 17 March, GABA held an information seminar in Singapore located at Hotel Jen Tanglin. A little bit of background first for those of you like me who have not heard about GABA before. GABA is a huge company with 40+ learning studios in Japan (mainly Kanto and Kansai area) and 20,000+ clients studying with them, with most of their clients being working adults. The lessons are conducted on 1-to-1 conversational basis, so instructors are not expected to teach in class or schools, like a lot of ALT positions require you to.

I was lucky enough to chance upon a job advertisement for this seminar and was able to register myself to find out more and also be interviewed on the same day. The recruiter who contacted me was also the recruiter who gave the presentation on the day itself and he was really professional, approachable and friendly. Let me give you a quick summary of what teaching at GABA entails, though I must stress that it may not be 100% accurate because I might have gotten some things wrong, so take it with a pinch of salt. But here goes:

  • As a new instructor, the base pay is 1500 JPY per 40min of lesson (which is how long 1 lesson lasts); your pay can go up if you go for workshops and increase your ‘level’ which they term it as belt
  • You will only get paid for the lessons you teach i.e. there is no fixed pay
  • There is no fixed schedule but the learning studios (LS) are opened from 7am to ~10pm daily (inc. public hols and weekends) and you have the autonomy to choose which hours you wish to open up for students to book you for lessons
  • They highly encourage instructors to be available to teach during peak hours i.e. 7am slot as well as evening slot (off peak hours are basically office hours) as their clients are mostly working adults and obviously, they can’t go for class during office hours
  • There is incentive for teaching during peak hours, so that boosts your income
  • Students get to choose their instructors, so it takes time to ‘build a base’
  • Most of their instructors are in their 30s and clients are in their 40s
  • They do not cover transport (more on this later)
  • They do sponsor visa and it is the Specialist in Humanities visa, which also means you need to earn around 250,000 JPY a month to maintain this visa (High alert! More on this later)
  • They do not provide accommodation though they do help you to find one if you need help to
  • You also need to enroll into national health insurance and you have to bear this cost
  • They recommend that you have around $3500 SGD in the first month before you receive your first pay
  • There is a 3-day training before you start teaching to ensure you know what the teaching entails
  • You get to state your preference for which area you wish to work in Japan

To be honest, I knew a lot about GABA even before attending the seminar because I love to google stuff and of course I googled my ass off before applying. Most of the things above are information you can easily get off the web so now, I’m going to tell you what I found online about GABA. The ugly truth. =x

  • Almost ALL companies in Japan cover transport, which is really expensive in Japan. GABA doesn’t. Yup.
  • Because you only get paid for lessons that you teach, it means that you may not be paid for 10 hours even if you are at the LS for 10 hours simply because no students booked you. *ouch
  • You are expected to be at the LS as long as you open your hours for booking, which means that you can potentially waste time just sitting there if there are no bookings.
  • This also means that there is a risk that you may not be able to maintain your visa if you are unable to earn 250,000 JPY a month on average across 12 months. GGWP. (Btw, 250,000 a month translates to approximately 150-170 lessons a month depending on off peak or peak hours, and this is approximately 8hrs/day for 5 days a week, 21 days a mth, full bookings.)
  • There are articles and sharing online about sexual harassment cases where clients do funny things to female instructors and GABA failed to respond satisfactorily according to the instructors
  • On glassdoor, GABA’s review is bad. Just bad.

Now, those are terrible, right? Let me give you my thoughts, since I decided to go ahead despite knowing those stuff.

  • Transport issue: Suck it up. Lol. Cross finger and hope that I am placed somewhere not too far from where I will stay such that the transport cost isn’t too high. In any case, the need to be in Japan is stronger than the downside of a bit of extra cost every month. So, suck it up.
  • Being stuck in LS and not getting paid for the hours: This is something I foresee happening but I’d like to give it a try still before deciding how bad it is. It’ll probably take some time before a client base can be built. GABA did assure that on average, new instructors get 60% of their lessons booked, which isn’t too bad. Plus, they also get their counter staff to recommend and encourage students to book the new instructors. So, just try first.
  • Risk in unable to get visa renewed: The risk is there but if other instructors have managed to get their visa renewed, then it can only mean that it is possible. I just need to work hard and ensure clients get what they want and need. If I’m unable to attain the requirement, perhaps I’m not good enough for the job, then okay fine, don’t renew it because I would hate to take others’ money and shortchange them by delivering lousy service anyway.
  • More importantly, once you have that visa and you are in Japan, finding another job is much easier!
  • Sexual harassment: GABA has responded by changing management etc. and recently there has not been such cases being reported, which is a good sign. Again, be professional and if it gets bad, just run from the studio. Easy.
  • Bad reviews: The reviews came from different instructors and the really poor reviews came from years ago. Recent reviews are pretty average, though not amazing, and I decided to take it with a pinch of salt because I would think that most reviewers were caucasians and from what I know, they have high expectations of benefits from a company (this is solely my personal opinion). I’ll just go with an open mind.

If you are still reading at this point, you must really be interested in GABA or came to this post because you want to know more about GABA. Fact is, I couldn’t find much information from a Singaporean about GABA, so I really hope this post will sum up all that one would want to know before applying to GABA.

For me, the biggest plus points GABA offers is actually visa sponsorship, recruitment from SG, as well as the flexibility in scheduling, which means that I can still attend JP lessons while I am working. I had planned to study Japanese language in JP (which is bloody expensive) and now, I have a chance to earn money while I study, which is amazing. If I had not mentioned earlier, I’m not cut out to be a teacher because I simply can’t teach in front of a class and I am not good with children. GABA’s style of 1-to-1 conversation class for adults really works for me because I might even love doing the job since building rapport comes easy to me and I’m talkative by nature and very keen to help people to improve. So yah, GABA really works for me.

By the way, the recruiter himself moved to become a recruiter for GABA after being an instructor for 13 months. So there is career progression too, though it isn’t something I’m after.

By the way, the interview took an hour and I was interviewed together with another candidate. Common questions include why Japan, motivation for wanting to teach English in Japan, how long you intend to work with GABA, plans in Japan, as well as the last roleplay, which involves asking you to teach a Japanese with little knowledge of English the difference between ‘interesting’ and ‘funny’. This is no secret because if you go to glassdoor, you’ll know that they also ask you to teach the difference between ‘carry’ and ‘hold’. If you pass the interview, there’ll be another interview where you have to demonstrate your teaching skills properly to another recruiter who will assess your skills through Skype. The whole recruitment process takes around 4 – 6 weeks.

At this point, I am not sure what’s the outcome. I’m going to JP even if I do not get the job, so that helps a lot — getting the job or not isn’t really crucial.

In conclusion, I find that GABA will be fantastic for a certain group of people who are more YOLO (lol) and for those who aren’t so worried about the instability. It is definitely not easy to bring your spouse over when income can be quite unstable in the initial months. Perhaps for the others, a job that offers accommodation, fixed pay, insurance as well as transportation coverage would work better.

By the way, GABA comes to SG to do recruitment twice a year. So watch out for the next one if you are interested. I’d think it’ll be in September or October. Do check. In any case, you can always apply online anytime and be interviewed over Skype!

And now, I am finally done, omg. Look how long this post is. I certainly hope it has been informative and fair.

Now to end it off, feel free to drop any questions you have! I’ll update again if I am selected. Otherwise, go ahead and conclude that I failed, lol.

In my next post, I’ll write about the Japanese language schools I found online, which is tough because, erm, they are all similar? Hahaa. I’ll still try, nonetheless!

That’s all for my debut post! 🙂

Till then,

Feel free to ask me questions about GJH too. I’ll spill them all. 😉

CC GJH: This is not me getting back at you for giving them the impression that I so super dig you. Nope. Not at all. And you’re welcome. 🙂



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