This account comes from one of my friends who had worked for several years at a Berlitz English Conversation School. Here is his honest account of working there as a teacher.
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How did you become interested in Japan initially?
I was interested to come to Japan for a few reasons. I enjoy the challenge of living and working overseas, as life is short. Moreover, I also had enjoyed a previous stint a while back (in my early 20s) of working in Thailand as an English teacher.
I have travelled to Japan several times (near enough to 10 times!) over approx. a 10 year period. Before moving here, I was always mesmerized and enjoyed the experience of Japan. Especially for the friendly people, the food and amazing scenery.
Furthermore, my partner was living in Japan at the time that I moved. So, it seemed like the right time to try something new and exciting!
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How did you get a job at a Berlitz Conversation School?
I remember at the time having an interview for a ‘rival’ company and was close to accepting their offer. However, I soon stumbled across an ad (online I think it was) for part-time work at Berlitz. From checking around I realized that Berlitz had a better reputation, so I pursued that avenue.
Before long, I submitted my job application, which involved answering a number of somewhat difficult questions. Putting some time and thought into my answers did pay off. I was interviewed shortly after and asked about my preferences of locations to work.
The last part of the application process involved 5 days of intensive and sometimes stressful group training at Berlitz Tokyo HQ. Unfortunately, this was unpaid, but the feeling among the group was ‘bite the bullet’ as Berlitz is a good first job to accept here. However, as a form of compensation for getting through the training an amount of 20,000 yen is paid. This is to cover any incidentals that people may have incurred during the program.
I was on a student visa at the time, so I started off working there about 18 hours/week. After a while, my visa was changed to dependent, so I could then increase to full-time hours.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My full-time schedule meant that I worked on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Friday (morning only), and Saturdays.
The busiest times at the LC (language centre, or in other words, school) were weekday evenings and weekends. I also worked a few mornings on weekdays to fill up my allotment each week. One downside to this was several hours ‘dead time’ during the day where I was not working (and my home was not really nearby). It does happen quite a lot at other LC’s too. Although, not everyone needs to work those split-shifts (you may have to end up working both Sat and Sun instead though as a full-timer).
Most evenings I worked from 5.30pm until close time at 9.15pm. It meant some pretty late dinners by the time I got back home! Saturday’s I generally worked from 10 am to 6.30pm, and those days were pretty exhausting, to be honest. Each lesson at Berlitz is 40 minutes, with a 5-minute break in between each. Usually, students will take 2 x 40 min lessons in a row. Lunch break on Saturdays was around 40-45 minutes. You do have to get used to that short window between each lesson. In that time, you are quickly trying to ascertain what or who, and in which room you are teaching next up! The LC had close to 20 separate classrooms to make matters worse. In some LCs there are double that number.
What can you tell us about your experience at Berlitz?
Textbooks and Reference Material
Berlitz had a pretty good range of texts for general and business learning. In most cases, there was a teacher’s guide in the text. This was helpful and I would say was somewhat followed by myself and the other teachers. One thing about Berlitz is that each lesson should have an end goal relevant to the student’s need on that particular topic, As the teacher, it’s also up to you and the student to come up with that goal early in the lesson.
An example might be ‘to use small talk effectively with my foreign client visiting Japan’. This is the goal you set for the student. In support of this, the textbook covered grammar, plus there were reading and listening activities too (by CD and later via iPad audio). Additionally, there were some writing and vocabulary exercises too. The main focus of each lesson though was usually on maximising the student’s speaking time, even if they made mistakes. You should, of course, correct the student as much as possible, and even give them additional tries to perfect their speaking.
Most of my colleagues were foreigners from the UK, Canada, the US and Australia. Some were quite new to teaching while others had been doing it for a number of years. My boss was American, fair and quite supportive. Our lessons would be recorded at times (sometimes without us knowing). Consequently, we would then have feedback sessions with him or another supervisor to gauge our strengths and also look at ways to better our weaknesses.
Each LC always has a few Japanese admin / front desk staff who the students see as soon as they arrive each time. They assist the students in regard to lesson enquiries, reserving future lessons, setting up trial lessons, etc. They also are the ones for the teacher to go to if a student has not shown up for their lesson after 15 minutes or so. Occasionally there would be last minute no-shows or cancellations. This would be a plus for the teachers as we’d still get paid for doing very little at all. In some cases, going for a coffee break down the road, or better still if it’s the last lesson for the day, leave early.
The LC I was based at was in Jiyugaoka, an upscale suburb in Tokyo. This was a pleasant area to work and most students were middle to upper class. A few very rich ones in there too! I also worked occasionally at LC’s in the same district (which is not uncommon to be asked to do) including Naka Meguro, Shibuya and Omotesando.
Berlitz covers transportation fees for getting to and from work and to/from the other LC’s too.
Types of Students
My students ranged from high school students, University students, businessmen and women and a few retirees who wanted to brush up on their English. There were many levels of students from true beginner through to advanced.
I did enjoy meeting a vast range of people and personalities during my couple of years stint there. A large majority of the time (around 80%) I taught 1 on 1 lesson, the remainder being group lessons (usually 2-5 students).
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