Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Being an ALT #1: Teaching English in Japan

So you want to teach English in Japan?

Well, here's the start of a new series of posts giving you a sample of what to expect as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). Hopefully this information will help you decide if teaching here is for you, and answer any questions you may have.

You may also want to consult our "How much will I get paid teaching English" blog, and our "Living expenses guide".

Anyway: first off, here's an explanation of what an ALT actually is.

An ALT is different from an ELT (which will be covered at a later date). An ALT works in schools - elementary, juniour high or high school; while an ELT typically works at a private language school/cram school. They are both usually native English speakers.

The usual route into an ALT job is the JET programme, or a dispatch company such as Interac (more info on jobs and companies).
An ALT is supposed to act as support to a Japanese English Teacher (usually abbreviated to JET or JTE, but not to be confused with JET programme participants), while an ELT usually plans and executes classes alone by instruction from their employer.
Your job will range from full control of an entire lesson, without any help translating, to just standing around watching the JTE teach the class with no input of your own. In the next couple of weeks we'll look at exactly what you can expect in the classroom.

Each week we'll be looking at a difference aspect of ALT life. Next: a detailed look at your role in school.


If you're interested, the guy from My Darling is a Foreigner (Japanese movie featuring the titular dilemma) is in a recent "comedy" series about an ELT language school - check it out here (but don't expect the next Mork and Mindy).


  1. ALT's are one of the biggest problems with English teaching in Japan. Every ALT I know spent Christmas abroad and got back/getting back JUST in time. I wonder how much time they spent trying to make their lessons better or make themselves better? When it's 2 years outta your life there is a lack of incentive and it's pure bait for Japanophiles dying to see the country.

  2. There's more than a little truth in what you say, but happily not ALL of them are like this. I do think that the system needs some overhaul, however. At the very least some kind of initial qualification requirement and long-term incentives.