The Rough Guide to Language Schools in Japan
This is it. You’ve made your mind and decided to take the plunge to move to Japan and learn Japanese. That’s fantastic! There’s no doubt that the best way to learn a language, especially a high-context language such as Japanese, is to fully immerse yourself in it. Not only will you be able to fast-track your learning towards fluency by surrounding yourself with real-life situations to use the language, but also find countless opportunities to experience Japanese culture first hand.
Now, there are a number of study options available for Japanese language students ranging from language schools and private tutoring to cultural exchange programs offered by universities. How you want to go about studying this culture-laden language all comes down to your personal situation - how much time and funds you have available, and ultimately your end goals for learning Japanese.
Each study option has its own set of pros and cons, but overall in terms of flexibility and learning opportunities, attending a language school is one of the best options available to learners regardless of their Japanese level.
Keep on reading to find out how to find the perfect school suited for your learning needs!
What’s a Language School?
The answer might be obvious, but in a nutshell a language school is an institution that is geared to foreigners interested in studying a foreign language through language immersion. Compared to language courses offered at universities, language schools offer a range of classes and programs that are designed to teach you a language at a much more rapid and intense pace.
Most classes at a language school are taught completely in the target language, meaning that you would learn Japanese in Japanese. You’ll be surrounded in a completely Japanese-speaking environment with continuous exposure to new vocabulary and grammar every day. By creating an environment that pushes students out of their comfort zone and encourages them to use all of their knowledge of the target language, in the end creates an individual with a strong understanding and use ofJapanese. This might sound daunting to some, particularly to beginners but it’ll do wonders for accelerating your learning process. Learning a new language has its own set of challenges, but there’s nothing more fun than sharing the experience with your classmates.
What Types of Courses Do Japanese Language Schools Offer?
With over 400 Japanese language schools dotted throughout the country, it's no exaggeration to say that there is a vast difference between each institution and the courses they offer. In general, language schools offer a variety of courses, differing in length and purpose. Some will have courses designed to improve conversational fluency and culture classes, while others are geared towards preparing students for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). There are also courses that specialise in business Japanese and preparation for entering a Japanese university.
Short term courses are suited for those who want to learn Japanese over a short period of time from 1 week to 3 months. They are designed to teach basic to intermediate Japanese and often have a specific focus such as daily conversation or business Japanese. These courses are a great option for individuals looking for an inexpensive way to learn through language immersion.
Summer courses are particularly popular as they also include plenty of opportunities for students to immerse themselves in Japanese culture. Schools will often organize tea ceremonies, calligraphy lessons, the opportunity to wear yukata and attend a firework festival. Since short term courses run for 3 months or less, they are a great option for tourists as they don’t require a student visa.
Long term courses are also available and can run from 6 months to 2 years. These are intensive classes that focus on all aspects of the Japanese language (reading, writing, listening and speaking). These courses are designed to help students pass the JLPT N1 or N2 examinations and help them enter higher education institutions in Japan. A student visa is required for a long term course.
If you are already in Japan then you can make the most of the opportunity to actually go and visit the school. Ask if you can sit in on some classes to see what the teaching style is like. Teaching style and class pace varies greatly between schools. By being in the classroom you can experience and choose the learning environment that best suits your learning style.
Tuition fees can vary between language schools and trying to compare them all can be quite difficult. Some schools may offer a short term course that includes 3 hours of classroom time per day while another may offer 4 hours. Some may include the cost of extra-curricular activities and others may include them as additional costs. In general, language schools located in Tokyo tend to have higher tuition fees than those out smaller cities such as Nagoya or Fukuoka.
On top of the school fees, it’s also important to look at accommodation arrangements available. Many schools will offer students enrolled in long term courses the option to stay in an affordable dormitory while some others may ask students to make their own accommodation arrangements. With that being said, below is a rough guide to the tuition fees in Tokyo.
Short term courses typically consist of 3 hours of class time everyday from Monday to Friday. A 1-month course will generally cost from ¥80,000 to ¥150,000. Compared to long term courses on per month basis, short courses are far more expensive but that’s mainly due to their school location. The majority of language schools that offer these courses are in Tokyo, one of the most expensive cities in the world. On a more positive note, schools based in Tokyo often attract people from all over the world, so the schools are well equipped with English, Korean and Chinese speaking staff to support students.
Long term courses tend to offer 3 to 5 hours of class time from Monday to Friday. Tuition fees will differ slightly between schools and academies but in general a one-year course can cost about ¥600,000 or more.
This might be a shock to hear but tuition price shouldn’t be the main factor when deciding which language school to go to. Rather than just picking out the cheapest school, you should find the right school that will help achieve your future goals.
When considering which language school to go to, it’s also important to weigh out your options for where you’ll be staying. Most schools will offer at least one of the following:
Homestay - Live with a Japanese family and get an inside look into typical Japanese life and have plenty of opportunities to hone your Japanese skills.
Shared Dormitory - This is the perfect choice for individuals that prefer to socialise with their peers on a daily basis. This is one of the most affordable options.
Independent Living - For those that prefer having their own freedom and independence, then renting your own apartment might be the answer for you. You arrange your own housing accommodations. This is the ultimate Japanese test as there are few real estate agents that speak English.
The majority of language schools can be found across the major Japanese cities, but one can definitely find some schools in the more rural areas of Japan. Once you have a clear idea of what your language goals are the next step is to think about where you want to live.
For many people thinking about studying in Japan, Tokyo is the first place that comes to mind. But with its high cost of living and hectic crowds, it might not be the place for everyone. Here are some other Japanese cities that have just as much to offer.
Yokohama is a great option for those that want to experience Japan’s urban city life. It’s just 30 minutes away from Tokyo, yet the city has a more laid-back feel and has a much lower cost of living. Yokohama is a city rich in culture and heritage with plenty of beautiful spots, including the fantastic night views its harbour.Osaka has much lower cost of living compared to Tokyo, but it’s still an incredibly vibrant city. People from Osaka are known to be much more friendlier and outgoing than other regions of Japan, so you might find it easier to make friends with the locals. Osaka sits in the heart of the Kansai region, making the primo location for travel since Kobe, Kyoto, Shiga and Wakayama are all within a 40 min train ride away.
Kyoto makes for the perfect compromise between living in a bustling city and the more remote regions of Japan. Nestled amongst ancient temples and shrines and with a stunning mountainous backdrop, who wouldn’t want to live in the culture capital of Japan?
Okinawa is a beautiful tropical island located south of Kyushu. Known for its stunning blue waters and unique culture, Okinawa is paradise on earth. If you want to get away from the urban lifestyle and instead experience a more relaxed and simple lifestyle then Okinawa is the place for you!
If you’re still set on moving to Tokyo but you have a budget to stick to, it’s harder but definitely possible to find an affordable place to live. In general, entertainment districts such as Shinjuku and Shibuya are more expensive to live in due to their convenience and prime location in the heart of the city. Some of the most affordable neighbourhoods to rent an apartment are Nakano, Kamata and Narimasu.
Choosing The Right School For You
Everyone is different and when it comes to choosing a Japanese language school, there are certain things you should look for to make sure you get the best experience possible. Here is a list of essential questions you should ask of the language school you are considering and ensure that you meet your personal goals.
1. Does the language school have a track record for delivering excellence?
New language schools are popping up all the time in Japan. It’s now easier than ever to set up a slick-looking website with catchy slogans and attractive images but don’t be fooled by any of this. I can’t stress enough how important it is to research how long aschool has been opening and checking its record of success. Language schools don’t come cheap but you should certainly be getting your money’s worth in your education. A school with a long-standing history will have the experience to understand the challenges international students face and will be able to support you to achieve your learning goals.
2. Is the language school financially stable?
Recently, Japan has been seeing a sudden increase in language schools popping up around the country. There have been reports that a number of these schools have actually been fronts for importing cheap labour. I cannot stress enough the importance of asking critical questions about an organization’s financial stability before investing a large portion of your money to them.
If a school refuses to be open about its financial state, then you should take that as a warning sign. Don’t risk investing in a school that could be about to go out of business if they aren’t transparent about how well their business is performing.
3. Does the language school offer courses with unusually low tuition fees?
Everyone loves a good deal, but when a language offers discounts or specials that are too good to be true than warning bells should be going off. In desperation to get more students to enroll in the courses, schools may offer outrageous discounts or promotions. However, such practises can lead schools to cut corners and ultimately deliver a low quality experience.
4. Does the school have positive online ratings?
It’s always worth having a quick look on review sites such as Schoolin.Jp or Language Course to check what previous students have said about the school. While no organization can achieve a 5 star rating all of the time, it’s also important to take note of how the school representatives respond to negative feedback. Does the school seem open to negative feedback and is active in addressing internal issues? You should try to choose a school that has an overall high rating on one of these sites. If you can’t find any feedback on a school that you are considering, be sure to inquire as to why this is the case.
5. Does the school have staff that can speak in your language?
This will make your life so much easier in Japan by having someone who you can turn to with any questions or concerns you have about daily life in Japan or life as an international student.
Make sure to make the most of the GaijinPot Study Placement Program and Go! Go! Nihon , both of which are free services that can help you find the best language school for you. They also offer support in finding a place to live and finding a job in Japan!
Are You Ready to Embark on the Adventure of a Lifetime?
Whether you choose to study at a language school or take part in a cultural exchange program at a Japanese university, or even studying the language while working in Japan, there’s no doubt that you’ll have a fantastic time! Being in a new place far away from home may take time getting used to, but it’s worth every minute of it. Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. You’ve just unlocked the door to endless opportunities ahead!
Why should I invest in learning Japanese as a second language?
If you’re still not convinced of whether you should invest a chunk of your hard earnings in learning Japanese in Japan then check out the following reasons! You will achieve greater success in your professional career.
There’s no doubt that the experience gained from studying abroad will give you a leg up when applying for a new job. Employers often look for individuals that are creative, rational and open-minded. These are skills are naturally developed when learning a new language.
Did you know that only 2% of the world’s population is able to speak Japanese, but with Japan’s leading role on the global stage in technology development, science and economics makes the ability to speak Japanese an incredibly valuable tool. You will develop a global perspectiveBeing surrounded by a culture and language that is completely different from your own forces you to develop a wider perspective and understanding of the world around you. This is a vital skill not only in the workplace but in life!
It is the gateway to other Asian cultures and languages
For you language lovers out there, studying the complex social and cultural makeup of the Japanese language will set you up with the skills to succeed in other Asian cultures and languages. Of course, each culture and language found throughout Asia differs from each other, but there you can begin to see the similarities and influences they’ve had on each other.
Do I need a visa to study in Japan?
If you’re a passport holder of a country with a visa-waiver agreement with Japan, you don't need a student visa to attend a short term language course that’s three months or shorter! Courses that are longer than three months require a student visa.
Can I study in Japan for free?
The short answer is no. There’s no such thing as a free lunch! Japanese is a complex language that requires a trained teacher to instruct the classes. Think twice before considering on cutting back on tuition costs as this will most likely set you up with a badly run language school.
éAre there any scholarships? / student fund support?
There are a number of scholarships available to support individuals interested in learning Japanese in Japan. Check out JASSO for more information.
Can I work part-time as a student in Japan?
Yes, foreigners with a student-visa can work up to 28 hours a week part-time during the school term. During the school holidays, students are allowed to work more hours to help support themselves.