Before I started J-List, I had a career as a teacher of eikaiwa or English conversation. In Japan there’s a strict distinction drawn between the concept of “English conversation” (that is, doing useless things like communication in a fun environment) and “English” (learning proper grammar for tests), and since I could teach both subjects, I was always in demand with my students. It was certainly a fun job, and I was able to meet hundreds of Japanese people during my time as a teacher, from small kids to older Japanese who could tell me about what Japan used to be like. Sadly, the past few years haven’t been kind to Japan’s eikaiwa industry. The country’s largest chain of McEnglish conversation chains (NOVA) croaked in 2007, and last month GEOS joined them in death. The reasons these schools went bankrupt are many, including bad management, poor working conditions for teachers and trying to force students to sign muti-year contracts just to sign up. Disruption from the Internet played a role, too, as Japanese realized they could learn English almost as well with services like Twitter.
Times are hard for Japan’s English schools.