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Mar 8, 2017

'Eikaiwa trauma' and why students give up studying English



"Don’t you want to graduate from ‘fashion’ eikaiwa? Strategies for ridding yourself of ‘eikaiwa’ trauma."


*eikaiwa / 英会話 - English conversation (often referring to an English conversation school)


So reads this expat’s best efforts to translate a recent press release that seems to be pointing Japanese English-language learners towards digital learning devices they will help them achieve fluency. Here’s the Japanese original … 


“ファッション英会話”もう卒業しない?「英会話トラウマ」脱却大作戦!!


There are a number of questions that jump out immediately, not least, What on earth is a ‘fashion eikaiwa'? It sounds to me like the kind of empty sloganing that eikaiwa teachers up and down Japan are forced to smile about as they try and get through a demo lesson.  


We can breath a sigh of relief though. Turns out ‘fashion eikaiwa7 refers to the ‘fad’, if you will, among many Japanese to try and learn English simply because it (the ability to speak English) sounds cool, without seriously understanding the weight of the endeavor.  


The eyes are drawn next to the phrase ‘eikaiwa trauma’. Now, I dare say there are a few of us out there who’ve had more than their fair share of this … if what this is referring to is the institution of the ‘eikaiwa’; those seats of learning in which students get a handle on conversing in English. It doesn’t appear to be this though. At leat not entirely.  Again, this is pointed more towards the intangible, English conversation.


All of this is leading us into the results of a survey conducted by marketing company Trenders. In February this year they surveyed some 400 + locals in their 20s to 40s about studying English conversation.  


When asked if respondents had to experience of giving up studying English prematurely, some 40% replied in the affirmative.  

That 40% then went on to reveal what the writer refers to as the ‘best 3 study frustrations’.  Which we bring to you here.  Translated from their original Japanese.



Frustration No.1


It’s difficult to understand the ‘fruits’ of the study (30%)


The writer empathizes here with the sentiment that the ‘fruits’ of going to / from eikaiwa classes and study at home as being, well, not at all clear. They go on to say that while talking with the teacher in class leads to some improvement, in studying at home from a textbook there is no way to judge if pronunciation is good or bad.



Frustration No. 2


The fees are high (28%)


Ain’t this the truth! If I might just interject here, it’s surely a truism that the cost / performance of studying at an eikaiwa just isn’t there. The management are emphatically aware of this, too. Hence the industry is seeing a disturbing trend towards the part-time teacher (OK. That’s fine), but also towards those payment structures where teachers only get paid per class (no matter how diligent they may be in planning, file keeping, and the other trappings that come with doing the job properly). During my eikaiwa days I used to wince at how much a new student had to cough up at the start of a 6-month lesson contract. But even then, it was barely enough to cover a month or so of wages for a single teacher. (Not that this stopped any of us from sleeping at night. It was the way these places tend to be run that did that!)


Anyway, it turns out a lot of eikaiwa students ‘give up’ on lessons because they cost too much.  In this, there should be no surprise. 



Frustration No. 3


Commuting to a school is troublesome (27%)


Well now this doesn’t seem particularly deserving of sympathy (although the writer extends it). Eikaiwa are everywhere these days. Quite often in easy reach from a train station.  


It’s from here that we go into the virtues of using certain digital devices (‘digital eikaiwa study’) to get us back on that study horse. These though, could well be putting expats out of a job, so we’ll leave them alone for the time being.  


Instead let’s go back to the phrase ‘eikaiwa trauma’, and take it from a different perspective. A bit negative? Maybe. Irreverent? Yes! Useful? Questionable, but we’ll roll with it.



Alternative reasons why students have quit eikaiwa (in this expat’s experience).



In no particular order … 



Teacher was repeatedly hung over / smelled of alcohol


Not me, I hasten to add. I have, however, worked with one or two teachers out here who would turn up to work hungover to the point that students could smell it. Not that it got them the sack (they just didn’t get contracts renewed). Perhaps this is a reflection on the part of many who come to Japan to teach, that they see it more like an extended jolly, rather than a situation in which they’re supposed to be professional. It’s an easy trap to fall into; early on everything seems weird and exotic to the point that the banal realities of full-time (if you’re lucky these days) work aren’t to be felt. Plus, there’s the sense that, I haven’t come all of this way to get trapped in a 9 - 5 grind. I could have stayed at home for that!  While this may be true in sentiment, it isn’t in reality. Sadly!



Teacher was strict to the point of being psychotic


The teaching game attracts all sorts over here (in large part because the entry requirements are minimal - there just isn’t the money?). It’s not unusual to work with a teacher who goes way overboard on the discipline. The ex-military types who are still (understandably) highly strung. The ones who let the kids get to them. The ones who just don’t have a sense of humor. Who knows? Work in a school long enough though, and you’re more than likely to hear students complain about the one who’s too strict.



Teacher was … boring


We touched on the sloganing that pretty much all eikaiwa use to separate themselves from the pack. It’s always nonsense, isn’t it? Then there are the shiny text books! But this is about conversation, is it not? (The clue is in the name) In my experience, the teachers that played it by the book, either by teaching according to ‘slogan’, or literally ‘by the book’, were always the ones to draw complaints from students about class being boring. It makes sense. Well, the slogans make no sense, but, in large part, you don’t need to be paying up loads of cash to go through a book. Students come to eikaiwa because they want to talk, and hopefully to someone nice. So, be nice, and talk!



I was on the company’s money


This perhaps depends on location, but if you’re in an eikaiwa close to a center of business and finance, you’ll get plenty of office workers taking classes on the company’s dollar, and because the company told them to. As such then, these students study on the whim of the employers. And when that changes, they leave.



Student doesn’t like classmates and isn’t willing to go private


Students may dream of speaking English, but they sure as hell don’t want to do it in front of Japanese people (who are surely in the least likely of positions to be judgmental). Still, this is the position the eikaiwa teacher can find themselves in; sat in front of a group of adults who look like their mums just dropped them off for the first day of kindergarten. Getting some semblance of flow and happy vibes in class can be a Sisyphean task with a group like this. It’s not always thus. Some classes get on like reunited best mates. It can be the case though, that studying with others just isn’t the best way for some. Even though it is the most affordable.



Can’t find the right level of class


Here’s a brutal truth; depending on the business model, some eikaiwa don’t like private students (usually the ones that are paying teachers a full-time, monthly wage). They take up the time, resources, and classrooms that could be used for the more profitable group classes. As such, the eikaiwa teacher will often find Japanese staff disregarding their level recommendations in favor of trying to crowbar a new student into a class that better suits the schedule, classroom space and profit margins. Savvy short-term thinking maybe, but a student who isn’t studying at the right level almost never renews a contract. Still, since when have eikaiwa ever thought ‘long-term’?



Teacher left


The newbie eikaiwa teacher will likely find themselves joining a school with a resident ‘superstar’ sensei. The one that every student tries to request a lesson with. The one you have to fill in for on occasion and bear the looks of disappointment from students when they realise they’ve got this week’s class with you, and not them. Eventually these teachers leave, and you can bet your bottom dollar they secretly hope some of their regular students leave with them (a boost to the ego). Usually they don’t (for a short while at least), but on occasion, there are students who do.



I had contemplated penning some words on what could be considered ‘eikaiwa trauma’ for eikaiwa teachers themselves. There’s been much written about this though, and I don’t think I could contribute anything new or of note. I will say this though, to anyone overseas who’s just taken a job at an eikaiwa and has made the mistake of scrolling through some ‘eikaiwa’ related forums that brought them out in a cold sweat. These places are what you make of them. The students are invariably nice. The Japanese staff are invariably nice. You get to sit and talk with nice people and get paid to do so. Don’t bog yourself down with company structures and management. Concentrate on enjoying Japan. Get your feet under the table. Then, if you feel like there’s a fight worth having with the company or the industry as a whole, take to it in a positive way (rather than spitting vitriol on a forum where no one who can do anything about it is listening).  Or not!  I'll leave it with you.




If you've experienced 'eikaiwa trauma' or can think of common circumstances in which students might give up class, we'd love to have your comments. 




For further teaching in Japan wisdom ... 

How to get off to a good start as an English teacher in Japan




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