Jul 27, 2016

Survey ranks Japan’s best English conversation schools



We couldn’t resist this one; a ranking of the best English conversation schools (eikaiwa/英会話) Japan has to offer. With a reputation for cutting corners and rinsing out every drop of a tight budget (usually by way of not paying staff their dues), these places are often demonized by the people that work in them.


However, let’s be clear. Much like the attitude of school purse holders, this survey targets the satisfaction of students/customers, not the teachers/instructors . This is not an insight into the working environment at the schools covered. Were this the case, we dare say the results may look a little different. In fact, we’d venture to say that a lot of instructors might question the point of such a survey anyway; the numbers would all look about the same, and it’s unlikely that any of the locals would care.  


Actually, we write this on the back of a recent piece in The Japan Times - Improperly run Japanese language schools may lose license under new rules (July 21, 2016) - When we first caught this headline our interest piqued, ‘Finally, the authorities are clamping down on unscrupulous operations. They’ve got teachers’ backs!’. Then we realised they were talking about schools that teach Japanese. Still, progress of a kind. 


The survey we’re looking at here was conducted by Japan online trend spotters ORICON STYLE and their Oricon CS Report. They picked up 59 English conversation schools / 英会話スクール (there are 59?!!), and polled 9,206 students who had made use of said schools (for over half a year) within the last 5 years. ORICON claim that, through their survey system, they focus not on the size or situation of a business, rather on customer satisfaction. The survey, they say, contains real customer reviews and word-of-mouth.  


In assessing each school ORICON picked up the following categories … 


Admission process, Special favors (not sure what they mean by this)

Staff support

Quality of instructors

Classroom atmosphere

Curriculum & teaching materials

Lesson quality

Acquisition of English

Appropriate lesson fee

Ease of lesson content intake

Events (cultural/exchange)

System of support

Trustworthiness


It looks like each category is scored out of 100 pts. ORICON break each one down pretty extensively. For this piece, though, we’ll just focus largely on the overall ranking.  


So, here are the best English conversation schools in Japan …  



1: COCO塾 (Juku)


Overall score: 73.5

Highest score: Quality of instructors (76.71)

Lowest score: Lesson quality (72.25)

Highest rank: No.1 (English acquisition / Curriculum and teaching materials)


Students’ voice: 

‘The lesson atmosphere is really good, and it’s fun.’ (male/20s)

‘They teach in a way that’s easy to understand.’ (female/30s)



2: English Village (イングリッシュビレッジ)


Overall score: 73.35

Highest score: Appropriate lesson fee (82.06)

Lowest score: Events (cultural/exchange) (52.78)

Highest rank: No.1 (Appropriate lesson fee / Staff support / Admission process, Special favors)


Students’ voice:

‘The attitude of instructors is normal, but I think that’s good.’ (female/30s)



3: Gaba Man-to-Man Eikaiwa (Gabaマンツーマン英会話)


Overall score: 73.20

Highest score: Lesson quality (82.76)

Lowest score: Appropriate lesson fee (54.29)

Highest rank: No.1 (Lesson quality / Classroom atmosphere / Ease of lesson content intake

/ Quality of instructors / Trustworthiness / System of support)


Students’ voice:

‘Because it’s man-to-man, the curriculum can be changed.’ (male/40s)

‘You can choose your instructor, so you can select the best one.’ (female/40s)




4: Berlitz (ベルリッツ)


Overall score: 72.52

Highest score: Quality of instructors (76.45)

Lowest score: Appropriate lesson fee (59.69)

Highest rank: No.2 (Trustworthiness / Curriculum & teaching materials)


Students’ voice:

‘In a man-to-man situation, the foreign instructor(s) matched my enthusiasm.’ (male/40s)



5: AEON (イーオン)


Overall score: 72.37

Highest score: Staff support (75.87)

Lowest score: Appropriate lesson fee (62.51)

Highest rank: No.2 (Classroom atmosphere)


Students’ voice:

‘It was useful as lesson were taught based on communication.’ (male/30s)




6: ECC外語学院 (Gaigo Gakuin)


Overall score: 72.20

Highest score: Quality of instructors (75.58)

Lowest score: Appropriate lesson fee (63.42)

Highest rank: N/A


Students’ voice:

‘Classes are separated according to level, as such this school provides an appropriate study environment.’ (male/40s)




7: Shane Eikaiwa (シェーン英会話)


Overall score: 71.86

Highest score: Lesson quality (76.50)

Lowest score: Events (cultural/exchange) (57.80)

Highest rank: No.3 (Admission process, Special favors / Appropriate lesson fee)


Students’ voice:

‘My fear of English went away.’ (female/40s)



8: EC Eikaiwa (EC英会話)


Overall score: 69.80

Highest score: Quality of instructors (72.52)

Lowest score: Appropriate lesson fee (62.81)

Highest rank: No.1 (Events (cultural/exchange))


Students’ voice:

‘Overall it was good. If I have the time, I’d like to learn (from them) again.’ (male/50s)



9: NOVA 


Overall score: 67.44

Highest score: Classroom atmosphere (71.52)

Lowest score: Events (cultural/exchange) (58.12) 

Highest rank: N/A


Students’ voice:

‘You can study at many locations.’ (female/40s)

‘Yes, there was the old NOVA, but my fear of a lack of progress when speaking with foreigners is getting smaller.’ (male/60s)



So there it is. COCO Juku is THE best eikaiwa in Japan. Fact!! Well, not quite, but some students seem to like it.


Can we read anything into this? There must be a certain satisfaction to gain from seeing those schools with high scores for ‘Quality of instructors’. It’s perhaps no surprise to see a lot of schools getting their lowest score for ‘Appropriate lesson fee’; these places are expensive, but even then, staff wages are unlikely to see much in the way of improvement.  


What’s interesting about this survey, to us at least, is the gaping contrast between student opinion, and that of instructors (particularly those that work in the schools listed above); quality of instructors may be high, but you can bet your next lesson fee the instructor doesn’t feel the same way about ‘quality of employer’.  


What’s also interesting about the survey, is that out of 57 schools, those that tend to be the main object of complaints make the top 9 (the rest of the list isn’t accessible through the ORICON site). Of course, this could simply be down to those schools being the largest and thus having more staff that can complain, and empathise with one another. But are we really saying that these conversation schools are the best Japan has to offer?  


What do you guys think? Best of a bad bunch? Or do the eikaiwa get treated unfairly? After all, judging from this, the students seem pretty satisfied.  


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This looks to be an on going survey the latest update of which was conducted, nationwide, in the latter part of 2015. Respondents 15 yrs and above.


Source: ORICON STYLE 

See the original survey results here.

Image (cropped ): Michael Stout Flickr License 


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2 Comments

  • helloalissa

    on Jul 27

    "Special Favors" = Promotions? Like no entrance fee or discount for weekly lessons? This kind of thing really depends on what the students have experienced (if anything other than public school) to compare their school with. As we know the required teacher qualifications of these schools, it's hard to believe the quality of teachers is good, but okay.

  • SalarymanJim

    on Jul 28

    'Special favors'! That makes me chuckle. On the teacher side of this, my experience is limited to one of the schools above. If I'm being honest, I had fun (for the most part) working there. Maybe I got lucky, I had a good group of people in the school, and the students were nice. As a starting salary, the pay was fine, but it pretty much stayed at the same rate, and didn't show any sign of movement, no matter how hard your worked or how good of a teacher you were.