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Wakayama: Do you think lesson fees at English conversation schools are overpriced?

by Lisa Wong

Kana
High school student, 18

Yes, I think lesson fees at eikaiwa [private English conversation schools] are overpriced. If it weren’t so expensive to take English lessons, then I’d consider taking a class, and would encourage my friends and family to do so, too.

Takeshi Taniguchi
State schoolteacher, 39

I don’t think the cost to go to eikaiwa is high. Of course, it would be good if the cost was lower, but taking eikaiwa classes is necessary if one wants to improve their English. The more classes, the better. My two daughters are taking piano and swimming lessons. Practice makes perfect, and opens doors of opportunity.

Kyoko Akasaka
School administrator, 50s

I think that children should start taking English lessons at a young age if they can, because that’s the optimum age for acquiring good language skills. The amount of money it costs isn’t as important as being well-versed in the English language.

Tomoaki Minami
Garbage collection firm staff, 38

I go to one of the Big Four [eikaiwa chains in Japan]. I think it’s a little overpriced. If there was a smaller eikaiwa that charged less, then I would go there instead. I enjoy studying English — that’s the main reason I’m taking the language classes.

Mizuho Koga
Receptionist, 50s

My daughter used to attend eikaiwa classes, but not anymore. If the lesson fees were cheaper, then I’d go, to improve my English, because that would help me in my job, and I’m sure that my daughter would go again as well.

Kazuhiko Sugimoto
State schoolteacher, 40s

It’s not expensive, but it’s not reasonable either. It’s somewhere in between. If somebody wants to improve their English, though, they should take eikaiwa classes continuously. The nature of learning a language requires this, if the ultimate goal is fluency or near-fluency.

Interviews conducted in Hashimoto city and Katsuragi town, Wakayama Prefecture. Interested in gathering views in your neighborhood? E-mail community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Ron NJ

    If you want to improve your English, you shouldn’t be taking eikaiwa classes at all. You should be doing self-directed study with a textbook, addressing your own strengths and weaknesses, and engaging in actual, honest-to-god discourse with native speakers who aren’t just paid to be there. It’s not impossible (or even difficult) by any stretch of the imagination – millions of people throughout history have learned languages without the help of “language schools” – it just requires a little willpower, self-control, and time.
    Eikaiwas are businesses first and foremost. They don’t make money if they produce fluent students, they make money by keeping students coming and paying for classes. Fundamentally it is against their interests if students improve very much at all.

    • Stephen Chadfield

      You could level that complaint at all educational businesses! And what about restaurants? They should ensure their customers leave hungry to ensure they must keep returning…

    • aliasis

      I used to work for an eikaiwa and I’d say it’s the opposite. There’s a lot of profit to be made selling the students new textbooks, so I found even if a student wasn’t very good, the staff would still push them to buy the next level’s textbook. The students want results, half the time it doesn’t matter if they can actually speak or not, it’s just being able to say they aren’t at a beginner’s level. And, unfortunately, in Japan even the “high level” students are rarely very good, luckily, I think most of them know that, so I would doubt there are many Japanese people who’d say they are “too good” for English lessons, especially when they have such access to English media, i.e. movies and articles, that make them aware of how little they understand at the native level.

    • Frank Thornton

      Sorry but I don’t agree with you. I’m a self-employed eikaiwa teacher and I don’t sell textbooks. (unless the students requests to use one)
      1) We would make money by producing fluent students. If the students don’t feel like they’re improving, they’ll go somewhere else. If the word goes out that a school can produce fluent students, the owner would be rich.
      2) Self-directed study with a textbook could help improve vocabulary, grammer and writing skills but not conversation. “Eikaiwa” is “English conversation”. I’ve been in business for over 20 years and have never seen a textbook that will hold a conversation with you.
      3) An honest-to-god discourse with a native speaker that isn’t paid to be there… How many native speakers in Japan do you know of that are willing to sit down with a someone and have a weekly conversation in English? How is the average student, businessman/woman, housekeeper etc supposed to know this kind of native speaker that is willing to do this in a scheduled, responsible manner…for free? Walk the tourist spots and strike up a conversation?
      I can’t understand how you can say that it is fundamentally against our interest if the students improve. Is that like saying that a Dr doesn’t want his patients to get well?

    • Howells Kenneth

      Of course on the surface you are correct. It is the same with the health and pharmaceutical industries. But, with small English schools, though we lose students when they reach a certain level and move on, these students often tell others about our schools. Small schools, like mine, rely heavily on word-of-mouth and therefore we might be more honest in our desire to have students improve their English, hopefully leading to higher grades in school, or better job opportunities, or whatever.

  • Jack

    Small English conversation school classes are generally cheaper and may offer diverse programs to suit individuals as for time switching and smaller classes. Also, they are friendlier and teachers who may also be the owners have to be more concerned about keeping the students longer. My opinion is, go for small schools.

  • PX

    It is funny that these people complain about the price of eikaiwa lessons but don’t think twice about buying the latest fashion trends or spending money to eat at nice restaurants. You have to invest in your skillset, so fork out the yen and pay for lessons, else you will fall behind and keep remaining “dome-dome” and complain that you cannot understand/speak English while your Asian counterparts are becoming fluent in English and can do biz globally.

  • Brian Campbell

    I remember from when I was in Japan there were a few volunteer one of their classes free. That might be a good option as well. The biggest one I saw was goeikaiwa.org, but I think there were a few otehrs as well.

  • Jan Frimodig

    More than complain about the price of eikaiwa schools it would be better to focus on the fact that they exist because Japanese public education system fails at teaching students English. If the education system did it’s job, there would be no need for eikaiwa.

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      More than complain about “the education system doing its job”, it would be better to focus on asking whether it is even possible for such a system to actually do its job, given the incentives and constraints of a one-size-fits all public school monopoly.

      • La_Dolce

        At the public schools? Certainly no better than American public schools, but then again, kids at PS’s in the States can hold a (admittedly short) conversation in French or Spanish. The private schools have no excuse.

  • Summiter

    As a former teacher at a large Berlitz language center (they did not then dare to call it a “school,”) I must answer emphatically “Yes! Lesson fees at eikaiwa are overpriced.” Other commenters, such as Jack, PX and Ron NJ make some excellent points. But it isn’t just about the lesson fees themselves. There are all the affiliated trappings: the entry fee of 30,000 or 40,000 yen (depending on the organization), the costs of the texts, the CDs, sometimes workbooks and often more. Berlitz (and presumably other eikaiwas) offer “blocks” of lessons, typically twenty or more. Requiring an individual to fork over 350,000 (entry fee plus lessons fee – NOT counting texts/CDs/video fees!) before the first lesson is ever taught is daunting in anyone’s paygrade.
    Knowing my background, some Japanese people ask me for advice about their entering eikaiwa, or their family members. I always counsel (for free!):
    1. Ask good questions. Get the briefings and placement evaluations for free. If the eikaiwa attempts to charge for either, walk out!
    2. Ask if the eikaiwa will allow a student to pay the (ridiculously expensive) entry fee and one-half of the lesson fee before the first lesson, then pay the second half of the lesson fee half-way through the lessons. This question never occurs to most students. Berlitz, for example, did (!) allow this policy while I worked there, but did not normally tell the prospective students. The student signs a contract before the first lesson, so he/she IS legally responsible for paying the entire lesson fee.
    3. Be very clear before paying – what happens if the student, after paying, does not like the teacher? Is it possible to get a refund? Is it possible to change teachers?
    4. After the initial briefing and the placement evaluation, ask to meet a couple of the teachers who will likely teach the student. Check their backgrounds and qualifications. How many teachers or students are aware of the qualifications required by Japanese law? Are the teachers trained and qualified to know how to effectively teach English to Japanese students? Do they even know what they are doing?
    5. Do not forget the 72 hour cooling off period after contract signing. If the student feels something is wrong, do not feel bad or guilty. Take action! Formally notify the eikaiwa and cancel! Get out! The eikaiwa may legally keep some money as a cancellation fee.
    I am not at all impressed by the quality of English of the overwhelming number of eikaiwa graduates I have met. When I first started at Berlitz, one insightful person told me: “You must remember that the purpose of eikaiwas is to efficiently separate
    students from their money. If the students also happen to actually learn some language, that’s fine too.”
    Let the buyer beware!

  • http://www.facebook.com/genkiguy Christopher Glen

    People may well complain about eikaiwa fees being high. But the fact is, eikaiwa teachers need to get paid. And if the lesson fees were lower, so would the salaries of the teachers. Who in turn would be given less incentive for taking low-paying jobs, or staying in them very long.
    The public school system is partly to blame as well. I was an ALT in it sor several years. There`s too much focus on rote-memorisation at junior high level, thus many students get a mentality early on that English is something difficult to learn. And as soon as they finish their exams, it`s rapidly forgotten, until it`s needed for their jobs, post-university. Enter eikaiwa…