English-language lessons finding success on the Net

JIJI

Inexpensive English conversation lessons over the Internet are growing rapidly in Japan, especially among company employees in their 20s to 40s.

The domestic market for foreign-language education continues to grow, reflecting the increase in the number of Japanese companies operating overseas. According to Yano Research Institute, the market expanded 2.7 percent in fiscal 2012 to ¥789.2 billion and is expected to grow a further 4.3 percent to ¥823 billion in fiscal 2013, which ends March 31.

In particular, e-learning services, such as those accessible via personal computer or smartphone, expanded a sharp 19.6 percent in fiscal 2012 to ¥5.5 billion. In fiscal 2013, growth is forecast at 18.2 percent to reach ¥6.5 billion.

RareJob Inc., a leader in online English education since it entered the business in 2007, had some 200,000 students as of last October, an increase of 70,000 from a year earlier. The Tokyo-based firm employed about 3,200 instructors during the one-year period and offered more than 12,000 lessons a day.

RareJob hires instructors in the Philippines to reduce labor costs so that it can offer a 25-minute person-to-person lesson for a mere ¥129 if a student takes a ¥16,000 monthly course involving four lessons per day.

To maintain quality, RareJob says, it hires students and graduates of top-notch universities in the Philippines.

Demand for online language education services is likely to continue growing. Inquiries from the services industry about RareJob’s programs have been increasing since Tokyo was picked last September to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, company officials said.

Using free face-to-face conversation software, online language education bypasses the huge startup investment of securing classrooms or developing large-scale computer systems.

It’s estimated that more than 100 firms now provide e-lessons using Filipino instructors. Trying to stand out, some offer students the opportunity to study English in the Philippines.

Feeling the heat, leading foreign-language schools are stepping up their own versions of online education.

ECC Corp., for example, has expanded its experienced teaching staff of native English speakers, stressing that lessons by Filipino instructors are not necessarily suitable for people who are just starting English conversation lessons. Berlitz Japan Inc. launched an English education course last summer that combines self-learning and online conversation lessons, targeting office workers.