Right now in Japan thousands of English speaking, western foreigners teach English under the capacity of an ALT or Assistant Language Teacher.   The ALTs role in the classroom varies from class to class.  Some are just portable tape recorders that the Japanese teacher uses to speak fluent English on command.  While on the other side of the spectrum you have ALTs that teach the whole class by themselves while the Japanese teacher sleeps in the back.  Whatever the role their days in Japanese classes are numbered.  A number of new technologies and trends are threatening to bring the world of the western teacher to an end.

The Universal Translator

It’s only a matter of time before technology advances to a point where a small device can be either placed or implanted into someones ear. This device will translate all the world’s languages into your ear, real time, or at minimum have languages changed in and out as needed. Already at Google they are developing an application for their android phones that can translate in real time, although only Spanish is available in the phones Conversation mode.

Why English teachers are safe for now

Translating a language is incredibly difficult and as Google has noted, “Factors like regional accents, background noise or rapid speech may make it difficult to understand what you’re saying.” Also, while related languages like Spanish, French, German in the Indo-European language family are fairly easy to translate, languages such as Japanese are more difficult. But these are only temporary set backs. Once everyone has an ear piece that enables you to talk to anyone, in any language in the world, what is the point of learning English?

Robots, robots, robots

A bean-counting administrator’s wet dream would be to have robots in every classroom. Ideally they would be independent self automating bots but even several remote robots controlled by one teacher preferably in a country with low minimum wage standards would be ideal for governments wanting to cut expensive education budgets. Think it’s science fiction? Korea right now is experimenting with 30 robots to teach English in classrooms around the country.
~Respect my robot authority~

Why English teachers are safe for now

No kid is going to take dictation from a robot that doesn’t interact with it. One teacher monitoring several robots will not be able to keep track of hundreds of students. But these are all obstacles that can be overcome. English teachers in Japan often just have students read and repeat what they say with approval of the Japanese teachers and the school. This role could easily be replaced with a robot, a realistic robot.  Granted the Korean English-teaching robot, “Engkey”, looks like crap now but the technology can only improve and you have to keep in mind that Engkey is in operation in Korea where as Japan robot technology is light-years ahead.

Loosening of Visa rules

For decades it has been incredibly difficult to work in Japan teaching English unless you are from a traditional English speaking country aka America, Canada, United Kingdom, etc. That is all changing as those from other less more non-traditional countries are increasingly being allowed into the country as long as they are providing proof they can speak advanced English. This means that teachers from Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, etc are being allowed into the country and much to the distaste of those who presently teach these newcomers work for much lower wages, and less if any holidays. The argument for having these teachers is actually fairly strong as they, like the students they are expected to teach, often have learned English as a second language and so know the pitfalls and difficulties of learning a new language.

Why English teachers are safe for now

Luckily for English teachers the Japanese education system and Japanese themselves are just a little racist. They want blonde blue-eyed men and women teaching, in fact they prefer  women. They might grasp that being white doesn’t make you a better teacher but Japanese parents don’t and in Japan education is a competitive business. If a parent sees one school has a white teacher who has a degree in geology but another Filipino teacher with a Masters in ESL, Toefl 9 times out of ten they will pick the white teacher.

A Scandal

Japan has a large grey-zone when it comes to requirements for foreigners living in Japan. English teachers are not forced to join Japan’s expensive health care system. For some there is a relaxation in regards to encounters with the police. Foreigners can work outside of a pension system that Japanese are forced to pay into but most foreigners will never see any money as, English Teachers especially leave after a few years. That could all change if there was a major scandal involving ALTs.

In 2005 there was a major scandal in Korea when an English teacher in Korea used the Internet to post what amounted to a how-to guide for seducing Korean children. He said he did it as a joke but the the media seized on it and Korea went berserk and started cracking down on, and tightening rules regarding foreigners. Hundreds were arrested and other faced with daily harassment just left the country.

Why English teachers are safe for now

Korea with its large hated American military population have always associated foreigners with corruption, immoral behaviour and as just general assholes. Japan, except for maybe in Okinawa, doesn’t have this stereotype. In Japan we are regarded as clumsy oafs who don’t respect the culture but in a good way. Like a dog who can’t be blamed for tracking in mud from outside. But all it would take, is some sort of scandal for that attitude to change.

If this hasn’t scared you off check out how to become an English Teacher on our Tumblr page or read more Nonsense from GaijinAss by Checking out:

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