Get Some Advice!

As you are planning to get from where you are to Japan you need to have some kind of strategy. I suppose that it is easy for an old guy like me to tell you all the things you need to do, and you may not believe me. That is very understandable. In the West, particularly to the newly graduated from university, you have not been given the advantages you should have received. Crushing student debt, “internships” which amount to unpaid volunteer labor, and very little access to the jobs you want that will get you to your future goals are common.

So, I dug around on YouTube a little and found some people who are in the process of getting their futures in order, and planning to come to Japan. Check these out!


Get the information you need. Shop around. There are a LOT of TESOL granting agencies out there. You need to find the one that will suit your budget and your timeline. Of course, we can help you out here in Osaka, but we are not the only ones. And to be completely frank with you, when you apply for your working visa at the Japanese Embassy, or at Immigration here in Japan, the officers in charge of your file will want to see that you are indeed a university graduate, and that you have a TESOL or CELTA or something similar that looks professional.

It may take a little more time than you bargained for to get to Japan, but you can do it. We are cheering for you like crazy on this side of the ocean. If you need someone to talk to about your process and what you are doing to make it Japan, drop me a line. I will be glad to be of service if I can.

Have a great day!

Language Learning Process

escher-stairs-art-1140x640This is a kind of a dry topic, but it is a very important concept to understand if you are someone who is trying to master a second language. If you have ever been in a language class, or tried to learn a new language on your own in your spare time, you know how horrible the process is. You study and study and study and make almost no progress. You try again. You study and study more. You buy books and CDs and DVDs. You join more classes. You watch TV in the language you want to learn. You buy new pens and notebooks. Special notebooks. Special pens.

But you feel like you don’t know anything. All your efforts so far, all your special stationary supplies are a waste. The sit on your desk and you feel like they are mocking you, like they are laughing at you.

You have failed.

But. Wait.

You have not failed. You have actually made some progress, even if you don’t know it. Even if you don’t feel it. You have, in fact, learned something. In your brain. Deep in your brain there is the vocabulary that you have studied. It lies deep in your head, but it cannot come to the front of your brain, and out of your mouth yet. It needs to be revisited. It needs to be reviewed. It needs to be forced a little more. It needs to be polished up.

Researchers have shown us that in order for a foreign word to become natural for us to use it requires seven or eight reviews. It needs seven or eight contextual uses so that it becomes natural for you, and then you will recognize it as having been learnt.

Learning language is not like anything else, and the closest proximity we can find is the study of music. Music needs practice and rehearsal. Endless practice and rehearsal until it sounds natural and spontaneous. We hear the “voice” of great pianists and guitarists. They are smooth and seamless. It is because they practice like crazy. Of course there are the very unique few who can learn language or music instantly, but for the rest of the peons like me and you, we have to plod along, endlessly, relentlessly. We have to be like a dog with a bone.

Like a dog with a bone.

This is the year of the dog. Language study is the bone.

That parallel just fell into this article. How cool is that?

So, learning language is incremental, and unromantic. It needs time and persistence. Knowing that is a powerful thing, and it is liberating too. If anyone says, “You studied language for so long, why don’t you speak it yet?” The only answer is, “I am still practicing.”

Those are the same words spoken by martial arts masters in Japan. They never claim mastery, even though to the outsider they are completely flawless. They are “in the midsts of learning”. Surely we can take that to heart in our own study, whatever it is we are trying to learn.

Language learning is not fun.  We need the building blocks of language–vocabulary. And lots of it. We have our students write out vocabulary lists. They make vocabulary cards. We drill the vocabulary. We quiz them. We review and review and review and review.

Then…. we can build some sentences. And that is the fun part. We can choose simple grammatical structures and drop in a verb, drop in a noun, drop in an adjective. Instantly we are using language, playing with language, and reviewing it. We can learn a more complex pattern, something with prepositions. Drop in a verb, a noun, an adjective, and jump it around. The kids can see how easy, and fun it can be.

It’s fun because they master something. It’s fun because they really KNOW something. And what they have played with in a variety of forms gets reviewed. Soon it gets to seven or eight times of usage and they can keep that part of language in their minds. Forever.

Then review it all one more time.

Then get out the vocabulary worksheets, the cards, and do it all over again.obras-de-echer-6-728


It is a very exciting time for us at englishbiz. This year promises to bring a few new projects to life, as well as move our company and schools further down the road of becoming stronger and of better service to our students and community.

0f5b75c5-47a9-4d0e-a050-84bdec687c98Last year, in our English classrooms, we experimented with developing an EIKEN JUKU. For those of you do not know what that is, “Eiken” is the name of a series of English tests that kids can take from an early age and the difficulty extends upwards to full fluency. The “Jr” levels are Bronze, Silver, and Gold, and then from there the ranks go 5, 4, 3, pre-2, 2, pre-1, and 1. The “Junior Eiken” levels are primarily for elementary school kids and then from junior high the “Adult Eiken” program kicks in. The word “Juku” means “cram school”. So, what we have in essence created, is a cram school environment for kids working through the “Eiken” ranks.

We did not know what to expect, but it has been a booming success for our school. The parents want it, the kids need it, and there is no one anywhere in Takamatsu City who has done it. This really hit home for us that we were on the right path of making a serious, and seriously enriching and enjoyable, English learning school and environment. We were very very excited when the results came in that 98% of our kids could pass their Eiken examinations and advance to the next stage. There is nothing like real success that can give kids the confidence they need to learn.

While other schools are twirling ribbons, and screaming, and running about with unruly kids, we managed to model, demonstrate, and guide kids towards a better way of learning, REALLY learning, and not just “experiencing” English. I am proud of our school and our team for this success. We will make certain it extends to reach more kids for 2018.

The other area where we saw some incredible success was with our experimental English Daycare called “Little DaVincis”. This was a brainchild of my wife, and we decided to start very small and to see where it would lead us. We made the facility inside the largest language school we ran and hired staff to work with us. It has been a very adventurous start, and we are still in the first year of its inception. There is a growing demand for bilingual daycares in our city, so we are considering carefully if this is another service we can provide better.

Looking ahead to 2018, there is a new project that we have decided to work on, and this is concerned with developing and finding teachers who are either looking for their next placement, or who need the skills and certification that Japanese Immigration authorities require for work visa permission. We contacted iTTi in New York and have secured exclusive rights with them to run their TESOL program here in Japan. The first session will be a 120 hour certification program in Osaka in July. Details will follow on this page, so please let us know if you are interested in this. We are keeping the class size small so we can manage the quality and effectiveness of it, so seats will be limited for the first year anyway.

Thanks so much for coming by! Thanks for the emails and kind comments, and friendly support. It means a lot to me to be connected to great educators and thoughtful people. Teaching English overseas as a career is a wonderful ride, and it is a great pleasure to be on it with you.

Let’s make 2018 big big fun!



The Die is Cast

Ok, so here is where we are at with the TESOL course preparations. The ink is drying on the contract that I have received and we are ready to move ahead. Our initial plan is to start our first TESOL course in July of 2018, and we will set up in OSAKA.

The reason for this is that it is very accessible for anyone coming to Japan, or already living in Japan. The Kansai Airport is within an hour of the downtown area, and Osaka is a major hub for the entire country. Tokyo is great, and if this would be your first time to Japan, it is a “must-go” to location. I highly recommend a few days in Tokyo to get in the sights and sounds of that massive concrete megacity.

Osaka is significant because it is also just a stone’s through from Kyoto. We are going to set up the TESOL course so that we will have some intense sessions for a few days, and then cut you guys loose for a few days in a row. This is essential to let you have the time and space to explore the country, and to really see some of the most significant sights of Kyoto, Osaka, and beyond.

We also hope to have plenty of leads with companies and language schools that are looking for qualified teachers to work with. That is another important thing that we need to do our best in terms of preparing you for life after you get your TESOL certification. Part of getting you ready for life in Japan is to also sort out your CV, and consult with you about strategies for the next step of your career. We have some ideas, but need to hear from you as well in terms of what you are looking for, what ages do you feel most comfortable teaching, and what kind of contracts or length of time you wish to put into an ESL teaching position.

There are many things to formalize and to let you know about, but details are coming! Drop me a line at if you have any questions!

Talk more soon!


englishbiz Story: Part 6- Go big or…

So, here we are with a handful of schools and we are now in full scramble mode. When you have just one school to run, like out of your house and next to your kitchen where you have lunch and tea with the missus, you know where everything is, and things are pretty much where you left them.


When you have three schools to run you are in a place that can only be described as “tenuous”. This is the time when you have both momentum (see previous blogs as to how important/cool this is to have in your company) and many nights of limited sleep. Everything you are doing now needs to be duplicated. The good thing is that you are going to replicate what works well. The bad thing is that now you need three of everything. Plus you need some staff you can depend on.

Ah… yes, staff. When we think about “staff” I think we need to reframe this as “team”, and if possible, “family”. We spend a huge amount of time during the week in each other’s presence and there is a lot of work to do. We have jobs to pay our rents and to make sure that we can do things like eat, keep the lights on at home, buy socks (finally), and get things for our kids, like piano lessons.

I had never been a boss before, and now we have people who are looking to me for leadership. How did this possibly happen?  I have to admit, being a teacher at the university when I could just come and go as I like, say what I like, do what I like, and not have to worry about anyone else was pretty great. Now I have to watch how I act and react with our team. When things go good, or our staff does well, I have to remember to recognize that, praise that, and thank the person directly for the good work they do. When something goes wrong, or a teacher or staff is lacking attention to what they are doing I have to try to be gentle in reminding, and try to remain calm when sometimes they just blow it.

The learning curve at the beginning of working with people and having them work with us was really hard, I must confess. I will be honest that at the beginning there were a lot of things I did not know how to do, and I must give my most heartfelt thanks to the teachers and staff who worked with us at the very beginning. They taught me a lot about how to lead our company, and also for the things that we need to do and make sure we do right to keep englishbiz growing strong and being a great place for kids to be.

There are some regrets too. For sure. And there are also some hard realities about growing that are not easy for our team. I had read somewhere that the staff that is with you at the beginning is usually not there 5 years later. The reasoning for that is that when a company is growing, and thus changing, the people you work with are not comfortable with sudden and radical movements. People are, by nature when it comes to work and stable income, rather conservative. People do not like things that feel unbalanced and moving under them in their places of employment.

We grew our staff from one (that would be me) to two, then to three, and then to six. We then looked at the next two branches to open up and did that within the same year. Lastly we added one more school on top, right across the street from the Ritsurin Park of Takamatsu city, basically planting our flag in this town and quietly stating that englishbiz is the big dog for kids English education around here.

From the outside, englishbiz looked like we were bursting at the seams with new students. We were not quite bursting, but we were figuring out the shape of our school and what different clients around the city wanted for their kids. Then we had to modify and make sure that we were hearing the voices of our clients clearly so that we were offering the right kinds of classes in the right places. Since opening the last school we have been developing more carefully on the inside of the company. We have better ways of delivering lessons, we have more streamlined methods of training and developing new staff, we have a better sense of the long term goals of our clients and are working on better programs to meet that need.

It is easy to open a shop. Just put down some money for rent, put out a sign, and wait for the customers and clients to roll on in. This is what a lot of people think is the way businesses start. But the reality is that it is often scary, lonely, and you are riddled with all kinds of insecurities about whether or not this thing is going to work.

But then… it does.

Then the reports come from parents that you changed their kid’s life. They say that while all their child’s other grades are dismal, their English grade is like a beacon of hope on the report card. Kids start to speak English spontaneously to their parents in the car as they drive around town. Parents tell us that in the morning when their child gets up sometimes the first thing they say is, “Today I have my English lesson!”

This, in my singular opinion, is how we “go big”.

Going big is not a number of shops you have open, or how many staff are working with you. Going big is not blathering on about meeting corporate needs and being involved in whatever industry as their language consultant etc.

Going big is when you make that unique and significant connection with the student across the table from you. Going big is the student’s realization that they are exploding with ability and promise. Going big is when the student looks at you and you know that THEY know that they have this whole “English thing” under control.

Going big is watching them take off because you got them started in the right direction.

Then you duplicate THAT.

That’s how we go big at englishbiz.

Man, I love this company.


Looking for New Teachers

Hello again!

First of all, many thanks for coming by our site. I really appreciate it and am glad you took the time.

If you have just clicked on here to find out about our most recent opening on staff, please allow me a little time to talk about the particulars of the position so that you might know what you are getting yourself into.


Location:  Takamatsu city specifically, and Kagawa prefecture in general. We have five branches of englishbiz in the city of Takamatsu, and one branch that is about 30 minutes by train south of the city. We are opening a new branch in the spring of 2017, and more branches are scheduled for the next 3 years.

Hours of Teaching: Typically, our teachers will work Tuesdays through Saturdays. Tuesdays through Fridays are 12:30pm to 9:30pm. Saturdays are 9:00am to 6:00pm Teachers get a one hour break during their shift.

Remuneration: Teachers will start at a base salary of 240,000 yen per month. Teachers that continue working with us will receive a 10,000 increase to the base of their salary every year. We cap that out at 290,000, but by that time, we hope the teacher will consider either working as a manager with us or be eligible to explore a franchise option. From that point, the renumeration becomes much more significant as such people can begin to access part of the bottom line. We also, through the course of the year, have cash incentives as part of our month-to-month work.

We are a company that has a long-term future for our staff if they want it, but the first few years we need to see how they do on the frontline. In the future, they will need to work closely with their own frontline staff, so coming up through the ranks is an essential element of developing those leadership skills. You need to wash out the bathroom, teach all kinds of classes, and struggle through the challenges that come with teaching if you are to mentor and guide your own team in the future.


Qualifications: Teachers must have a university degree. A degree in humanities, particularly education, is highly desired. Applicants must have a valid working visa to work in Japan. The applicant must have all the interpersonal qualifications that makes them dependable, trustworthy, and a good person to work with. We hope that the applicant has a sense of humour, a strong feeling for teaching kids, and a personal philosophy of teamwork and service to others.



Our Expectations: We are a school, but we are also in the “after-school” market, which means that we also work in the service industry. Staff must be cheerful, greet everyone that comes into our schools, be well groomed and looking neat. This may seem a bit off-putting to people who feel that they are “only” teachers and that they do not need to greet others, be friendly, be welcoming and cheerful. For us, however, particularly in this field, we need this element to be part of the job. We respect our teachers as professionals and simply ask that you respect our company in return, bringing with you honest work and a cheerful attitude.

A Typical Day: . The first class they have will begin at 3:30, so between punching in and starting to teach the teacher will make sure they are familiar with the materials they need for teaching that day, help tidy up the classroom and washroom where needed, and take a lunch break. At 3:30pm the youngest kids come in. There can be up to six classes coming in, one after another on the busiest days. Some classes have 10 kids, some have 2. Sometimes you have a private lesson and are mentoring a student through their studies. The last student leaves at 9:20pm and the staff punches out at 9:30pm. Whew. This is the absolute worst scenario, and I don’t think we have that as a regular occurrence right now in our schools. But I need to caution you as to how busy it really can be! Usually, a teacher will have 4 or 5 lessons a day.

Some teachers have a morning session at an outside client. They start the day earlier, and then they end the day earlier too. But this is something we cannot guarantee for all our teachers, so I always give the “worst case” scenario.

For our part, as owners, we know it is in our best interest to keep our teachers happy and not to let them get burned out. We are mindful how many classes are taught each week, and where the most difficult kids tend to congregate. We also make certain to have our Japanese managers and support staff in place too, so that will alleviate any frustration or concern regarding communication in Japanese with clients and kids too.

The lessons are also all prescribed and carefully laid out. As a teacher you need to bring your energy and personality to the lesson, but the materials and the objectives for each lesson are identified and developed. Homework materials are already made and printed out and the day to day administration of teaching is minimized. We do everything in our power to make the management of the classroom seamless and smooth. You just need to bring your personality, style, and sense of purpose to the school and bond with the kids you are teaching.


Housing: Teachers will need to find places to live and we work with Leo Palace to get our teachers started. Leo Palace has foreign teacher support and you can communicate with them in English. As you get acclimated to the city and know your way around you may wish to change your living situation. That is completely up to you and we believe that our teachers make the best decisions for themselves about where they would like to live and what kind of apartment or house they want to live in. If you come our way and need a place to stay for the short term, we have an apartment that we keep for just that purpose. No one will ask you to sleep on the street! We will make sure that you are going to get started with us right.

In Summary: If you are someone who is just “traveling through” Japan or on a backpacking mission, we wish you all the best. But we also know that you will not be happy working with us. You may be on a journey to find your way in the world, and that is terrific, but we are looking for real English teachers, not merely people who happen to speak English.

If you are someone who loves the lifestyle of being in Japan, who loves teaching because the job is important and the kids are really important, and who is fed up being treated as less than a professional, we hope you will contact us. You are probably someone who has some experience working in the English language school industry and are well aware of the issues and problems that exist. We think that our schools are, in many ways, the antithesis to what is common in this market. We think you will agree when you come to work with us.

We are looking for a few good and qualified teachers. It is surprising how much we can get done with a few great people. If you think that we are the place for you to plant yourself for a year (and hopefully more!!), we would like to hear from you. As I mentioned, the starting point is very “basic”, and much of what you will see with us is the same for almost all English schools in Japan, but englishbiz is different in that we are interested in seeing your career grow with us.

The thing about englishbiz, and I think that this is important to let you know from the very beginning, is that we are a growing enterprise. The typical English language school stays pretty constant once they have a formula worked out, or if they are a typical “play time” or “entertainment” style of school bleed out a very high percentage of students each year and as such, need to replace those numbers. Our school, englishbiz, is very different. We are a high-quality, serious, carefully structured, and well organized school that gets measurable results for kids. The result of doing this job right means that we have a very low rate of student loss each year. We grow. And we grow some more. Most schools employ you with a sense that maybe something might fall apart later, and cannot assure you of much. While we cannot promise you a future with us full of rainbows and unicorns, we know that if you learn our system, follow our method, and know it inside and out you can develop a very good career and income working together with us.

We are interested in seeing you get paid more and more each year, and your responsibilities and experience grow too. With great responsibility comes pretty great benefits and position in englishbiz. If you think that we are the place to move your career, or to get some autonomy as a language professional in a tangible way, send me an email and let me know a few things about your situation.If those things are of interest to you, I hope you will contact me by email and begin the discussion.

I can be reached at:

In your correspondence please include the following:

Complete CV without any time gaps, copy of your resident card in Japan, copy of your passport (photo page and landing in Japan page), and a few paragraphs about who you are and what brings you to talk with us about your English teaching future.

Thanks again for coming by. Have a great day!

Mark Groenewold

President, englishbiz


Everybody has one…

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has an opinion about how to teach English. I suppose that this is a natural phenomena. I mean, there sure are a lot of people who can speak English. And people use English to write emails, messages, and to update the multitude of social media platforms that eclipse most of their daily living.

Maybe it’s kind of like driving a car. Anyone who can drive a car should be able to teach other people how to drive one. I suppose that makes sense, perhaps.

Maybe it’s like having teeth. Everyone has teeth (except for a few of my relatives), so they should be able to perform some dentistry.


I guess not. The dental parallel does not work. Maybe the driving one works a little, unless you are learning how to drive from a parent who is screaming at you to not go too fast and has one arm barred across your chest and is stomping on the passenger side floor while you are braking.

The thing is, most people have some feeling in their minds that if they have some natural ability to do something that they are then able to teach that to someone else in a meaningful way. This attitude extends to baking, cooking, drawing, physical exercise, sports, gardening, and fashion. We do a lot of these things on a daily basis and because we do them we sometimes feel like we are entitled to some authoritative voice on the matter.

But we really know that this is not true. Parents who watch their kids in competitive sports MUST not be allowed to coach the kids. They scream like maniacs and are sudden “experts” on sports they only started watching that season. To them, the coaches and umpires are all idiots. But we know better. Don’t we?

The same must be said for people who are overly eager to give you a make-over, or a new hairstyle. Did they go to beautician school? Do they have a license? Nope, but they have lips and ears and eyes and hairdos just like you, so watch out as they come lurching at you with cosmetics and scissors in hand!


The worst of all these seem to be English teaching. All the people you know back home are blabbermouths in English, so they must be amply qualified to teach kids how to learn the language. Let alone that they have no education in child education, psychology, Japanese language, have ever read a book about linguistics or researched a thing about phonics. Nope. They speak it, thus they KNOW it.

So imagine what happens when such people find themselves overseas with a bunch of kids and have no idea what to do. You know the answer… they PLAY GAMES! Yay, that is the answer! We will just get the kids to run around, sing some songs, do a bit of dancing, crack open some coloring books, play some UNO and then tick-tock-tick-tock the time is up and the little angels go home! Hooray! Everyone, let’s do some high-fives!


Being an English teacher in Japan is a very underestimated job. Everyone thinks it is a piece of cake, and will not have patience enough to listen to you explain that they are full of beans. They already made up their minds, so you best leave that alone. Just know that I know, and you know, and people who do this job for real all know. The hacks and the knowitalls have no common sense, and they won’t ever get it straight. I guess all you can do is just learn to take that insult on the chin, be tough, and know in your heart that as a real English teacher you make a difference, that you put your hand on the futures of kids, and that your reach is far more profound than what our detractors in their tiny minds could possibly understand.

If you need a high-five, come out my way and I will be glad to give you one.

Way to go, tiger.13fresher7



ESL Issues: No. 7- “Yeah, I know someone who went to Japan… just like you…”.

If you have been an English teacher in Japan you are living far away from the people who you grew up with, and who may know you best. Coming to Japan was at first, a great adventure and an opportunity to learn something, see another culture, or just to get away from the familiar. But somewhere along the line, being in Japan was not only your “escape”. It became your “home away from home”. Life here got better, you became acclimated, and you started to speak pretty good Japanese. You have friends here, you have hobbies or a lifestyle that you enjoy. Life in Japan, compared to a lot of alternatives, is pretty great. Yet… there is something pulling you too.


Maybe your mother is saying to you on the phone something like, “Well dear, so… how much longer do you think you might be staying all the way over there in Japan?”

This is kind of a code for, “When are you coming home?”

To a lot of the parents of English teachers in Japan, they never really believed that you could make Japan your home. They always expected that you would “get it out of your system”, come back to the place you grew up, and just get a regular job like everyone else.

I am not saying that people who come to Japan for a few years, have a great time, enrich their lives, experience another culture, and then go home are “throwing it all away”. Far from it. I think that a year or two or three can be marvelously intense experiences that can help people go on to the next thing that is calling them. Living in Japan, as a long-term expat, is not a bed of roses. For people who choose to have their family and make roots here, though, Japan becomes their “home”, even if the local neighbor ladies keep asking, “So… when do you think you’ll be leaving Japan?”

Being an expat in Japan is always a life that is “between cultures”. This is not a comfortable place to be for many people, but if you can figure out what you enjoy about being in Japan, and what keeps you happy, it can far outweigh the negatives of feeling out of synch with the culture of your younger days. In addition, being “between cultures” is a good place for you to be positioned as there are many people on both sides of you who need you as a bridge, a facilitator, a teacher, a guide, and a counselor.

It seems that the longer you are in Japan, and the more you are focussed on developing skills as a teacher, and growing your Japanese language skills, the more valuable you will be. The skills you develop can see you advance and grow in your career and give you opportunities that you did not know exist. At some point you get a sense of “being professional” as an educator, as a person between cultures, and as someone who has a better sense of reading and understanding others around you. You can grow a career, you can grow a company, you can really do a lot of different things here.

I don’t know about you, but I have a very common experience that happens every time I go back to Canada. It kind of looks like this:


Extended family member: So Mark, you are still over there in Japan, eh?

Mark: Yep. That’s right.

Extended family member: Been there for a long time I guess huh?

Mark: Yeah, it has been the better part of about 20 years.

Extended family member: You don’t say.

Mark: Yeah…

Extended family member: A lady from our church has son over there in Japan. You know Jason don’t you? He’s that boy with the crazy hair and that mole on his cheek, always listening to that crazy hippity-hop music.

Mark: Oh, is that right.

Extended family member: Yep, teaching English to kids.

Mark: That sounds great.

Extended family member: Yep, just like you are doing I guess.

Mark: I guess.

Extended family member: So, you gonna come back next summer too?

Mark: I’m thinking about it…

This conversation has played itself out in a whole bunch of scenarios. The people I know in Canada have gotten used to me living here in Japan, but they really have no idea about what we are doing. To them, foreigners in Japan just run around a classroom having fun with kids, singing the ABC song. They don’t understand that people grow and learn things in Japan that are really important, and significant, and beautiful.


I think that we need to be okay with that. The experiences of being in Japan are so far removed from our loved ones back home. We need to accept that there are things they cannot see. They still love you of course, but there is no way they can sit and listen to you for more than three minutes about what your life is really like here. We just need to accept that, and if you have a chance to have your loved ones visit you here, you should do it. Maybe then they will see a little more of the life you have, and the incredible impact you really do have on those around you.

englishbiz Story: Part 5- The Great Leap Forward

No this is not the disastrous economic plan of Chairman Mao. The Great Leap Forward was the moment in englishbiz when we decided to go from one school to three in the span of a year. This was our big aggressive move.


The thing about big aggressive moves is that they either work out great, or you crash and burn to a loud chorus of people laughing at you and a few “sympathetic” voices saying, “I told you so….”.

The great thing about doing this business with my wife, is that although we are from different countries, different cultures, different languages, and different tastes in music (she does not like AC/DC–how can this be?), we are very similar in our capacity for risk. We don’t mind risk at all, especially when we are banking on what we can do together.

I have to say, and this is to anyone who is serious about getting a business together, you really need to have a “home team”. It is really important that you and your partner in life are on the same page when it comes to having a business. There are going to be tremendously lean and hard and difficult times, and unless you share a common point of view, it might be more than your relationship can bear. For us, everything worked out okay, because we did not mind putting everything up for the second time and push our company forward.

I think that the reason we could do it is because we had two things going for us. The first was that we were completely committed to our mission of making the best English language program available in Kagawa. We demanded of ourselves to create the the number one school. We were going to make the most effective, best supported, most creative, best researched, and most organized language school around. The second was that we would be relentless in moving forward and in continually improving and adding to what we had made so far. An old friend of mine often uses the quote, “You must move forward and live like your hair is on fire.” If you have seen a recent photo of me, most of mine has burned off.

The Great Leap Forward had us opening up two schools simultaneously. We needed to research carefully for location and proximity to our competition and to the sources of our clients. We did all the homework we needed to, and there was a lot. In the end we were left with a decision to make. After all the careful meticulous calculations, wringing of hands, and plans drawn out on paper, we had to decide to leap forward, or stay put.

We made the leap.

As we were in the air, floating, limbs akimbo, we were flailing towards the unseen other side of the chasm of risk. Imagine our surprise when the landing was smooth, our feet in running position from the start, and then how we could effortlessly move forward at full speed.

Risk is part of everything, I guess. You make the best informed decision you can, but there is always an element of things not working out. Along the way we have had some failures too, and some things did not work out as planned. But if we were to do it all over again, even despite the long trail of hardship and going without, I don’t think we would blink.

The other thing is that when you “land on the other side” you are now in unfamiliar territory. There is a hill right in front of you, a new momentum is needed, and it is easy to fall back towards the precipice you just cleared. Now is a time for prudent thought, and now since you are in a place you could not possibly imagine, you need help. Time to pick up the phone and decide if you are going to “go pro” or “stay in the minor league”.

Next blog: Go Big or…. well, you don’t really have to “go home”, do you?

Thanks for coming by! More blogs to follow. I promise!

englishbiz Story: Part 4-Further Along the First Year

Staring a business, any business, can be pretty scary. You really don’t know what is going to happen. You really have no idea what is going to come your way. We were really struggling. There is no other way to put that. My wife was still working as a professor at a local college, I was working full time hours for a private high school, and we were building this company on the side.

We lived in a very small apartment. Our kids were getting older, and another one was on the way. Everything was starting to feel a bit tight. We were extremely careful with money, and every week I had to look in my pockets to see if I had enough money to buy whiteboard markers, lamination film, paper, pencils, and all those little things that we need for the day-to-day running of our school.

Our first classroom was very stark. We couldn’t afford curtains so we got some long white material (like sheets) and hung them on rods we could jam into the windowsills. It was not so great looking, and the people behind our school were noisy on their motorcycles and barking dogs, and the toilet was in terrible condition, and the room was a bit industrial looking, but it was ours. It was really ours, and it was from here that we would make it or go bust.


I have to credit my wife for sticking with me through this time. It was a very hard time for us, and it was tremendously humbling to be turned away at so many places when I was looking for a basic English teacher job. We really struggled with what we need to do to make this school survive, but in spite of all of the pressures to “go the easy way” and just entertain the kids, we decided to listen to our inner voices that said quite the opposite thing.

We decided that we were going to just “do the right thing” and “teach REAL English”. We refused to follow the trend of entertaining, games, songs, and fun. Instead we focussed on core knowledge and making good classes that gave kids power and confidence in English. With about half of the parents our approach was what they wanted. They were astonished that we taught their kids how to spell and write in a couple of months when they got zero results in these areas with the previous owners. There were glad to see that we cleaned up their pronunciation, taught them how to form basic grammatical patterns, and have fun even when they were working hard to learn something new.

Sisyphus05We did lose a certain portion of our “client list” that we purchased from the previous owners. The games were over. The fun was done. There was no more full-contact English classes with tickling and wrestling (seriously, that was one thing we had to stop). We just taught the basics, with patience and as much kindness as we could muster. And we would not budge from our position of making each class count for something for kids.


Doing the right thing, we discovered, is not cheap. If you want to do things right you have to do your best when things don’t go your way. But doing the right thing was right for us, and our remaining clients started to do the unbelievable-they told their friends about us. Each week we had more trial lessons. Each week the classes grew and grew. We had such a big sense of relief, and vindication. We were very afraid and full of doubt. Every day we would sit late at night in our very cramped apartment and look at each other through our sleep-deprived eyes and together we decided to keep pushing ahead.

To give you a sense of what we managed to do in a single year, we took our base number of students and then grew the school 150%. Then we did that the second year too, up another 150%. And then we knew right down to our bones that we were on the right track.


It turns out that “doing the right thing” isn’t just “right”. Doing the right thing pays, and it pays right too.

I was asked by a friend if I might write a business book, like a start-up book about “How to get your language school going!” or some such thing. Maybe I will in the future, but right now it does not seem like I have much to say on the topic. Just the two things that I have repeated so far. The first is that you have to be like a “dog with a bone”, and be fiercely tenacious, and never never never give up. The second is to just do the right thing. Don’t take anything that you didn’t earn. Don’t try to cheat or swindle someone from something that doesn’t belong to you. No shortcuts. You got to do it the “hard way”.

I think that I need to put a caveat here about what it means to build a language school. I need to, because there are a lot of different shapes and sized, just like a lot of things. Some people make a language house right in their own house, and have the kids right in their own living room. Classes are small, parents are happy, kids get the attention they need, and everyone is happy as clams. That is perfectly fine. When I talk about the things “you gotta do”, I really am talking mostly to myself, and to people who want to make a school that goes beyond the “mom and pop shop”.

Also, there is nothing wrong at all with the “mom and pop shop” style. Lots of people do it, and lots of people like it. What we are working towards, however, is a deeper and broader affect that we need to make on the “eikaiwa market” as a whole. My plan is to keep pushing our company forward, like Sisyphus, and raise the English language school industry as a whole to a higher level of expectations, and thus a higher level of results and accomplishments for kids. We may not make a scratch nationally here in Japan, but we are going to set a pace that will be hard to keep up with. We are moving forward, and we are not stopping.

We are going to do what is often not done right. We are going to raise the bar.

Next blog on this topic, we will talk about how to go from one shop to TWO and.. beyond!

Thanks so much for coming by friends and neighbors! Have a great day.


englishbiz Story: Part 3- The First Year

So, I guess that so far this story is not terribly helpful for you, that is, if you are someone who is planning to get a “quick fix” for how to set up a school and run it and make a ton of yen and then run all the way to the bank while yelling, “Huzzah!”

In my last post on this topic I think I might have bummed you out. I basically just said that you will need to work like a crazy person, and that you should say good-bye to your social life. Those are prerequisites for this line of work. That is just the beginning too. When you finally get enough steam to get your own place to open you are going to find all kinds of challenges, and some very tempting things that will pull you off course.

I think that the first thing you need to have in your mind and heart is a decision that each class is going to be beneficial for kids. Every time the kids meet you they are going to learn something. Each lesson should have an objective. Write that down. It can be a lot of different things, and different teachers will have different ideas of where to start.

You should start with something that you think will be good for the kids, and something measurable, and something that parents will be glad to see. This is why we started with the most basic of basics: ABCs.

You will be ASTONISHED to learn that the ABCs, and how to write them, will be initiated in the Japanese English language curriculum in JUNIOR HIGH. Yes, that is true. And I know what you are thinking. Me too. That is way way way too late.

So, for us we started to make it our policy that English would be taught in two areas equally: speaking/listening AND writing/reading. Did you see what I did there? I divided the four elements into two groups, and they are exactly the same in terms of output/input. They group together perfectly. So, now you know what to do. Divide your classtime appropriately, and start creating the lessons you need to teach. But make sure that you have something on paper that kids take home. You need evidence of learning. You need evidence that something happened during the time with you, and should there be objections later, you have documents to point to, and charted progress for the kids.

The big temptation for many serious schools is to MAKE ENGLISH FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN!!!! Yahhhhhh! “Come on kids! Get on your feet and join me in song!” And then all the kids get up, and they start hopping and contorting, and chanting after you in some kind of English conversation seizure.


“Hi Hi Hi Kids! How are you?”

(panting, sweating, and screaming) “I’m fine thank you, how about you?”

“I’m fine, too! Do you like (gesticulating wildly) sandwiches with swiss cheese?”

(gesticulating wildly, spinning, frothing) “Yes, I do. How about you?”

“I like swiss cheese sandwiches too.”

(everyone collapses, sweating profusely among scattered bits of damaged furniture, hacky-sacks, xylophones, and inflatable toys now terribly deflated)

This is how a lot of English language schools operate. Of course I exaggerate. But I have seen enough video of such schools with ribbon twirling and game playing to make me have to turn away and change the channel. I just ask myself the same question each time, “Where is the learning? Where are the books and papers and pencils? Why, oh why, is the teaching of the English language to kids in Japan so dramatically and wildly different than the teaching of Japanese to Japanese kids?”

Then comes the answer (from self-professed ‘experts’ in the field), “Japanese classes are not interesting, but English classes are meant to be FUN, and this FUN gets the kids happy and thus learning soon.”

There are a couple of issues with that assessment. The first is that Japanese lessons are, by nature, boring. They are not. Japanese teachers can have humor and passion and care and enthusiasm without hoolah hoops and bean bags. They have pencils and paper and are excited and interested in kids, and helpful, and cheerful, and just plain inspirational and oozing the love for kids. We should teach English so well.

The second problem is that English NEEDS to be entertainment. That is complete nonsense. Entertainment is something that we put in front of kids. Education is when we are doing something together WITH the kids. Entertainment is the foreign teacher as singer/dancer/baton-twirler/gameshow host/panda in a costume.

This is the route that almost all eikaiwa schools go. It may work. And it may work well. But if you run such a school it can only be as strong and as lasting as YOU are. Don’t catch a cold. Don’t get sick. Don’t take a day off. Don’t get too old. If you are not there to twirl those ribbons and batons, play those board games with enthusiasm, sing those songs, do those dances, and sew up your damaged panda costume, the school will die.

Maybe that is okay for some people. It is not okay for the kids, by the way. But for the teacher, maybe they can get by for a few years as an entertainer. If they are a good organizer of other entertainers they may have a staff that they can work with. But it is a very delicate structure because it is largely dependent on the personality of the performer-teacher and the charisma of the class leader. The kids are not self-actualized to learn. They are spectators and they have expectations as an audience to the performer-teacher. It is a difficult and fickle relationship.

And it is this exact relationship that must be redrafted if the company or school has any long-term hope for survival. If you can turn that image around, like we have, you will be doing the right thing, really helping kids, and knowing that you are providing kids something that they really need for the future and not just a bunch of flapping about until your arms get tired.

There. I said it.

More coming soon…. Stay  tuned.


ESL Issues: No. 6- “Good Lord, Jim. I’m a teacher, not a folk singer!”

When you decided to embark on this path of being an English teacher in Japan you did not expect that you would have to be an entertainer as well. I completely empathize. When I had my very first job as a teacher in a rural high school in Japan one of the teachers in the English department approached me to talk about our team-teaching class and what we were going to do.

“Hello Mark-Sensei, I am hoping that you will come to my class and lead the students in song.”
“Uhh… pardon me. I mean, I am sorry… what was that?”
“Yes, we are currently learning the song ‘Country Roads’. I hope you will sing with the children in class. Do you know the song?”
“Yes, I mean yes I know the song, but I am sorry but no, I will not be leading the kids in song.”
“But that is what you must do. The children are expecting you to sing with them in class.”

At this moment I took a big risk with my job and career as a young 24 year old teacher and said, “Sensei, I am very sorry, but I will not be singing with the kids. I do not wish to sing. I would just like to TEACH English to the kids. I am an English Teacher. Really. I am. I have documents to prove it.”

The teacher was a bit surprised but said, “Ok, let’s try it your way”. And so we did. And we had fun classes that were helpful and meaningful. Fast forward another 23 years and we are here in Takamatsu, Kagawa-ken with a chain of schools that maintains the same principle. In short, we are not here to entertain kids, but rather, we exist to SERVE them in a way that will give kids the skills they need to master English. Our impulse as teachers is to be of good use for someone, to help someone, to train up the next generation, and to make a good thing for the societies we live in. To be of service beside, with, and among people is the best place for teachers.

Personally, I am loathe to see “teachers” up on stages dancing, hopping about, and bellowing out to groups of kids to writhe, contort, and dance around to “learn and enjoy” English. For me, and for this company, the best place for teachers is to sit in a place where voices can be heard and discovered, working alongside kids, coaching, encouraging them to “find their own voices” in English. To us, that really is a beautiful, and lovely thing.