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The Changing Language Market

From J-Cast we learn some more about the state of eikaiwa and the foreign language market in Japan. I've highlighted Yano Research surveys that illustrate the continuing contraction of the market before, and J-CAST touches on this research to show how the market is changing. Here's a summary of the article.

According to the latest government statistics (last file in the table) on selected service industries, the number of students taking foreign language lessons dropped by a staggering 52.7% between 2006 and 2008. In 2006, there were 9,562,427 students taking language lessons. In 2008, this number was 4,513,621.

In particular, big changes have been occurring in lessons for adults. Yano Research notes that in FY2008, the foreign language market contracted by 5.2% Broken down, the market for lessons for adults contracted by 9.1%, adults taking lessons as a hobby or for education fell by 17.3%, and the market for group lessons fell by 10.9%

One of the reasons for this contraction is connected to NOVA and the manner in which it conducted business with its lies, exaggerated advertising, failure to pay staff, and ultimately, its bankruptcy.

Upon NOVA's collapse, the National Consumer Affairs Center was besieged with inquiries about language schools. In 2006, they recorded 3,739 consultations, but this number jumped to 18,057 in 2007 due to some 400 thousand NOVA students being left in the lurch plus an even larger number of students at other schools who held off on signing contracts due to rumours they heard.

It's not all gloom and doom, however. The market focus is changing from students and young adults to catering to children and seniors. The good news is that there may be an uptick in demand for English lessons. English is set to become a compulsory subject in elementary schools in 2011 and a growing group of seniors may choose English lessons as something to do in their spare time.

Yano Reasearch's findings indicate that this trend is real. While English lessons for infants fell by 0.8%, the market for preschool and kindergarten-aged children grew by 8.4% Even large eikaiwa schools are getting into the act as evidenced by GABA launching its "Senior Refresh Plan" in April aimed at teaching seniors English conversation for traveling abroad.

On the other hand, the market for business English doesn't look so promising. In particular, the market for business English declined by 1.5% as companies are increasingly doing more business in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and VISTA (Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, and Argentina ) nations where English is not necessarily the lingua franca.

Comment: Some good, some bad, but what stands out is the massive drop in the number of students. The NOVA shock partly explains the huge drop, but I wonder how the way the schools run their businesses (such as engaging in aggressive sales tactics) factors into the equation. Also in the statistics on selected service industries but not mentioned by J-CAST, is the number of instructors. In 2006, there were 13,580 instructors, of which 8,120 were full-time and 5,460 were part-time. In 2008, the total number of instructors dropped to 9,589, of which 3,729 were full-time and 5,860 were part-time. This is an overall drop of 30%, or broken down, a 54% drop in full-time instructors and a 7.3% increase in part-timers. So the news isn't great for language schools or instructors, either. One thing is for sure: studying English has lost its luster.


Fascinating stuff! I have a few friends who left Nova and set up shop on their own. I wonder how many foreigners are out there teaching on their own and does the survey reflect their presence? Is it a big enough group to make a difference? I'm guessing the survey only looks at companies.

If the number of students has fallen 52.7% and the number of teachers has only fallen 29.4% (did I figure that right?) that means there is a lot less money to be divvied up at the end of the day. There must be a lot of people either going hungry or scrambling to pick up private students!

I absolutely agree with the previous comment!
I drive my own school since Nova's collapse...and as far as I know, I have never seen any paper, any kind of form from any official authority or proceedings nor any survey concerning "the number of students"...

Let's be honest, do you think your little piss-ant operation really means much to the overall industry or the greater economy? It doesn't. Your weren't surveyed because you're not important enough to matter. You may pull a decent income for yourself, but the revenue of your school is statistically insignificant.

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