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The Lingering Ghost of NOVA

It's getting close to Obon, so it's time for a ghost story.

Yano Research has released its latest survey of the foreign language market, which shows that the market is still in decline.

The two key findings are:

  • The foreign language market was worth ¥767 billion in FY2008, a contraction of 5.2% compared to the previous year.
  • The market is forecast to contract further in FY2009 but growth is expected in children's lessons and in language testing.

Blue line shows foreign language market. Magenta line shows foreign language market minus peripheral businesses such as testing, homestays, and translation and interpretation.

Take a wild guess as to why this is so. OK, pencils down. The answer is: NOVA, although the company is not explicitly named. For some reason, in their summary of the survey [PDF], Yano Research tip-toes around NOVA, attributing the decline to a lingering distrust caused by the bankruptcy of the industry's top school in October 2007 (当時業界トップであった事業者が 2007 年 10 月に破綻した影響).

Still, they believe the market will slowly recover and stabilize. The summary notes the following positive trends:

  • Demand for children's English lessons is strong due to more interest in early English education.
  • Increased demand for language skills has boosted the language testing market.
  • The market for learning materials has been boosted by sales of bestselling books like US president Obama's speeches.
  • Although the market for English lessons for adults shrank by 9.1% compared to the previous year, private (man-to-man) lessons are going strong due to corporate demand and segmentation of the market to meet business needs.

Yano Research forecasts that the current economic downturn will hurt many in the foreign language business and expects the foreign language market (including peripheral businesses) to fall another 3.7%. They see things improving in the medium term as elementary schools are slated to make English a compulsory subject in 2011, which should also boost demand for children's lessons. English lessons for adults are also expected to improve as demand for corporate lessons remains strong.

So there you have it -- NOVA still haunts Japan from its grave.


Interesting. I wonder though how much of this predicted expansion of the market will be filled by proper, trained language teachers, as opposed to any old native speaker who can keep their mouth moving.

My guess is - very little.

I can see a rising demand for elementary school human tape recorders, sorry, ALTs coming. Again though, chances are that it'll be filled with fresh-off-the-boat newbies.

The market may well expand, but the "quality" will remain the same.

The next Nova I predict will be American Language School, aka ALS. As noted previously, most eikaiwas are dirty business and ALS has cheated and continues to cheat teachers on their apartment rent and in some cases, utilities.

I'm sure the respective local boards of education would like nothing better than to fill their elementary school English classes with young, genki ALTs fresh from overseas, provided quickly and cheaply through dispatch companies. And likewise, ECC and the rest will surely try to meet any demand for more kids classes with more of the same. But I do wonder where this labour will come from. As we all know, the standard of living for entry-level eikaiwa teachers has been in free-fall for at least a decade, and Japan is a less attractive destination as a result. Nova couldn't find the staff to keep itself going, and it paid well above what the average dispatch / eikaiwa company seems to be offering nowadays. It also had a very extensive network of overseas recruitment.

I suspect this means that most elementary schools will end up with either no ALT or with a non-native speaker performing the role. What a suitably farcical ending that would be to the whole undertaking. It's hard to see how the whole ALT concept could cling to any remaining shreds of respectability in a situation like that. Perhaps then the Japanese government will take English in elementary schools seriously and invest properly in... Oh, man. I just don't have the will to finish that sentence.

I'm back in Australia teaching, and we've found that in general the overseas student market has shrunk quite a bit. But the Japanese market more so. It's partly the GFC making Japanese students tighten their purse-strings, but I think it might also be the NOVA effect killing off the desire to learn English in the adult market.

We're all doomed.

More and more we are starting to see teachers from third world countries who will work for far less than the average native English speaking WASP. They are cheaper and they will cross over to work as bartenders or hostesses as well. I am not putting them down as I have noticed that many of them have much better English skills than any number of native speakers I have wored with. Until there are standards, licenses, accrediting agencies or whatever, though, quality of education will decline.

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