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English Conversation Cafes in Tokyo

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By Chris Greenaway

Tokyo could be ground zero for a revolution in how conversational English is taught in Asia with the abundance of English Conversation Cafes popping up. Norton Place, is one of the oldest Conversation Cafe’s and easily has the best atmosphere. Norton’s has a conversation bar type room which is spacious, with many different tables that give the place a restaurant type feel. The space and many small, round tables are perfect for one on one conversations and lessons. According to Norton’s website, “Lesson Specializing in courses for busy people and catering for the more independent minded student, Norton Place provides a natural and fun way to develop and increase your ability for learning a foreign language: English and of course Japanese!”

Aside from English lessons, Norton Place also offers a Tea Room for people looking for something different and to get away from the bar atmosphere that many Conversation Cafes specialize in. The Tea Room offers a wide variety of teas, meals, and other beverages at reasonable prices. The atmosphere is a bit more group oriented than that for their lessons. There are a few big tables where customers, staff and students sit, eat, drink and talk.

Like most Conversation Cafe’s, Norton Place also has regular parties for staff, students, and prospective customers. Every other Saturday, like Bob’s and CoCo English, Norton Place offers food, live music, belly dancing, and conversation. Always something different and always a good time.

So, are these places to learn English or are they Hostess/Host Clubs without the sexual overtones? Actually, you could say they are a little of both as few, if any of these cafe’s use a ciriculum or text books. You also don’t see very many students looking to brush up for exams. You get the students that would frequent the ESL schools for free talk lessons, usually adults in the 30’s to 50’s demographic. Again, as was stated in Part One of this series, the Conversation Cafe phenominon isn’t likely to replace the ESL schools outright, but it is very possible that they will put an end to free talk lessons at ESL schools and assume that business for themselves, (at least in the bigger cities in Japan,) within the next 3-5 years. It’s an interesting phenominon that is suprisingly only happening for the most part in Japan, (Tokyo in particular.)

To make a long story even longer, these cafe’s don’t offer pure education, they aren’t glroified taverns with mostly foreign staff per se and they aren’t an exact science either. It is an interesting hybrid of all of the above with some western flair mixed in. If you are looking to get your feet wet as an ESL teacher, these places are perfect to get your start in. You can learn a lot about pacing and how to adjust to students’ English abilities in a very relaxed atmosphere in places like this.

Until next time,
Chris Greenaway

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Mike has lived in Tokyo for more than 10 years and loves sharing his knowledge about Japan's metropolis.

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