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English Conversation Cafes: The future of ESL teaching in Japan?

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By Chris Greenaway

You go up the elevator of what looks like your usual bar & tavern complex that you will find almost anywhere in Tokyo, (a different floor, a different bar,) until you reach the 8th floor. You see a door with a sign proclaiming, “If it Ain`t Country, it Ain`t Music!” That`s the signal that you have found Bob`s English Lounge!

According to Bob, the owner of the place, “it is a place for Japanese people to share English conversation as well as a place to hang out and drink.” Indeed, between 7 and 9pm, English is the only language permitted in Bob`s Lounge. At the same time, Bob says that his Lounge is also “a shot bar”, alongside being an English cafe. The place has a real country-western feel with the flags of Texas, Southern Confederate, USA and Canada adorning the walls as well as various cowboy hats and boots on display. They even have live country music there from time to time as well. Unlike most bars you will find in Tokyo, Bob`s Lounge has lots of room with lots of chairs and a couple of couches to lounge around in while you are there.

Bob’s Lounge has unfortunately since closed down.

While Bob`s Lounge is for the most part, a bar with English Conversation, the CoCo Club is primarily an English Cafe first, bar, distant second. Every day between 5 and 10pm, Japanese folks of all walks of life come to CoCo in Nishi Nippori to hang out and speak English with a native English speaker. The motif is very wooden and has an almost log cabin kind of feel to it which is a reminder of home for some Westerners who have worked there. Every 2 weeks the CoCo Club hosts an international party with live music, comedy, food, English conversation and fun.

There are many other ESL cafe`s popping up all over Tokyo raising the question: Will the English Conversation Cafes replace ESL schools? The short answer to this question is no. While these cafe`s offer a much more laid back approach and more comfortable setting than a cram school does, they are for advanced students who already speak good English. Hense the need for ESL schools. What these places could do in the future, (if they aren`t doing so already,) is take the place of the “free talk” sessions presently offered at ESL schools currently. It is also a good possibility that they will be where older students go to improve their English rather than through tutors. The price to go to the Conversation Cafe`s is considerably less than one would pay for a tutor or to have the same kind of session at an ESL school so it isn`t out of the realm of possibility that you could see ESL cafe`s continue to grow and stake their place in the ESL market.

Stay Tuned for Part 2!

Chris Greenaway

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