Get a Job with your language skills as a tour guide in Japan
The best way to ensure that you’ll keep up a language is to make the language a part of your job. There are endless opportunities of how to do so, but being a foreign language tour guide is something I’ve done, I’ve enjoyed and that has allowed me to make decent money. Here are some thoughts on becoming a foreign language tour guide.
Tour Guiding at home vs. Tour Leading Abroad
First of all, when people think of foreign languages and tour guiding, some might immediately think about accompanying a group, usually with people from your home country, on travel overseas. In this post, I’m going to be talking about guides who lead groups of foreign visitors around the city that he or she lives in Japan, because that’s what I have experience doing.
From a language-use perspective, I actually think this is better than going abroad with people who speak your language, because you’ll be interacting with people in their language (a foreign language for you) instead of using your native language to tell people about the place you’re visiting.
I first started tour guiding when I lived in Tokyo. then my first job working as a guide a month after moving to the city, and worked my way up to working with private clients. afterwards I worked with Spanish, German and Russian-speaking groups, and I also worked with English-speaking clients. I knew other foreign-language guides who worked exclusively with foreign-language groups, but it seemed like it takes more time to establish yourself in that market. That’s because although there’s a big demand for foreign-language guides in Japan, it takes longer to connect with all the right contacts than it does for English-language guiding jobs.
Why I like guiding:
- Guiding uses language skills.
- Its active and its outdoors. I get tired of sitting at a desk, which means I can get tired of doing translation work pretty quickly.
- You get to meet interesting people and interact with them. Another reason that I didn’t always love translating is that it’s not social at all.
- Tour guiding is awesome for polyglots, if you have that skill, because you can work in lots of different languages. Monday Russian, Tuesday German, Wednesday Spanish, Thursday who knows? That’s not possible in a lot of language jobs.
- It’s low-stakes. That might sound inconsequential, but I would freak out thinking that I might make a mistake and send someone to jail (if you’re a court interpreter or doing court translations) or kill someone (medical interpreter). The worst that will happen if deliver a slightly less awesome tour than usual, I can live with that.
- It pays decent money . The going rate for foreign-language Tours in Tokyo is around $15-$25 per hour, depending on experience, which meant I could make reasonable money without working all the time.
Tour Guiding isn’t just fun and games, though. Here were some of the difficulties that you may encounter :
- Although I like working with people, I’m not extraordinarily outgoing, and there were some times when I had trouble connecting with the people I was guiding. This is particularly a challenge when you’re working with a private client – a couple or family – and you really need to connect with them on a personal level. Some of the families I worked with were incredibly wealthy, and it was a challenge to find something that we shared and could connect over.
- Some clients are difficult and it’s not the guide’s fault. You just have to get through the tour and somehow keep a smile on your face.
- Some situations are difficult. Buses break down, crowds at attractions cause unexpected delays typhoon or adverse weather conditions. It is challenging to prevent unexpected problems from ruining the tour for both you and your clients.
- You’re really stuck to a particular location, and if you move, you have to start all over again. You also have to live in a reasonably tourism-friendly place in order for guiding to be viable at all.
Here’s how to become a multilingual tour guide:
- Live in a city people visit. Seriously. I’ve continued guiding since moving back to Portland, Oregon, but it’s not nearly as much of a draw as Tokyo, and my jobs are very, very sparse. If I were to stay in a city like Tokyo (or Paris, Beijing, London, San Francisco or other major city), I’d have way more jobs than I do.
- Know your city. Guiding, in a foreign language or not, requires getting to know the city really well. This means everything from the roads and traffic regulations to history to the region’s geology.
- Currently Japan has just changed the law where you don’t need a license to be a foreign tourist guide, which is great but to stand out from the crowd, it’s a good idea to have a professional marketing team help you get jobs and tours
- Once you know your city practice and memorize some local tours and spots of interest and your ready to go, contact with MyToursJapan who have freelance and set tour availables, and they often hire guides directly.
- Finding foreign-language guides in most places isn’t that easy, so they will be very glad to hear from you.
- Network with other guides. I’ve gotten a lot of jobs through connections to other guides, and I’ve also recommended other guides for jobs. Because it’s not easy to find foreign language guides, it’s not uncommon for a company to contact me, hire me for a job and then ask me if I know any other guides they could contact. So having a good relationship with other guides is essential to building business or making some extra money as a foreign-language guide when living overseas.