An enlightening article in the Japan Times Online today about making sure that a language school is for you before you lay out the cash. There is a GREAT list of tips to consider before you make the leap. There is a comparison in the article between conversation schools and “mizushobai” that isn’t entirely accurate. Conversation schools are in a league all by themselves.
Eric Johnston quotes some teachers who suggest that, “the entire eikaiwa industry is a kind of mizushobai industry.” Mizushobai means literally, water trade. It refers to bars, eateries, and some entertainment establishments. When I was teaching at a conversation school, we were much more likely to suggest that it was a kind of prostitution. We “native speakers” are endowed with a certain gift that makes us desirable, and people come to take advantage of it, for which we were paid.
That is not an entirely appropriate comparison, though. Prostitution is clear about what it can deliver, sex. There may be other benefits as well, some kind of interchange, other than of bodily fluid. Clients may be able to talk to another human being, for example. Conversation schools suggest that they deliver language learning, which may or may not happen. All we can be sure of is that there is some kind of verbal exchange during a given period of class time. Not all of the learners may participate, and possibly none do, but at least there is a monologue going on. Mizushobai customers patronize an establishment, sure that they will at least get something to eat or drink. Maybe they will get a conversation or more.
The point is that comparisons between conversation schools and either prostitution or mizushobai are not completely accurate, and make me think that conversation schools are in a class of enterprise all by themselves.