Teaching from home and need resources? The online platform Twinkl makes a push for Japan.


The Twinkl origin story has a familiar ring to it: a couple with a vision, struggling in their guest room, dreaming of bringing a killer product to market.

Twelve years later, the educational resources platform has diversified from its initial client base in England and now serves 200 countries worldwide – with Japan as one of its focus markets in Asia.

Twinkl was founded with a self-explanatory motto: “We help those who teach.” Its resources cover a wide range of disciplines, from English and computer science to arts and sports. And while much of the content has been built around the UK education system, many of these resources can also be used as English language learning materials. Alongside other ad hoc English learning tools such as phonetics and alphabet practice, resource flexibility could be the key to opening the door to Japan.

Even before the pandemic, Japan’s ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching market was in thriving: Teaching English has long been one of the most common jobs among Japan’s roughly 1.7 million foreign workers, particularly for native speakers. According to their websites, major employers Aeon and ECC have more than 250 and 180 schools respectively across the country. However, since spring 2020, strict pandemic protocols at the border have made it difficult for schools to hire new foreign teachers. Even the government-subsidized Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program has seen a sharp decline, with the number of candidates believed to have fallen to around 4,000 in 2021 (including re-appointments) compared to the 5,761 registered in fiscal 2019.

But there remains a clear demand for teaching English. About 500,000 applicants take Japan’s standardized college entrance exam in mid-January each year, 99% of whom were assessed on their English proficiency last year.

In addition, as of April 2020, English lessons in primary schools became compulsory from the third grade. This was likely in response to Japan’s poor ranking of English proficiency in Asia the previous year: it ranked 27th out of 29 countries surveyed, ahead only of Laos and Tajikistan.

This suggests that the quantity of English teachers has not always guaranteed quality teaching. English educational resources in the public and at eikaiwa (Conversational English) schools are often developed in-house to meet the specific objectives of a particular course with a few additional add-ons.

Resources can also be used for years with little or no updates – with some practice dialogue relating to anachronistic items like pagers and DVD players – and often need teacher’s guidance to find real practical application outside of the classroom. Additionally, English teaching companies in Japan often operate on a revolving door model when it comes to recruitment, with willingness being considered more important than experience in the hiring process – a fact that underscores the importance of having good resources for a teacher.

A team of teachers

Twinkl doesn’t market itself as a comprehensive replacement for the teaching materials already in use – although it can work for independent learners – but rather offers a continuous update of free supplements to accompany the teaching framework. In England Twinkl runs parallel to the national curriculum and in Japan it is primarily intended to be coordinated with the areas of study taught in ESL schools.

“Everyone who works on Twinkl’s design team is either a former teacher or is still teaching and working part-time at Twinkl,” says Lian McGillycuddy, manager of Twinkl’s Japan team. “They make resources that teach the same concepts that students will be learning at the same time.”

This process also applies to the creation of resources for the Japanese ESL market. McGillycuddy and her team communicate resource ideas to the design team based on the Japanese education system’s expectations of students of a certain level, and in-house illustrators and content writers then bring the vision to life.

Twinkl has demonstrated the ability to scale its operations over the past decade and has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings in 2010. Now in its 12th year, it has more than 12 million registrations worldwide, including 2.8 million new additions in the last 12 months alone. Twinkl creates an average of 13,000 resources each month, with over 268 million resource downloads over the last 12 years, fueled in part by a tremendous adoption of pandemic-enforced homeschooling.

Despite these numbers, Twinkl’s presence is still small in Japan, where it competes with other online learning platforms like Lingua, Duolingo, and Let’s Learn English. There are currently only 18,550 registered users in the country, including free members and subscribers.

“We’re trying to show Japan how popular Twinkl is, but since we don’t have a big presence in Japan yet, it’s a bit more difficult,” says McGillycuddy. “But I think if we continue to show how good the resources are, word will spread.”

McGillycuddy hopes high-profile collaborations can help Twinkl expand. Recent collaborations include the cartoons Peppa Pig and Numberblocks, both hitting TV screens in Japan and aimed at the largest segment of Twinkl learners: children.

She adds that the company is also currently looking to collaborate with Japanese TV shows. “It would be great for the Japanese to see something familiar to them in our resources.”

Twinkl offers more than 40,000 free resources once a user registers.

Create your own resources

Twinkl also has ambassadors scattered across the country, like Michelle Nomura, an English teacher at ABC Club in Fukuoka, who started using the platform in 2016.

“Twinkl has been a great help to me, not only for my classes but also for personal use in raising my bilingual daughters,” she says. Nomura cites Twinkl Create, a program that lets users design their own resources, the Twinkl app, which offers built-in 3D and augmented reality capabilities, and Twinkl eBooks as resources that “really make life easier.”

Lea Takaiwa, a teacher at the English Adventure Academy in Shiga Prefecture, shares Nomura’s view. “Twinkl really is an amazing educational site for English learners and teachers,” she says. “It introduces me to different places, countries, cultures and more that I can share with my students so they are familiar with the outside world.”

But while Twinkl’s most obvious application in Japan is the ESL market, it’s reluctant to label itself. Part of the Japanese team’s job is to locate resources that can be used by educators in the country’s public school system. Raising awareness of Twinkl through weekly newsletters and social media posts in Japanese is a key factor in achieving this goal.

“[Twinkl]was very well received,” says McGillycuddy. “We’re just trying to convince more Japanese teachers and parents that we’re here.”

Visit www.twinkl.jp for more information.

The basics of Twinkl

  • Subscriptions start at 880 yen per month, alongside annual subscriptions for 13 months for the price of 12 that include unlimited access to Twinkl’s 830,000+ resources. Users can sign up for free accounts with access to over 40,000 resources
  • Twinkl resources are primarily digital but can be downloaded and printed instantly from the website
  • Aside from the Twinkl App, various others are also available including the Twinkl Spelling App, the Twinkl Originals App and the Twinkl Mental Maths App
  • The site includes an ‘Inclusion’ vertical with resources for learners with special needs, those struggling with language and/or motor skills and those with mental health issues

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