How to Japan

Quotes to Motivate, Entertain or use in the Classroom

Staring out the New Year, we wanted to share some quotes with you that we have found to be motivating or interesting. If you are an English teacher, some of these quotes make fun study material and get the ball

Staring out the New Year, we wanted to share some quotes with you that we have found to be motivating or interesting. If you are an English teacher, some of these quotes make fun study material and get the ball rolling in class (or fill up some time at the end when out of material).  These quotes work well in class as they are literal, universally understood or offer a look into the Western mindset.

Thanks to our friends at Edu-Career for putting together this list. (Edu-Career is a new service offered by Global Partners; education specialists who place teachers into the Japanese education system.)



First, the classics, these beauties would be a perfect way to start a lesson.

  • The future is always beginning now. – Mark Strand
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. – Mark Twain
  • You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Gandhi
  • Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition. – Marilyn Monroe
  • Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. – Joshua J. Marine
  • Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present. – Bil Keane


Next, you may like to use these quotes to teach your students something besides English.

  • The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. – Socrates
  • In seeking happiness for others, you will find it in yourself. – Unknown
  • Most people do not listen to understand; they only listen to reply. – Stephen Covey
  • A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old size. – Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Albert Einstein
  • My father said there were two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers. The takers might eat better, but the givers sleep better. – Marlo Thomas


Here are some to lighten the mood. No joke is funny when it must be explained, but hopefully your students will at least crack a smile.

  • Dogs have masters, but cats have servants. – Unknown
  • An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. – Mitch Hedberg
  • Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. – Elbert Hubbard
  • Money can’t buy happiness, but it makes sadness easier. – Unknown
  • Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, cause happiness whenever they go. – Oscar Wilde
  • The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall. – Mitch Hedberg
  • Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. – Sigmund Freud
  • When I die, I want to go peacefully like my grandfather did–in his sleep. Not yelling and screaming like the passengers in his car. – Bob Monkhouse


Finally, you might like to meet your students halfway. Asking them to translate a proverb from Japanese into English might be a nice change of pace. These are nice because they should make sense in either language without too much explanation.

  • 猿も木から落ちる – Even monkeys fall from trees.
  • 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず – He who runs after two hares will catch neither.
  • 出る杭は打たれる – the nail that sticks out gets hammered in.
  • 我思う故に我在り – I think therefore I am.
  • 一利あれば一害あり – Everything has its pros and cons.
  • 一石二鳥 – Two birds with one stone.
  • 下手の道具しらべ – A poor workman blames his tools.
  • 不老不死の薬は無い – Only death has no remedy.
  • 世間は広いようで狭い – It’s a small world.
  • 便りの無いのは良い便り – No news is good news.
  • 働かざるものは食うべからず – If you don’t work, you won’t eat.
  • 右の耳から左の耳 – In one ear and out the other.
  • 失敗は成功の基 – Failure teaches success.
  • 寝た子を起こすな – Let sleeping babes lie.
  • 時は金なり – Time is money.
  • 梅干と友達は古いほど良い – Old friends and old wines are the best.
  • 死人に口なし – Dead men tell no tales.
  • 火の無い所に煙は立たぬ – No smoke no fire
  • 目には目を、歯には歯を – An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
  • 過ぎた事は水に流せ – Like water under a bridge.

So here is our collection of quotes for teaching English. We hope you enjoyed them, or will be able to use them in your lessons.Thanks again to EduCareer for putting together this list.


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Peter Lackner is the Managing Partner at and has had management-level positions at major job boards in Japan including:, GaijinPot, CareerEngine and currently the managing partner at

Running a job board gives Peter the opportunity to speak with employers and job seekers every day and find out why some are successful and others are not. Speaking to both employers and job seekers has given Peter the ability to be able to see both sides of the hiring process. This is why exists - to help job seekers find the jobs they want and employers to find the candidates they need.

Peter is active in the ETJ (English Teachers in Japan organization), a member of JALT’s School Owners SIG and currently on the Executive Board of the Tokyo Association of International Preschools.

You can often find Peter speaking to groups on how to get a new or better job, and to employers on how to avoid making a bad hire.

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