Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Day of the Big Speech Contest

I guess you may be wondering what I'm up to jobwise. These days, my job is very low-key. Like in Oregon, there are no classes during the summer months. Instead, the students participate in various sports clubs or spend their time traveling. One of my schools has a dedicated baseball team, and I can often see them practicing from the teachers' room.

I surrendered my summer vacation because 1) I'd spent the last 6 months jobless, a sort of prolonged winter-spring vacation, and 2) I was offered the opportunity to help about half a dozen junior high students prepare for their upcoming Speech Contest. Each student memorizes a short script, about one page in length, and presents it in front of a group of judges. Based on intonation, pronounciation, vocabulary and stage presence, the judges award points.

I'm stuck in between the two junior highs in my village. It's a little odd to know that I'm helping two groups that will be competing with each other, so I can only hope their sense of community keeps them civil when we come together next week for group practice.

What have I been teaching them? Well, I consider myself to be an apt public speaker. I took a public speaking course in high school, but that hardly qualifies me in any capacity. I've done my best to help them through online research and my knowledge of the English language. Their greatest enemy is the pronounciation of English syllables and letters, such as "th" and words containing "L".

I also try to make them aware of things like body language and eye contact. In Japan, children are taught not to lock eyes with their superiors as a gesture of respect, since a shared gaze would indicate arrogance. It seems to be the exact opposite of Western culture, where looking away from someone suggests hidden motives. How often have you heard the phrase "Look me in the eye" when a person tests another's integrity?

One student has chosen to write his own speech, a daunting task for a boy who has only been studying English for a few years. While I'm quite impressed with what he managed on his own, his problem lies in sentence syntax. While a dictionary can give anyone the definition of words, it cannot convey the inherent context associated with synonyms and their appropriateness on a case-by-case basis. For example, he wrote "they act very active." This isn't necessarily bad grammar, but it certainly doesn't sound like the sort of thing you'd hear from any native speaker due to the fact that it uses a word as both verb and adjective in the same sentence.

This short period has been eye-opening for me, if only to show me what sorts of skills these students possess and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. I hope that, in time, I will be able to formulate a lesson plan that can address these problems tactfully. Despite my lack of experience in the field of teaching, I want to give it my all.

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