Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The English Speech Contest

For the past two weeks I have been training two students to deliver a world class speech recitation. Well, I've mostly been training one student, the other one I've seen when time allowed, but both students accompanied me this morning to the English Speech Contest. The gist of it is that the vast majority of ALTs everywhere help train some interested students who then go head to head in a speech battle royale. This responsibility is met with varying degrees of enthusiasm on the part of the ALT, who now must find a way to effectively teach natural-sounding diction, which is pretty difficult. But I'd like to share with you my training regiment, and also an interesting thing which happened on the way to the contest.

Whenever I met with my students, I would start by getting us warmed up with easy-peasy conversation. "What did you do yesterday/this weekend?", "What did you eat for breakfast today?", etc.... Real mundane stuff. But it's just to break the initial hump of switching from Japanese to English. After that point, I avoid speaking Japanese if I can help it. Not hard cause I sound like a preschooler when I speak Japanese anyway.

Then we move on to the vocal warm-up! This is my favorite part. Sometimes I ask the student to read their speech through once, then I have them read tongue-twisters and actor's speech warm ups. Despite being nonsensical and unrelated, tongue twisters and actor's warm-ups get the student's mouths used to forming English, and usually they stress difficult word transitions. I think that having the student read English that is NOT the speech is very important because it's too easy to get into a rut and then the speech becomes flat. And anyway the tongue twisters are fun, and if you can't have fun and learn then I don't wanna teach.

That's all me yankin my own chain and no one wants to read about that. Let's talk about lunch instead.

I was sitting with Garrett in a restaurant a few paces away from the contest venue. We had to find some lunch because neither one of us brought a bento lunch because.... well we just didn't. The WHY doesn't matter.

We ordered some curry and set to catching up. During a lull in the conversation I said:

"So I had one of those meta moments today, where all of a sudden the bizarre reality of a situation hits you all at once and for a brief second you are a fly on the wall, above everything looking down, like some sort of sudden out of body experience. I was riding to the speech contest with my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) and my two students. There was this R&B music playing in the car, and the singer was convincing a girl he was with that all the other girls calling him were one night stands and didn't mean anything to him. Then the next song was about sexual prowess, and so on and so forth. And I realized, that I was thankfully the only one in the car who had any idea what these songs were about. I was listening to this guy explicitly describe his dirty bedroom behavior in a car with 3 Japanese girls, two of whom were under the age of 16. My life is weird now."

I watched a grin spread across Garrett's face. He knew exactly what I meant.

Sometimes during your stay in Japan, there are these moments like the one I described above where a situation or thing in your environment is so weird you have no choice but to stop and think about it for a second. For me this really just means I laugh to myself about how bizarre and interesting my life is sometimes. I really enjoy these moments, because most of the time the situation is reversed; I don't know what anything anywhere around me is saying even if it is about me or aimed directly AT me. So those few times when an American song comes on, or Engrish/English appears, I rejoice. Because this one time, I'm on the inside loop.

View from the parking lot after the contest
In the end, my girls didn't bring home any precious metals, but we did get a lovely "consolation prize". It was never about winning though. I knew we probably wouldn't win, and I didn't care. For me, it was about having fun and speaking English. Connecting those two things. If I could make them laugh with my absurd vocal warm-ups, or if I could reinforce thier confidence by showing them they can tell me about what they did during the weekend, then I have accomplished everything and more that I could want to do.

When I was studying Aikido back in Kentucky, I learned this lesson from my teacher. Success isn't in the "test". It never was. The test is just a foil to force you to try your hardest. So my girls may not have carried home any silver or gold, but for what it's worth, they passed my test with flying colors.

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