How to Start a Communication Class as a JTE

By Takayuki Watanabe, JTE, Yamagata City

I started communication classes 2 months ago at my school with my ALT. Now I feel my students’ skills to speak English is getting better and better!  I also enjoy the class every time.

These sentences below are the ideas or tips about how I started communication classes at my school and how I should make the class better.

 1.  Keep your Style

Communication is important.  But getting knowledge is also important.  So we don’t have to deny our teaching style.  I believe the Japanese teaching style is good for Japanese people because it’s easy for us to understand, and many “senpai” teachers have established such a good style.  What we should do is simply add a little to improve it.

Let’s make evolutions daily for English revolutions!

 2.  Understand How…

The topics of my communication class are like, “Do you know…?” or “Did you enjoy the weekend?”  You might say, “What?  Aren’t they for 1st graders?  Are the students interested in such simple questions?”  But when I asked my students this kind of question in my first communication class, they were upset and had a long pause, or they finished talking with just one answer, “Yes”.

Why don’t you ask your students a simple question to understand how they are good at talking or not.  If they can’t do it well, I think it’s worth doing a communication class.

3.  Communication – Verbal and Non-Verbal –

We sometimes do a “Social Group Encounter” in our homeroom classes.  The aim of this class is to communicate well with other people.  I have thought this idea is also important in English class since I started communication classes.  When my students are doing “high-fives” that were taught by my ALT, students looked really happy.  I think communication is not only about words, but also about showing other people who we are.  I always want my students to enjoy talking with their friends with big smiles, big reactions and high-tension in English class.

4.  Give responsibility to ALT

I think saying to ALTs, “Can you make a procedure of the next lesson?” is good for us and them.  If the procedure is good, we can learn good ideas we can’t learn about as Japanese people.  Even if the procedure is not good enough, it’s a good opportunity to exchange and share ideas.  This is what we usually do to make a lesson plan with Japanese teachers at school.  So why not extend this idea to ALTs? We both are teachers.

5.  TALK MORE!

Talk more and be good friends with your ALT!

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Click this link to read more advice for ALTs about starting a communication revolution.

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Introducing Vegemite at a Japanese School

Vegemite: Delicious or no: The debate rages on

An article by guest-writer, Kavita P, CIR, Kochi Prefecture

A contentious topic for Australians everywhere (surely) is whether Vegemite, our alleged favourite spread, is as delicious as people claim it to be. As a child, I myself was on the anti-Vegemite side, but I was won over in my teenage years, and, as I live in Japan, it provides me with a great deal of nostalgia for back home every morning for breakfast.

Introducing Vegemite to people in Japan is a particularly tricky thing to do, especially if you have trouble articulating the subtleties of the spread in Japanese. Nevertheless, it’s probably something that most Australians working with children in any capacity may feel inclined to do at some stage, even if only for lack of anything else to do in class.

I’ve introduced Vegemite to 4 groups of primary school children here in Kochi prefecture, and more recently to a group of retired folk. Before taking on these people, I tried to research how to approach the task. But most of what I read about from other people’s experiences with giving it to classes seemed overwhelmingly negative. The Japanese tasters couldn’t stand it in most cases. That made me sad.

So, I formulated a cunning plan to brainwash my students into liking Vegemite. And lo and behold, for the most part it seems to have worked. To that end, I’ve made a small list of things to do and not to do, which may help your own endeavours should you be that way inclined:

Don’t:

  • Give people Vegemite without priming them first

If you introduce Vegemite by saying “ha har, get a whiff of this!” you’re not going to do your students any favours. The victim’s reaction will undoubtedly be hilarious and make for a fun class. So if that’s what you’re going for, then go right ahead. But if you are trying to introduce a bit of Australian culture on a deeper level and attempt to cultivate some intercultural understanding in young minds, it is maybe wise to veer away from that line of thinking. Priming is really important!

  • Talk excessively about how ‘different’ Vegemite is from Japanese cuisine

This puts people in a mindset where the flavour is completely alien to them and the strong peer pressure in Japanese schools will almost guarantee that everyone in the class will spend more time saying ‘eewwww!’ together than they will actually trying the food they’ve been given.

  • Make a big deal about how most people hate Vegemite, especially foreigners

Again, this isn’t conducive to giving the food a fair go. I think it’s a good idea to mention the fact that many people from outside of Australia find it strange, but in the same way that Japanese natto(fermented soy beans) is considered to be a ‘Japanese pallet only’ food. I’ll talk about this in more detail next. 

Do:

  • Explain that Vegemite is like ‘Australia’s natto’

Natto is a fermented soy bean dish which is native to Japan and quite, quite foul to many people (including many Japanese locals). One of its main detractors is its strong smell. Sound familiar? Yep, that’s our Vegemite there. If you introduce Vegemite by pointing out this similarity, people will know to be prepared but at the same time be reassured by connecting it to a food in Japanese culture. Here’s a simple way you might be able to say this: 

Vegemiteはどちらかというと「オーストラリアのなっとう」です。なぜなら、地元の多くの人がよく好きですが、外国の方がよくきらいなのです。そして、ちょっとくさいです!

Vegemite wa dochiraka to iuto, “oosutoraria no nattou” desu. Nazenara, jimoto no ooku no hito ga yoku suki desu ga, gaikoku no kata ga yoku kirai nano desu. Soshite, chotto kusai desu!

If anything, Vegemite is “Australia’s natto”. This is because many locals enjoy it but many people from overseas hate it. It also smells a bit!

  • Explain that the flavour is very salty, and similar to salty miso soup

This will help people to know what to expect taste-wise. When I prime people like this, I find it gives them confirmation bias to a degree. I get a lot of feedback of “yeah, it really does taste like salty miso soup!” Here’s an example of how you might be able to express this in Japanese:

ちょっと塩辛い味がするし、赤味噌汁の味と似ていると思います。

Chotto shio-karai aji ga suru shi, aka miso shiru no aji to niteiru to omoimasu.

It’s a bit salty, and the flavour is similar to red (salty) miso soup.

  • Give everyone a chance to smell the Vegemite from the jar before serving it

Be sure to keep the jar held far enough away from each person that they won’t get a big whiff of it, just a light smell. From a distance it really does smell a little like strong miso soup, so hopefully this will help them to relax a little. Also, keep an ear out for which students recoil and which students seem interested; when you are serving, try to serve the calmer, less repulsed(!) students first because most kids will base their own reaction off the reaction of the first person. A little lesson in peer pressure there.

And there you have it. Thanks to some good priming/brainwashing beforehand, more than half of each group of kids found that even if they wouldn’t want to eat it every day, Vegemite didn’t really taste so bad after all. I had an even better reaction with the retired folk, who ended my session with them conspiring to travel to Australia for a holiday. I suspect they appreciate salty foods more than the children do.

Probably the most prejudice to come out of a Vegemite introduction session actually was from my perspective, unfortunately. After exposing a group of Grade 3/4 students to the joy of Vegemite, one of the kids approached me eagerly after class.

“Will you bring something else to class next time?” he grinned, clinging on to my arm (which I HATE but am too polite to react to).

“Yes, I’m sure I’ll bring something else at some point,” I replied.

“Ooh, I hope you bring sweets next time!” he gushed, looking up at me hopefully with pleading eyes.

This is something that I would expect all children to say. However, the little child in question was the most rotund of the class, and I couldn’t stop myself scoffing in the depths of my subconscious: “Well, of COURSE you would, wouldn’t you?”

If you have any more suggestions for how to serve Vegemite to students in any country, please write it in the comments section! 

Kavita P is currently a participant on the JET programme as a Co-Ordinator of International Relations (CIR or 国際交流員) in Shikoku, Japan. You can read more of her writing on the Kochi Ken AJET website.

Connecting with JHS Students through “English Kyushoku”


Kyushoku. Photo cred: Andrea McGovern 2011

Submitted by Ed Fec, Sakata City

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The first line of “A Tale of Two Cities” is pretty much what comes to mind when I think about having school lunch at JHS. As a JHS/ES ALT, I almost always eat with students and sometimes it’s great fun, while other times it’s like being in a library. Occasionally it’s simply frustrating. Still, I’m glad I do it since it gives me a chance to talk to students more outside of class.

I’m now in my 8th year as an ALT and no longer on JET, of course. When I first came here, students pretty much had to speak to me in English as my Japanese wasn’t very good. Now, however, they all know that I can speak Japanese and it’s much harder to get them to talk to me in English.

Whether I should speak to them in English or Japanese during school lunch is a moot point because personally I think that as long as we are communicating, the language used isn’t as important. What I’ve noticed, though, is that in many classes there are usually at least 1 or 2 students who want to practice their English, but don’t get the chance to — either because I don’t sit with their group when I do go to their class, or because they are too shy to speak in English in front of other students.

To remedy this problem I have recently been doing “English Kyushoku” at some of my schools (I have 4 junior high schools). Instead of eating in the classroom with the whole class every day, I eat my lunch in a separate room (a spare classroom or meeting room) with volunteers from the class who want to speak with me in English. I limit the number of students to 6 and I get the JTE to organise it in advance so that both the homeroom teacher and I know how many students will come.

So far the results have been positive. I’ve had some great conversations and spoken to some students whom I’d never really spoken to before.

So, if anyone else at JHS is suffering from “silent kyushoku syndrome” or any other similarly debilitating lurgies, feel free to try this remedy!

Ed Fec, (Sakata City)

Yamagata Helps: LIVE Supporter Donation Drive in Tsuruoka

Yamagata JETs, non-JETs, and friends crank up the genk and rake in the relief supplies in Tsuruoka, March 12, 2011.

After the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11, many of us in the JET/foreign teacher community of Yamagata felt an overwhelming urge to somehow help in the face of this grave humanitarian catastrophe. Many homegrown relief efforts have sprung up around the country since that day, including one based in Tsuruoka called the LIVE Supporter Donation Drive. Spearheaded by private English school owner Mark Stewart, two local businessmen, and the ALT community in Tsuruoka, the LIVE Drive set up a donation drop location and hit the streets with signs, balloons, and hordes of genki foreigners urging passers-by to stop and donate supplies for tsunami victims. The drive kicked off on March 19 and ran straight for four days, with the intention of continuing over weekends for three weeks. JETs and their friends from all over Yamagata descended upon Tsuruoka to help out and the response was truly overwhelming. High school student volunteers were also enlisted and the words spread through friends, colleagues, and coverage in the Shonai, Nippo and Yamagata Shinbun newspapers. Many vanloads of essential goods were collected, sorted, packed and delivered by private vehicles to Rikuzentakata, Iwate. The following two weekends also saw the LIVE Drive hit the streets, and after folding up the tent on Sunday April 3 and loading three more vans, the drive has been called an unqualified success.

Massive congrats to all you lovely people who came out and lent your support to this project.

頑張れ日本!

By Corey Ticknor, Tsuruoka