English Speech Contest

I apologize for the delay. I have been kind of scatterbrained lately, with the start of school and all. I am here to say that I have officially begun teaching! I first started going to schools for the purpose of speech contest coaching. In Japan, they hold regional, prefectural, and national English Speech Contests for junior-high and high school students. Since I am an elementary and junior high school ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I worked with junior high school students to prepare them for the speech contest. The students must learn, memorize, and practice their speeches during summer vacation! I have worked with eight students so far, but I am only going to talk about a couple of them. And you will find out about those two at the end. :)

I was unprepared for the first time a student called me “sensei” (which means teacher in Japanese). It happened when was concentrating on reading a student’s speech to myself in my head. I think I heard him say “Sensei?” but I must have thought that he was talking to his Japanese teacher who was also in the room. I didn’t look up or turn around. Next the student touched me lightly on the shoulder and asked again, “Sensei?”  This time I turned and looked at him, realizing that he was looking straight at me and trying to get my attention. And that’s when I realized I was a teacher. Call me Stacy-sensei.

The speech coaching sessions, for the most part, were of the same format. I arrived at the school, met with the students and JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English), and got down to business. The students read their speeches to me for the first time so I could listen and write down my comments. Some of them had memorized the whole thing already and some hadn’t even started. After the first reading, I shared my comments with them and worked on pronunciation, word choice, pacing, and ways to make their speech sound more natural. You just can’t have the soulless monotone thing going on, especially when you are making a speech about your hobby or something. The JTEs also learned from my coaching, since their study of English is an ongoing work-in-progress as well. They practiced their pronunciation too, so it was fun for me to teach with them. They were all very nice and fun to work with.

freddietheleafK-chan (2nd year) entered the recitation category, reading a tale called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. I did not know this at the time, but it was originally a children’s storybook that was shortened and simplified for English Language Learners. Here is a link to the original version. Kiko had a very pleasant reading voice and great intonation. Her accent was very good. When she read the character-speaking parts, she really got “into character” and sounded very natural. I gave her some help on pacing her words and adding spaces between words so that the sentences did not sound slurred. Kiko had a hard time with the words “life,” “will” and “yellow,” but I helped her with those. Overall, I very much enjoyed hearing the story from her and I thought she would do well.

H-chan (2nd year) prepared a speech of her own creation titled “Living Arts: Painting My Future.” The speech was centered around her village’s tradition of creating rice field art (田んぼアート in Japanese). However, it was not just about rice field art, but about her involvement in the tradition and what lessons it has taught her. I learned a lot about this girl from her speech, because she talked about how rice field planting has helped her realize the steps to her dream. Just as one rice field picture is not created overnight, she too must work little by little to realize her dream to become a doctor. You must plant your dream and care for it in order for it to come true. I was moved by her speech, actually. H-chan’s speech was a bit too long, so we cut it shorter in a couple areas. The speech was not written by a native English speaker, so I offered some advice on how to change several sentences. For example, I changed “We sometimes can not take our legs from the mud” into “Sometimes our legs get stuck in the mud.” Also, “There is a great lesson I take from this art” became “I learned a great lesson from this art.” One of the best moments of working with H-chan was when I taught her how to say the word “art.” The way she was saying it was a bit like “erth,” so I taught her the hard “t” sound at the end of the word. I was overjoyed when she said it perfectly and it looked like H-chan was happy too.

Speaking of rice field art, I am going to digress from the topic of speech contests for a moment. At the time I was coaching H-chan, I had no idea what “rice field art” was. So, I did some research on the internet. And then… I was able to see it for myself. The pictures online were, of course, impressive. But they really don’t prepare you for how awesome of a sight it is.

In order to make this incredible art, an artist first sketches the year’s design onto a computer, which converts it into a grid mapped with thousands of dots. And then the rice is planted according to the grid and each plant goes in its place according to the dots. They use different varieties of rice to get the different colored-effect. If I read it correctly, this year they used 7 kinds of rice! All the villagers come to join in the planting and tourists are welcome too! Maybe I can join this spring.

To see the rice field art, you have to go to the town hall building… which is beautiful in itself. We went on a rainy day.

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You see that high tower? You have to go all the way up to the very top (6 stories) to the custom-built viewing tower. Oh, and did I mention that this attraction is free? You don’t have to pay to see any Buddhas here. All you have to do is make a donation.

And then you get up there.. peering around the corner….

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To see this.

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But wait, there’s more…

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It is difficult to capture all of it in one shot!

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Here is a link to their home page with time-lapse images of another year’s rice field art!

Okay, now where was I? Oh right, speech contest.

On Thursday my supervisor took me to the contest, which ran from 10am-2pm with an hour break for lunch. They started with the 1st-years, who recited a story or speech that had already been written. Most picked a story from their English textbooks. And then the 2nd and 3rd-year students, also reciting an existing story/speech. The third category was the original speech category. Students (read: teachers) have to write an original speech, memorize it, and perform it. Everything is by memorization and under ten minutes. They are scored by pronunciation and delivery, and the original speeches are also graded for content.

I was nervous for my students, but….

K-chan took first place in the recitation category for her grade with The Fall of Freddie the Leaf! She is going on to the prefectural contest!! And H-chan took second place in the original speech category with her “Living Arts: Painting My Future.”

My supervisor had a meeting and he was my ride, so we had to leave right at 2pm when the speeches were over, so I did not get to hear the results that very day. However, my supervisor emailed me the next morning to tell me the great news! I cannot wait to see the girls again so I can congratulate them.

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4 Comments to “English Speech Contest”

  1. WOW that is so awesome! I am so happy that you’re able to help your students succeed like that! Also, Stacy-sensei is just too cool. You’re in the big leagues now, kid! And thank you for the rice field art pics… how incredibly cool!

  2. There’s a picture of that kind of rice-field art in the JET calendar but I couldn’t believe it was planted and grown because of the amazing detail. But the photo in the calendar is nothing compared to these ones! Amazing!!

    Congratulations on your two students doing well in the speech contest! I have a couple students participating in a contest in October, so we have a lot of practice ahead of us. O.O

  3. So happy for you and your students. The rice field pictures are awesome. I love reading your posts. I thought about you as the school year began and I had all the counter space to myself as I made Alex’s sandwiches for lunch. I liked our morning routine. Sounds like you are hitting your stride. I can’t wait for the next one. XO

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on sad. Regards

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