An alternative look at life in the Land of the Rising Sun, coming from its southernmost prefecture, the island of Okinawa.
Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014


Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England […]


Archive for October, 2012

English Speech Contests in Japan: A Few More Pointers

Posted By Dave on October 9th, 2012

Well my student’s progress in the Prince Takamatsu Trophy All Japan Inter-Middle School English Oratorical Contest ended this year at the prefectural level.  It was a big disappointment compared to the success of last year when my student was awarded 6th place in the whole of Japan, but didn’t come as a huge surprise due to a few different factors.  It is a shame though, as I would have really liked to try a few things with my student to improve their confidence, belief and general impression when they walk to the podium and give their speech.  It’s following along the same lines of some things I mentioned back in my article a couple of years ago on preparing SHS students for speech and debate contests; being that your content is only a small part of the impact your speech has.  You can have the most interesting content in the world but if your audience isn’t captivated by you and your words, it will quickly be forgotten.

I regularly visit TED.com as they often have some interesting discussions and talking points.  One of the latest was a talk by Amy Cuddy, social psychologist from Harvard Business School.  The talk was entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”, and focused not only on positive body language affecting those around you, but also having a profound effect on yourself and way of thinking.

It was a very informative talk, and got me thinking about how ideas like that could be used as I prepare my students for future contests.  In a speech contest in Japan, students have to stand in front of a large audience, remember a 5 minute speech in a foreign language, get all the pronunciation and intonation of words right, and at the same time appeal to the audience and judges.  When you think about it, it’s no surprise that many students will forget their speech, rush through it or come close to freezing up.

I always try to work on mental images with my students as the contests get close.  I’ll draw an outline of the venue, ask them to visualize walking onto stage and seeing all the faces looking at them as they take their first big breath and start to talk.  It’s had a positive effect on my students in the past, but there’s always the knot in the stomach in the few minutes before you are due to go on stage.  This could definitely be a way to instill a little self-belief in yourself before you take to the stage, although possibly without the arms in the air which could be distracting to others!

It almost goes without saying but the other main thing is frame of mind.  The student who won the Okinawa contest this year and will go on to the national contest is in that position for a number of reasons.  She has good English, yes, but she also worked very hard, devoted time to practice in and out of normal school hours, and had a very strong desire to reach Tokyo and the finals.  I was talking to some of the students before the contest and they were saying they hoped they would do ok, or they would try their best.  This student had one aim, which was to be in the top 3 and qualify for the Finals.  The combination of desire, ability and hard work is always going to reward you with a certain amount of success.

And the last but integral part which I always hark on about is the dedication of the ALT.  It will almost always fall to the ALT to get the student and their speech/story ready for the contest, and to be successful they have to take the initiative.  And yes, this does mean putting in time before work starts, unpaid overtime, and working during your summer vacation.  Times that you’re well within your rights to be off work relaxing, but time that could be spent with your student getting them ready for the contests.  This summer I could have taken the entire summer off and lay on a beach for a couple of weeks.  Instead I was in work each day, making sure that once the contest was over, neither me nor the student were left feeling there was anything else we could have done to be ready.

Just a few thoughts for you to ponder.  But I do believe once your student has the basics of the speech perfected, things like mental preparation are often overlooked and can prove the difference between being 1st and 2nd.  And let’s face it: nobody ever should set their goals at 2nd place.

Let me know what you think of the video and my ideas, especially if you employ these things with your own students.

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