teaching-in-japan

Eating lunch with the third and fourth grade, talking about Leonard Nimoy. Their homeroom teacher used to watch Star Trek every week as a middle school student. The kids like Mr. Spock because he’s on my lunchbox (I promise you, I am an adult) and in my hilarious book of Star Trek opposite words. They quickly discovered they could send both their homeroom teacher and me into peals of delighted laughter by pretending to be Vulcans and flashing the LLAP sign. Room full of earnest, adorable Japanese children, trying desperately to pronounce ‘Spock,” keep from smiling, and make their hands move in previously undiscovered ways, and they did it for like 20 minutes straight. Best lunch ever, y/y?

2

Today, I talked about “Adventure Time” and “Bee & Puppycat” with the few students who actually want to study English at my 2nd school. Since they’re allowed to have their cellphones during class, my JTE suggested that they go ahead and watch an episode.
Y’all should have seen the girls’ reaction to Puppycat!
パビーキャット可愛い!!!!!!!!!

Blogs documenting peoples' lives in Japan.

Those working as part of the JET Programme

Those studying in Japan 2012 - 2013 exchange students

Lingocracy : Build Vocabulary Through Having Fun

A lot of people messaged me saying that they wanted a way to build vocabulary. Others asked for more reading material. Here’s the solution to both! I love this website. Read on to find out why and how it can help you learn Japanese.

What is Lingocracy?

Lingocracy is a relatively new website where you can learn vocabulary through reading passages of text in your desired language. For Japanese there are a few examples already up online, but you are also welcome to add your own - simply copy and paste the URL into the site and it will Lingocracy-ize it for you.

How does Lingocracy Work?

After adding or finding an article, it is presented to you as below with the words underlined. By clicking a word you don’t know, it will change it to red. Hovering over it gives the definition. It remains red throughout the article, so as you come across it multiple times you will recognise it as one that you don’t know, but should know!

There are also audio recordings for words so you can simultaneously work on your pronunciation and listening.

Lingocracy then arranges your learned and unlearned words into handy graphs which encourage progress.

How do I learn vocabulary through Lingocracy?

So you’ve found a bunch of words you don’t know in that pesky news article. Then, you use Lingocracy’s practice app to learn it for good! This is my favourite part of the site because it, unlike other services, makes you review vocabulary in the context of sentences. This helps solidify the words even more than seeing them standalone, and can also help with their definition.

The interface is simple, clean and nice. It reminds me somewhat of Memrise but both sites offer a different style of learning. (Memrise doesn’t use sentences/texts).

What things can I read?

Another fantastic thing about Lingocracy is that you can add your own content. This means you can work through NHK Easy News articles in a really effective way using the practice section.

Lingocracy also offers a Chrome plugin where you can instantly import your web pages into the Lingocracy site.

Bad points

Since Lingocracy is relatively new, the Japanese section is limited. But there are some great things on there already for beginners, and the fact you can add your own content means you can get started with things that interest you straight away. The problem with this is sourcing that content outside of news websites - which may be difficult, especially for beginners.

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Lingocracy brings together some features of other websites and a few new innovations of its own to round off a great learning resource. Although not great for absolute beginners, this is fantastic for those wishing to expand and keep track of their vocabulary that they learn while reading materials online.

"Shit My Japanese Students Say" Episode 4

Boy: Ms. Allie, *points at a girl* she is guilty.
Me: Oh? What did she do?
Boy: She…flew airplane. Into me.
Me: What? A paper airplane?
Boy: No. Big plane. Boeing.
Me: …Oh. Are you OK?
Boy: Yes, now OK. But I was in the hospital for 17.
Me: 17….months?
Boy: Days. I am strong boy.

I am not sure how credible his story is.

8

I was doing some much needed sorting of junk and I found my JET application notebook. I thought I would share this with the tumblr world. I really did my research before applying for JET and you can see it in each page of this notebook. I even used this notebook after getting accepted the second time I applied and when I arrived in Japan. I’ll post some of the interesting anecdotes I wrote after arriving in Japan. Don’t judge my messy handwriting or errors please.

For this month’s English Corner bulletin board, it is all about New Year’s, so I have a section for the students to write their resolutions in English… and, well, just look at the results so far. I am really amused! XD I hope I actually see that level of dedication when it comes to English in the classroom this year! Though, I am just glad to see them having fun with English! :)

I’ve been thinking about how to write this post for a while, but I haven’t properly found the correct words to really express my reflections properly. 

A few weeks ago one of the part time JTEs at my school pulled me outside. She had a stack of photocopied papers stapled together and asked me if I had time if I would be interested in reading the papers. I immediately looked down and noticed that it was an account of a fifteen year old girl’s experience on August 6, 1945.

My JTE told me her mother had written it about her experience on that day and had given a copy of it to her when she was fifteen (it was later published in a book). I realized instantly how precious and dear to my JTE’s heart this was and how special it was that she was reaching out and asking if I’d be interested in knowing or hearing her mother’s personal account and how the bomb changed her life completely in a matter of seconds. 

While I don’t feel comfortable summarizing the beautiful English her mother used (turns out her mother was a JTE as well)- I was blown away completely by her account. I couldn’t imagine how terrifying not only experiencing the bomb so closely, but then having to walk through one of the most destroyed parts of the city to get home – and all at the age of fifteen. Yet her mother didn’t sound bitter, nor did she sound upset; - after witnessing all those terrible things the overall message was for peace – and that absolutely floored me.

It floored me that while she wrote about all her classmates dying either immediately after the bomb or due to radiation diseases in the following years- that all she asked was why God would allow her to live while her classmates and friends died. It blew me away.

I read through her mothers account quietly at my desk. I remembered my trip to the Peace Memorial Museum when I had visited Hiroshima for the first time two years ago (can be found here) and those emotions I felt came flooding back. 

I cannot properly express the feelings I had while reading my JTE’s mother’s account of the events that took place on that day into words. I felt very special in a way that my JTE wanted to share that aspect of her own personal life with me, and I’m still struggling with how to properly respond and show how much that actually meant to me that she included me and shared it with me.

 I often consider this JTE to be like my Japanese mother, even though she’s only part time – she looks after me better than anyone in the school and has gone out of her way to make sure I have the basic things I needed. (We also have both lived in Germany and love Miyazaki movies; so we initially bonded over that.) But I am so grateful to have her at my school, and hopefully continue to have a close relationship with her during my years on JET. 

It’s people like this who have made me realize how fortunate and lucky I am to be in this program. 

The strangest thing just happened.

I was cooking dinner when the doorbell rang.

Outside (with my neighbor) was one of my 6th grade boys. At first I thought that my neighbor must be his mother, but after a few sentences she checked her mail and left.

He came all by himself just to talk to me!

Today I had my last visit to his homeroom before I finish my time on the JET Program. We played some games, took a picture, and said goodbye.

Standing outside my door, we had a deep conversation despite my poor Japanese skills.

He asked me what message I would like to leave behind for him and his peers. I said that they should be kind to each other. It is one of my biggest regrets that I was not a kinder person in grade school. 

He pointed out that when other teachers leave, it is likely that the students will see them again around town. But since I’m moving away, he’ll probably never see me again.

He was a little sad to hear that the next ALT will be a girl. “It’s always girls,” he said. I asked him to help her out at school when she gets here.

He also wondered why his classmates were not as upset as him about my leaving. He said that when other teachers left, they all cried. But not for me. Secretly, that was how I planned my departure. No tears, just smiles. Once I start crying I can’t stop. I told him that losing me was not all sad because that meant they get to make a new friend with the new teacher. If I have to make a speech to the school at an assembly before I leave though, there will definitely be tears.

He was happy that I could remember his name. So was I :D

Finally I told him that I will see him again next week because I will be teaching the 5th graders their last lessons. He promised to come visit me again to talk.

I love that he came to see me, because more than their formulaic thank you letters that they all have to write, it tells me that at least one student was affected by my work.

I had to write this as soon as he left so I wouldn’t forget. I will treasure this memory always.

There’s quite a few things that, even two years down the line, continue to boggle me about other JET participants.

The sheer amount of guys who don’t know how to correctly wear a tie bar. 

The sheer amount of guys who think that a partially or fully un-ironed business shirt is a good look.

The sheer amount of guys who don’t wear an undershirt with their business shirts. I can see your nipples and I don’t want to.

Basically, being on JET has confirmed my theory that most men (most, not all) still need their mothers to dress them. And I get told my earrings are unprofessional. 

For aspiring JETs prepping for their interview, you might be asked which kind of school you prefer to work in (elementary, junior high, or senior high). So if you’re curious about ES, get ready for a long post.

In my case, I went in with JLPT 2 Japanese and had worked with elementary school kids during after school programs. During the interview, I said that I’d like to be with younger kids and was given a role play scenario where I had to pretend like I was teaching 4th graders. I now teach at several elementary schools and make visits to kindergarten once a week. I sometimes go to JHS, but those times are few and far between. From what I’ve heard, having Japanese prior to JET may help get you elementary school since you’ll be teaching on your own and the other teachers probably won’t know a lot of English. 

5th and 6th graders use Hi Friends textbooks  which covers self introductions, likes and dislikes, shapes, colors, subjects, and time, things that should help them transition to JHS English. Grades 1-4 is more about playing games, simple vocab and singing songs

In my case, some of my schools have me teach all grades on my own and some have me help out the homeroom teacher with the 5th and 6th graders. For the most part though, it’s all me.

I feel like a lot of ES ALTs can relate with me on this but even with being told that the ALT is more of the main teacher at ES, getting to class, standing in front of 30 kids and being told ‘go’ was kind of a shock and it took a few months to adjust and get a handle on it. While English at Elementary school is still in the early-ish stages, there are some pros and cons to how it’s set up.

ALTing at ES Pros:

  • the kids are, for the majority, enthusiastic about playing with English and enjoy learning about different cultures. You’re encouraged to introduce holidays, music, food, etc.
  • With the freedom to be the main teacher, you don’t have to stick to the textbook all the time. You can make up games, show photos, introduce phonics, and use crafts. You can even bring the kids into the gym or outside which I’ve done a lot in the warm weather. I also use a lot of phonics songs in my younger classes and like to have the kids draw pictures in group games. Very rarely I’ll use a PPT but that’s only to supplement a textbook lesson and it doesn’t last longer than 5-10 minutes.
  • There are no tests or quizzes so there’s more emphasis on just getting them used to English. It’s more about being communicative rather than writing/reading. Some ALTs have their younger students learning the alphabet and reading but I’m not at the same schools all the time and can only do that with 5th and 6th grade since I’m with them the most.

Cons:

  • Not having a clear set of goals expected of you for the younger grades. My predecessors made a curriculum for each schools’ 1-4th graders and the other ALT and I have added to it, changed it but in some cases you start from scratch.
  • Teaching alone with no help. English isn’t really English so much as it’s called Foreign Language Activity and from what I’ve heard/read, the textbooks for 5th and 6th grade have only been used for the past 4-5 years. Some teachers are into English and will help while you teach alone or team-teach with you. Some will stand in the back, grade papers. With multiple classes, sometimes you get help, sometimes you don’t. You have to roll with the punches but it takes a while to adjust and sometimes in the classes where you’re totally on your own, look to the teacher for some support and get none, it can be rough. 

I heard about the stereotypical ALT-used-as-a-cd player scenarios and that has never been the case for me but on the opposite end, it’s a lot of work planning lessons and making materials from scratch for such a broad range of ages. What 2nd graders like 3rd graders might not. What might be easy for one class of 4th graders might not be for the 4th graders next door. Some of the kids take English lessons outside so they can read while their classmates mix up their alphabet. It took me months to get used to the different abilities in the classes in each school, figure out what works and what doesn’t. No one tells you so it’s trial and error which means some kids love it, some don’t. Some kids are into dancing and singing but you may have one child who starts to cry. You’re with kids aged 6-12 each day so it goes without saying you have to adjust how you speak and interact with them. You need patience, energy, but you should love being with kids. As far as materials online, most websites are geared for JHS and SHS, I can sometimes take something and tweak it a lot but mostly it doesn’t apply to my classes. On the times I do go to JHS, I’m so used to elementary school that it takes a while to get back into the JHS environment but then I’m back to ES again for the next few months. 

Overall, I really enjoy teaching elementary school and it has been pretty much a positive experience for me. For anyone that thinks they would be suited for teaching the younger levels, don’t be afraid to bring it up in your interview and if you can, get some experience tutoring that age group. 

If anyone has any questions about being an ES ALT, feel free to message me. 

When you speak to foreign English educators in Japan, one thing becomes crystal clear: English education in Japan isn’t working.…

This is an interesting read for anyone wondering about the English education system in Japan and what really goes on in an English classroom. 

Major success in my most difficult sixth grade classes today!

In our warmup games they used to stall out and not answer to try to drag out as many questions as possible, or they just wouldn’t pay attention and would ignore the game completely - I remediated this in two ways.

one, I brought a ball. My method was this: Ask question. Chuck ball at student. When they were sufficiently surprised enough after catching the ball (most students at that age have the reflexes to catch the ball) ask question again. Answer GET.

IF they didn’t answer still, or started to stall, I gave them a countdown. After fifteen seconds (and then ten seconds when they got the gist of it) if they didn’t answer, they got pulled to the front to do five pushups.

Results:

  1. I got answers 99% of the time! Once the kids realized they had no idea who’d get the ball next they all started paying attention, and they ALL ended up understanding the grammar. We practiced “do you have a ball?” and it worked perfectly.
  2. Sometimes I’d fake out a student, NOT throw the ball, and then ask “do you have a ball?” They’d then respond “No I don’t.” In this way, I made sure they weren’t just regurgitating answers, and actually had to think about whether or not they had the ball.
  3. Once they were comfortable with the above, I introduced two more balls, and the subsequent question “How many balls?” So the method was: Throw balls, one at a time. Ask “do you have a ball?” wait for “Yes I do.” Then, “How many balls?” They could have between zero and three balls.
  4. Some of the kids didn’t actually believe me about the pushups and they DID try to push that boundary. YOU MUST BE STRONG. You must ACTUALLY MAKE THEM DO PUSHUPS. Have the other kids in the class count how many they do (in English, obviously). BELIEVE ME, THE STALLING STOPPED FAST.

Remarkably? The kids seemed to LOVE this method of teaching, and I’m going to have to figure out more ways to work races, physical activity, and lots of pop quizzes into my lessons. They are a demanding, demanding class and one that’s been described as “absolutely awful” (zettai dame) by my town’s board of education - but I got honest results out of them today, and it was great.

And since they were so good, I juggled for them at the end of class, and they were FLOORED.

So, what have I learned?

  • Keep them moving.
  • Don’t give them time to think about anything other than the lesson at hand.
  • Ball = game, even if it isn’t really a game.
  • Stickers are great, but only when paired up with a punishment. Stickers for good behavior, pushups for bad behavior.
  • For some reason the pushups were really funny and the kids actually kind of liked that. I think this relates to a popular kind of Japanese gameshow called a Batsu-game (punishment game.) Turn your class into a Batsu-game and the kids WILL respond.
  • Surprise them with a hidden talent. Who knew circus would come in handy?!