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Teaching Public Speaking (Ibaraki Prefecture English Speech Competition)

Every year, in Kasama City, Jr. High students from all over Ibaraki come together with their teachers and their ALT’s to present their own unique five minute speech. This year 78 students participated, split into 2 groups with a break in-between.

Yeah, that means before lunch we sat through 39 five minute speeches! This doesn’t include those given in the opening ceremony by various officials in either Japanese or English. It was definitely a long day with no coffee, but it’s also incredibly interesting to listen to what’s most important to all these students. Their speeches were often very personal and I liked "getting to know" these Jr. highers from across my beloved prefecture.

While the speech competition isn’t as popular as the Interactive Forum (it’s seen as easier because instead of holding a conversation with other people, the students "just" have to write and memorize the words) for the one student participating, a lot of work goes into those nerve-wracking five minutes in the spotlight.

This year our practice started with the 2nd term, so at the beginning of September. Last year we started practice in July for 2-3 hours every day during summer vacation! My student and I were both glad not to have to do that this year, but it did mean more work in the time we had.

From start to finish, this was our process:

Speech writing--My student wrote her speech in Japanese first so she could adequately get all her real thoughts in there, not just what she had the English for. My JTE translated it with her and when I got it I made a few corrections to make it sound more natural.

Translation--Last year I took notes while the JTE read the main points of my students speech out to me and translated it myself which worked much better than going through a few non-native translators before I got hold of it. You’re the native speaker. You’re the one who can make it sound as good in English as it is in Japanese! Only then did my student go through it with me and correct things I’d missed or something he didn't think was quite right.

**The key in these competitions is sounding as fluent as possible, including popular colloquialisms and slang that are just unfamiliar to many non-native speakers (great teaching opportunity for your student and JTE's though!).

Pronunciation--Read the speech aloud for the student in good public speaking mode. Eye contact, enunciation, varying voice pitches (showing emotions), and gestures are very important in these speeches!

**Have the student repeat after you a few times. See what letters or words they have trouble with and focus on eliminating an accent as much as possible. The speech needs to be very clearly spoken and understandable. Japanese students generally have trouble with ‘th’, ‘r’ and ‘l’ so focus on words with those the most. It's helpful to record yourself reading the speech clearly and with emotion for the student to listen to while practicing at home.

Memorization--I assigned chunks of the speech each day for my student to memorize and practice during the next session. When she had it down well, I’d assign another chunk. She had her five minute speech memorized completely in about a week and a half this way. The goal here is for them to be completely comfortable with their speech and to be practically saying it in their sleep!

**Repetition is key. Practice the speech over and over again. I know it gets a bit boring for both of you, but the more they speak it, the less likely they are to forget a part when they’re suddenly in front of a few hundred people! Their mouths will remember it for them.

Beyond the words--I said before that gestures and emotions are important in these speeches. This is difficult for students, especially if they’re as shy as mine was! Seeing your example as well as a few speeches off the internet helps them to visualize it more and it’s usually more comforting for them to assign specific tones and gestures to different parts of the speech.

**Ask your school if they have videos of past speech competitions. This year I recorded myself saying the speech with emotions in my voice so she could listen to pronunciations of words at home and remember to not use a flat tone--this seemed to help her a lot! 

**Some areas won’t let students use microphones so be sure your student can be understood from a distance. Stand in the back of the room every time they say their speech (or in the hallway with the door closed, or behind the bookshelves in the library, mix it up!) 

**Most students are more comfortable if they keep the same gestures at the same places in their speech. More outgoing students can probably play it by ear better though, and that will definitely make him/her seem more comfortable onstage. Have the student practice their speech at home in front of a mirror or videotape themselves when they’re practicing their gestures.

Find an audience--Make sure at least some of your final practices are in front of an audience of more than just you. Recruit your students friends or classmates, have them say it during English class, or, even better, at a whole-school assembly. They get very comfortable giving their speech to you, but it’s harder when you constantly bring in new people. This is good!

Don’t be nervous and Be Proud--The day of the speech (or any other English event) I swear I’m just as nervous as, if not more than, my kids! It’s bad to let them see that though so watch those shaking hands. And definitely, absolutely, without reserve be proud of your students! In the end, only ten out of almost eighty kids will be chosen for the second round in the afternoon and only three will go on to the all-Japan competition.

What matters most is how your student feels about their performance. It’s scary getting       up on stage in front of so many strangers to talk all by yourself--I know I’d never want to       do it! So clap, cheer and surprise them with a hug because these kids rock! (And mine         are the best of them all!) <3

This is the speech given by the second place finisher from my second year at this competition. My camera died for the last twenty seconds of his speech and it's a weird red to adhere to Japan's strict views on privacy (especially for students) but it'll still give you an idea of what you're up against! Enjoy!


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Hey all! My name is Kendra B. and I'm happy to meet you! I'm a teacher with a need to continue learning and a heart torn between staying put and going out to experience the world. I'm about to leave for Peace Corps Zambia for the next 27 months and would love for you to join me on this new adventure!


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