English Speech Contest—Part I

Last Friday, September 28th, was the English Speech Contest. At last!

At some point last year, students auditioned/were chosen to recite something for the speech contest in English, and after I arrived in Japan, I began to help them practice. The students work really hard—it’s pretty amazing. Sometimes the students would come back the next day with their pronunciation of whatever word we were working on completely fixed. I could tell they were studying hard, even though they had sports festival stuff and a big test (it seemed like a standardized test).

There are two speech contests that we were preparing for—the Awa Speech Contest and the Uekusa Speech Contest. The one on Friday was the former, and the latter is on October 27th.

Here are the students that were participating on Friday:

  • Yusuke & Harukazu, 1st year Recitation (Tom & Jerry skit)
  • Minami, 2nd year Recitation (The Helpful Cat`s Reward) (I had to give it that title, because its original title was absolutely awful, like much of the script. And actually, I still think that title is lame.)
  • Mirano, 3rd year Recitation (The Princess and the Pea)
  • Mei, 3rd year Speech (A Strong Friendship with Wisconsin)

They all improved their English a lot. I was really proud of all of them. A lot of the other ALTs expressed worry—their kids weren’t ready, they weren’t going to win anything, etc. But I was totally confident. I thought, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna kick ass at this.”

Komatsu-sensei drove us in the school van to Tateyama and when we arrived, the students were probably very nervous, but they didn’t really act it. Except for Harukazu, but I think that kid is just high-strung. He’s also one of my favorite students. He’s so friendly, and he tries really hard to speak to me in English, which is nice.

All of the contestants were practicing their speeches on the stage—all of them. It was like the other kids didn’t exist, they were so focused. It was a little crazy. My students got up on stage, and Kamada-sensei asked me to listen to them to make sure they were speaking loud enough and that there wasn’t anything wrong with their pronunciation. Harukazu was very loud, and so was Mirano, but I couldn’t really hear the others over the din of speeches. I think it made sense that I could hear those two, though—Mirano wants to be an actress, and Harukazu has been working on his voice projection with Kawana-sensei. Apparently we use a lot of “abdominal breathing” in English, and Japanese doesn’t require that sort of breathing for speech. Like, English speakers speak from the diaphragm. So that was a problem that Yusuke and Harukazu had, until Kamada-sensei had them work with Kawana-sensei.

Anyway, I told the others to speak up, and I stepped back away from the stage one step at a time so they could see how loud they were being/how far their voices carried.

The opening ceremony was short, but it started a bit late. They introduced the judges, who were kind of interesting people. The judges are native English speakers, and sometimes ALTs judge speech contests—Sam, the Wada ALT, judged a high school English speech contest last year.

The male judge, Mr. Wright, said that he has been judging this contest, in Tateyama, for 13 years. He advised the students to relax and enjoy the day, but I wasn’t fooled—I was warned about this judge. He is picky, and he changes his mind almost every year for what he’s looking for. Two years ago, he hated gestures—all gestures—and last year, he loved them and said there weren’t enough and called the kids robots. So I wasn’t fooled by his Mr. Nice Guy act. Nice try, Wright.

The female judge was Ms. Reinbold, and she teaches at Tokyo University, I think. I think I heard that she’s technically a science teacher, while Mr. Wright is a Linguistics teacher (so of course he`s picky about language; probably a Henry Higgins type).

Courtesy of Hark! A Vagrant.

1st Year Recitation

The contest was separated into two sections—Tateyama and Awa. They would be judged separately, so my students were not competing with them. I’m not really sure what the difference is between the two separate school organizations, but whatever. There were 4 Tateyama speakers per category, while there were 11 Awa speakers per category.

The Tateyama speakers were up first, so while they recited their stories, I went outside to practice with my 1st years.

Kamada-sensei was hopeful for the 1st years, because during the last few practices after school, after they recited their skit, Kamada-sensei and I just looked at each other and said, “I can’t hear any mistakes.” Sure, their English wasn’t perfect, but it sounded pretty damn good. They worked really hard at everything, and we’d nailed down the gestures we wanted them to use.

While we were outside practicing, Harukazu`s dad appeared! Harukazu seemed elated to see him—he got all excited. We walked back the stairs together just in time for the Awa section to begin, and Harukazu’s dad told me he was an “oyabaka.” Haha!

“Oya” means “parent, and “baka” means “foolish.” An oyabaka is a parent who is overly proud of their children and always brags about them. In America, this would be like showing everyone pictures of your new baby when they really don’t care.

The other side of this is a “kobaka.” “Ko” means “child,” so this term just means a child that talks about their parents all the time.

Harukazu and Yusuke were fourth to speak, so they didn’t have to wait long until it was all over. I was pretty confident that they would win, especially after what all the other ALTs were saying.

And then the first speaker opened her big, stupid mouth.

I’m just kidding, she’s probably a sweetheart. She’s also a no-good, dirty-rotten cheater from a no-good dirty-rotten cheater school. :D

At lunch, Victor revealed that she went to an international school for a while, where they study in English. All of the other ALTs agreed that was cheating, and Victor just shrugged. So we were all mad at Shirahama. XD

Anyway, she was great—but still not perfect. My students still had a chance.

And then the second speakers opened their big stupid mouths.

I’m just kidding, the second speakers weren’t that great. :) I did like their skit though—it was the Shel Silverstein poem “Mirror Mirror.”

When it was finally Yusuke’s and Harukazu’s turn, they stepped onto the stage, and I could tell that they were nervous. But they recited their parts just the way we had practiced it—there were no mistakes! And their gestures were spot on and perfect—I think all the practice we did really paid off, even if sometimes it seemed pointless because they were as good as they were going to get. I’m glad we did practice every day, though; I think that definitely helped.

When they walked back to their seats at the end of the Awa presentations, I gave them both high-fives and told them that they nailed it. If that first speaker dies suddenly and mysteriously before lunch, my 1st years have this contest in the bag. Nah, I’m kidding, but I really think they could give her a run for her money. It was pretty close.

And after hearing the rest of the 1st years, I thought they were definitely going to win. They killed it, you guys! It was awesome. Kamada-sensei was totally pleased and she kept coming up to me all excited, like, “They were the best” and “Was their pronunciation okay?” It was so cute.

The other students were good, too, and some of the speeches were absolutely adorable. Two kids performed “Who`s on First”! That is such a classic skit, and I was laughing my ass off. The kids were great. But I was a little disappointed that no one else seemed to get it. I think that’s a pretty famous skit, isn’t it? Or am I the only one who knows about Abbott and Costello?

“Who’s on first?”
(courtesy of Google images)

2nd year Recitation

I’ll be honest—I wasn’t too hopeful about this one, because Minami didn’t practice as much as the others. She skipped out on lunch practice a lot, and she was running for student council, so she was kind of busy having a life. (Oh, zing! Just kidding, the other kids have lives too. Somehow. Japanese students are so busy!)

And I hated her speech. Apparently Kim wrote a lovely story for her to recite—and it is lovely, I read it on the ALT school computer account—but the teachers didn’t have Minami use that. The original title of Minami’s speech was “Mother of Cat,” a title which makes absolutely no sense for the content of the story. Komatsu-sensei asked me about the title, and I confessed that it was stupid. She told me the original Japanese title and its literal translation, so I just came up with “The Helpful Cat`s Reward” based on that. I wish I could have rewritten the whole story, but when it came down to it, we didn’t have enough time.

After hearing all of the 2nd year speeches though, I thought Minami might place—not first, because there were a few kids better than her, but at least third or fourth. She did pretty well, and her gestures and tone were great!


I’ll keep this short—lunch was gross. I ate with the other ALTs at this mom-n-pop place across the street, and it was totally disappointing. The company was great, but the food was awful. Note to self and future ALTs: Don’t eat there again.

I’ll use this section to talk about the breaks, too. There were a few breaks in between sections, and I used that time to try to talk to my students. I’m still a little intimidated by them—they are people after all, and people in general intimidate me. I doodled a little on the program, and Harukazu noticed.

Harukazu: “Who is that?”

Me: “His name is Howard.” :D

I also doodled some graphic-designy stuff and Mirano noticed that. She, Mei, and Minami began to draw on their programs too, copying a drawing of a girl from the front of a book. Mirano also drew some stuff from Fairy Tail, so I talked to her about a Fairy Tail a little. And then Harukazu drew Lupin III for me.

Lupin III is an anime character, and Harukazu is obsessed with him. Lupin III is a master thief or something. I really should watch the movie—it’s a Miyazaki film, one of the few I haven’t seen. And I think Harukazu would be really happy if I watched it.

The principal also came to watch the speech contest, but he only stayed for the first half, I think. I saw him sitting down, and I walked by him on my way to the restroom, so I stopped to say hello. He said, “Good job,” and pointed at the stage, so I’m not sure if he was telling me that the students were doing well or if I did well by the students. I assumed he meant the students, though, so I said, “Yes, they’re doing great!” All week, everyone kept thanking me for my hard work, but I really don’t think I’m doing any work here at all—the students are the ones working hard.

3rd year Recitation

This one was pretty exciting, because the third years are usually all very good, so it’s very competitive. Mirano had gotten very good at pronunciation, and she wasn’t perfect, but like Minami, I thought she might place. She practiced a lot with Komatsu-sensei beforehand, too, and I could tell that she studied a lot over the last two months.

3rd year Speech

This is the big one, at least for me, because I kindasorta wrote the speech, and all of the students’ presentations are judged pronunciation, rhythm, tone, how difficult the words are, and content—like, if the speech is well-written and meaningful and the vocabulary is an appropriate level (meaning, not too easy).

Mei did very well! I don’t think she tripped up over any words, and though her pronunciation wasn’t perfect (and it wasn’t when we were practicing either), I still thought she, too, might place. I thought she might place second. Yay!

To be continued…

I’m splitting this entry up, because it is so long! So you’ll have to wait for the results of the speech contest until next entry! (Which I will probably post tomorrow.)

Edit: Part II is here.

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One Response to English Speech Contest—Part I

  1. Pingback: English Speech Contest—Part II | The Grand Adventure of El

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