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 5-minute speech. This year 78 students participated, split into 2 groups.
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.
While the speech competition isn’t as popular as the Interactive Forum (it’s seen as easier because instead of holding a conversation, the students just have to memorize the words–and to be honest it is) for the one student participating a lot of work goes into those 5-minutes in the spotlight.
This year our practice started with the 2nd term, so 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, here 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 and when I got it I made a few corrections to make it sound more natural.
- Be a part of the translation process. Last year I took notes while the JTE read the main points out to me and translated it myself which worked much better. You’re the native speaker. You’re the one who can make it sound as good in English as it is in Japanese! Then my student went through it and told me things I’d missed or something that wasn’t quite right. The key in these competitions are sounding as fluent as possible, including popular colloquialisms and slang.
Pronunciation- Read the speech aloud for the student in good speech-style. 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 accents 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.
Memorization- I assigned chunks of the speech each day for my student to memorize and practice the next session. When she had it down well, I’d assign another chunk. She had her 5-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 here. 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 my student! Seeing your example as well as a few speeches off the internet helps them 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 would give a more natural look to the speech. Have the student practice their speech at home in front of a mirror when they’re coming up with natural -looking 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 10 out of almost 80 kids will be chosen for the second round in the afternoon and only 3 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!)