Judging the Speech Contest, Again

On the Friday after Silver Week I judged my final Junior High School English Speech Contest along with Lindsay, one of the first year JETs who arrived in August. Judging the speech contest is easily one of my favorite business trips throughout the year. I don’t have to spend money to get there (because it is held about 10 minutes from my apart), I get to work with Mr. Nagatomo who is one of the members of the Board of Education (BoE), and I get to see kids who are passionate enough about English to dedicate some of their free time to learning an English speech.

I will admit that in my head I sometimes pretend I can “draft” them to my high school. Like I’m in the NFL making my choices for my team. It is an amusing thought, but more than likely the ones I would really love to teach will end up at a more academic school than mine.

Since, according to my blog’s statistics, a lot of people of people seem to find by blog through the search term: “tips for speech contest,” I’ll give another batch of tips this year for ALTs attempting to coach students for the English speech contests. Remember, though, everyone has their own style of coaching that works best for them and their students. Remember that and try out different methods to see what gets the best results.

  1. Use diagrams to help students get the sounds right.

For my higher level students, I often draw diagrams of the mouth and tongue positions for particularly difficult sounds. Unfortunately, how my mouth makes certain sounds is not how textbooks teach the English teachers to make those sounds. (Something that one of my JTEs pointed out to me with no small amount of amusement. “Jodi…you shouldn’t be making those sounds with that mouth position. I actually don’t understand how that is working.”)

  1. MAKE CDs FOR THE STUDENTS.

I cannot stress this enough. Most of the students will practice their speech with those CDs. My first year I made a CD with three different speeds for each speech, but I have since gotten lazy. I tend to only make one recording for each original speech and two speeds for the recitation. This is because, typically, the original speeches have more difficult words and therefore have to be said a bit slower than the recitations.

  1. Gestures are frustrating for everyone involved.

The ALTs, the students, and for the judges. I may scream if I see one more student place a hand on their chest and just leave it there for the duration of the speech. One students actually pinched their own skin when they said the line, “Judged not for the color of their skin…” However, this seems to be a place where the Japanese judges and the foreign judges are probably going to disagree.

One of the students performed a pretty well known rakugo piece. (Rakugo is a traditional form of story telling in which the performer uses their folding fan and handkerchief as the only props when telling a story. They have to use gestures and different voices to make the story engaging. As she was doing a rakugo piece, Lindsay and I thought that her gestures were on point. Mr. Nagatomo, however, disagreed. He thought she was gesturing too much for a speech contest, which was a fair point. It was a speech competition, not a rakugo competition. But I think Lindsay and I were so tired of seeing robotic gestures that we were happy with anything that seemed smooth and well done. Which brings me to my next point:

  1. Know the judges.

If possible, this is really helpful for the reasons I mentioned above, but also because it may impact how well they can understand the accent you are teaching your student. For example, last year there was an Irish ALT. His student was doing a piece from Snow White, which should have been fairly easy. The problem was that I couldn’t understand it when this ALT said the word “mirror” normally. So hearing that pronunciation filtered through a junior high schooler’s Japanese accent made it absolutely unintelligible for me.

  1. Listen to your student without reading along.

This is how I judge. I skim all of the pieces ahead of time so I have an idea of what each student is supposed to be saying, but I make a point not to read along with the speech. Besides the fact that I already have too many things I’m supposed to be checking to also be reading along, reading along can often make you understand more of what the student is saying than you would normally.

There you have it, advice from a third year who has blundered her way through judging and coaching speech contests. This advice might be awful and horribly wrong, but it has worked out fairly well for me so far. Like I mentioned, make sure to try out your own methods and see what works best for you.

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