Every year high school and junior high school students all around the country take part in English recitation and original speech contests. There are different levels of competitions, so technical high school students aren’t competing against academic high school students, but all the competitions follow a similar format.
In Miyazaki, at least, each school can only enter three students in each section of the contest (recitation and original speech), for a total of six students. My first year we only had three students, last year we had the full six, and this year we started with five and were down to four by the competition.
The original speeches are written through a variety of methods. Typically, the student writes a speech first in Japanese, then the Japanese teacher of English translates it into “English”-ish, then the ALT makes it into actually passable English. Some JTEs skip the last step and the result is full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Typically the rule amongst ALTs is that we try to leave the speeches as close to what the student wrote as possible. Even though the vocabulary might need some upgrading, it’s better to stick to the student’s original voice.
Sometimes, you have a student who uses such advanced language in their Japanese speech, that even their English speech turns out amazing. Case in point:
104th out of 142. Can you guess what this ranking means? This is Japan’s rank in the 2014 “Global Gender Gap Report.” This ranking shows there are still many problems in how Japan practices gender equality. Today we often hear the term “maternity harassment.” This means if a woman becomes pregnant, she may be pressured to leave the workforce. When I first heard the term I felt uneasy. It made me wonder, will I be harassed when I become pregnant as a working woman? Will I be able to come back to work after I give birth?
Today, many women in Japan want to contribute to the workforce. They want to have a family and also work. However, at the moment, national support is limited. Men tend to think that childcare leave is only for women. In fact, according to the Gender and Equality Bureau Cabinet office, only 2.6% of men in Japan took childcare leave in 2014. Some companies seem to view women as only temporary employees who will only work until they start to have children. As a result, women are forced to make a choice between having a family and a career. To make things better, men must share the responsibilities of both work and childcare.
Northern European countries typically earn a high rank in the “Global Gender Gap Report”. For example, Sweden clearly values women’s voices in all aspects of society. About half of ministers, Diet members, and city assembly members are women. To help promote gender equality, a couple is given a year of childcare leave and, of that, at least two months must be taken by the father. A woman cannot be fired for taking childcare leave and the law guarantees that she can go back to her job when her leave is finished. It may be beneficial to introduce a similar system in Japan. However, for that to happen, we must not only increase childcare options, but also change the very attitude we have towards gender equality and gender roles.
As a woman, I am proud I will get to experience things like pregnancy and childbirth. Two years ago, I was present when my aunt gave birth. I held her hand as she endured the painful contractions. I wanted to lend her my strength. When the baby’s first cry filled the room, I was filled with emotion and moved by the wonder of pregnancy. In the future, I will work in an office and also get to experience major life events like marriage and childbirth. I want to be able to give my child the kind of love that my mother and father were able to give me. I want to pursue a career in English while also raising a family of my own. When I enter the workforce, I hope men and women can enjoy both work and domestic life equally. We cannot stay 104th. We can change this number together.
I worked with the student and two JTEs for almost 4 hours straight to make this speech work. Even then we still had a few more revisions because one of the JTEs thought that the original language was too strong and needed to be softened a bit.
In the end, only one of my students placed: Ka-chan. You might remember that she won the recitation contest last year. Well, this year, she won the original speech section!
Sadly, the rest of the students did not place, but I am still really proud of them. I think they all did a great job.