January 31st, 2015
This year, Ehime AJET formed the Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee to create a scholarship for 200,000 yen to provide one high school student in the prefecture an opportunity to study abroad this summer. The committee will evaluate applications based on academic merit, interest in cross-cultural exchange, and financial need.
The application process has two components: a written application and an interview. The written application requires the applicant’s background information, preferred study abroad program, school activity involvement, and a letter of recommendation. The interview provides an opportunity for the applicant to demonstrate his or her English speaking ability, to express motivations for studying abroad, and to share his or her hopes for the future. Any high school student in Ehime is eligible to apply.
The submission deadline for the 2015 Ehime AJET Scholarship is Friday, February 20th. The recipient will be chosen by the Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee.
Being an assistant language teacher of English in Japan affords an opportunity to positively influence students’ academic experience, development, and achievement. The Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee encourages students to speak and learn English in a foreign country; to interact with students of different ethnicities, races, and cultures; and to understand the concept of being a global citizen.
If you have any questions about the scholarship, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee
January 27th, 2016
Re-sign or Resign: coming to terms with my recontracting decision
It would happen about five times a day. A niggling feeling at the back of my mind, reminding me that there’s something I needed to do, something I’d been putting off. I’d be working at my desk, my eyes would wander to that stack of papers, and I’d lose focus.
I’d been putting off signing my recontracting papers. I waited until the last possible moment to submit them.
“Wow, I can’t believe you waited so long to decide!” you might say, but that wasn’t the problem. I had decided a month prior that I wouldn’t be recontracting, that in August I’d be heading back to the motherland (Canada) to reunite with the love of my life (Twix bars). But as long as I put off physically signing the papers, I could entertain the idea of staying.
As much as I relished the thought of moving on to the next chapter in my life, of starting an exciting new career path, of digging my fork into a hot plate of poutine again, the thought of leaving was always accompanied by a feeling of melancholy.
It was even more unsettling to me than the decision to come here in the first place. I always knew the JET program would be temporary, that I would be returning eventually, and that things at home would remain more or less unchanged — life moves slowly when everything is frozen for half the year.
What worries me about leaving Japan is that I’ve made a home here, and I may never come back to it. And when I do come back, it won’t be the same. By the time I return, the majority of my friends (mostly JETS) will have moved on to new points in their lives: new countries, new jobs, new adventures. This place will never be the way it is right now, and I will likely never see these friends I’ve made all together again. It’s only been six months, and I’m already so attached to the town, the landscape, and the people here that I know leaving will be painful.
Suffice it to say that the decision was not easy. I have my reasons for going back, but sometimes I worry that they’re superficial, or that I’ll regret my choice when I’m gone, and it’s that worry that fueled my procrastination for so long.
I could complain that the papers come too soon, or that the contract is too much of a commitment, but I think that in the end, I would never be completely sure either way. If I had decided to stay, I’m sure I would be filled with just as much doubt and insecurity. I’d be missing just as many milestones back home ー so many weddings, so many family gatherings, so many caesars(!).
As much as I’ve struggled with this over the last month, I do believe that there is no right or wrong decision in this case, only two directions that will make the next year of my life very different. I have no way of knowing which would be “better,” only that for the last couple months, I’ve felt a pull towards home. I can’t know how the next chapter of my life will turn out, but my gut is telling me that it should begin in Canada. I know that things will work out for me either way, and I’m out of time for second-guessing.
And so, at the last possible moment, I signed and sent off the documents. Despite my hesitation, they still said that I do not wish to accept reappointment, leaving me to make the most of my remaining six months here and to prepare for the giant question mark that is my life after JET. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in: The Mikan
December 21st, 2015
Teaching as an ALT
This post is for any ALT who has teaching in their sights as a career path. Maybe your goal is to become a better teacher, maybe it’s to gain teaching experience for something post-JET, or maybe it’s just to find out if you like teaching. I try my best to revise and reevaluate the goals I have for teaching each day. I ask myself, “What do I want my students to gain from this?” and question if my actions are aligned with my objective. Often times my judgement wanes, and mistake after mistake has me reflecting on how I can do things better. Every now and then there are moments of teaching frustration, but there always seems to be small things that keep me motivated as a teacher. Here are my thoughts and observations, highs and lows of being an ALT to junior high school students.
Attempting to spark a student’s interest in English isn’t always easy. Especially when the students are catching up on sleep during class—and I don’t blame them. One student recently told me his schedule on an average day: wake up at 6 a.m., run around the track at 7 a.m. (if he has club activities), change clothes, read for 20 minutes, go to class from 8:40 a.m. – 3:20 p.m., go to club activities from 4-6 p.m., eat dinner, take a shower, start homework by 9 or 10p.m., and go to bed between 11 p.m. and midnight.
It used to irritate me when students slept during presentations I was giving, but now I’m a bit more understanding. Most students have a busier schedule than I do. I believe some students are really fighting to stay awake in class and want to be there. I see those students usually taking 5-10 minute naps, then resuming their attention on the lesson. Some students stay awake but look like they are being hypnotized by an invisible ghost in front of them. Damn those ghosts! This is one of my challenges: making sure I’m maintaining the attention of my students.
Although, one mistake I’ve made is overexerting myself trying to maintain everyone’s attention. For example, while I’m giving a presentation, there are always a few students doing homework for another class, sleeping, or staring into space. After seeing this, I would actively re-channel all their focus back to the class. This would take time, energy, and limit the opportunity more serious students have to learn. In other classes around the school like, science, math, and Japanese, I see teachers commanding the full attention of the class: side conversations, group conversations, and students doing homework for other classes all seem relatively nonexistent. It’s awe-inspiring.
Additionally, a number of students are difficult to motivate because of reasons outside of the classroom. Many of those reasons my JTEs are already aware of and probably discuss with the students’ parents. After missing the last bus home from school one day my JTE offered me a ride. Before she took me home, I accompanied her as we did 家庭訪問 (かていほうもん), or visits to students’ homes.
We knocked on six doors, talked to six parents, and I listened as she discussed matters regarding those students. The issues were related to grades, the students’ behavior, and their motivation in the classroom. I don’t know if this is common for all JTEs around Japan, but most of my JTEs keep communication between teacher, student, and parent very active. This year, out of my six schools in total I visit one per month. It seems that if I ever wanted JTE-like cooperation from my students, I would need to spend more than just once a month with them.
I find motivation in knowing that I could potentially inspire students to improve their lives. There’s a chance for all of us ALTs to do so. And the child we motivate or inspire could be someone we don’t expect to have an impact on. On my search of ways to deal with classroom troublemakers I asked a “unicorn” — a fifth year ALT — for some advice. My fifth year friend Mr. 0 shared a story about one student who really had an effect on him. This was a “bad kid,” who received awful grades, stole, got in fights with teachers and the whole lot. But Mr. 0 took a more patient approach with this student, trading jokes with him and giving him someone to talk to. He treated him like somebody with value, treated the student like a “human being” (as Mr. 0 puts it), when everyone else just yelled at him.
After a few years, the same student came back to the school and asked for Mr. 0 who was coaching speeches at the time. The two got to talking, and Mr. 0 learned that the boy had been working a part-time job while going to school. You never know who you might have an impact on — no matter your role.
Mr. 0 finally said of the students, “Treat them like humans and they might act like ones instead of monsters.” It is easy to see “unruly students” as those who only cause trouble, sleep in class, and fool around. It is also easy to see them as unchangeable in their negative habits.
However, 12–15 year-olds will always struggle with self-acceptance and creating a positive self-identity. Our students might act like the monsters we sometimes see on the surface, but if we can relate to a small portion of that student’s life, just like in Mr. 0’s story, I’m sure they will deeply appreciate it. From the testimonials I’ve gathered from long-term teachers, it’s always the students who come back after a few years — and give their deep appreciation for your teaching — who make your efforts as a teacher worth it. Moving forward, I hope we, as first year JETs, will have a select group of students who will eventually show us why what we do as ALTs will be important.
Posted in: The Mikan
November 16th, 2015
By Hogan Gill
Kia Ora my fellow Mikans,
I recently worked myself out of a pickle and thought it worth sharing on the chance anyone else out there was suffering similar sorrows. When I arrived, I was told that along with a Junior High School and three Elementary Schools, every second Wednesday I had two 90-minute Eikaiwa classes at the local community center. The classes were mostly made up of retired folk and housewives who were interested in improving their English ability. But with absolutely zero teaching background, I had no idea how to run these classes.
My first class was easy enough. I brought in a self-introduction powerpoint that I’d designed for JHS. It had oodles of photos of me growing up, my family and of life in New Zealand. Everyone enjoyed seeing the photos and they all had questions, which managed to take up a decent chunk of the 90 minutes. After this I asked everyone to give me a quick self-introduction, this was when I became aware of the variation in English levels. We ranged from the almost fluency of a student who’d lived in the USA for five years, to ones who were struggling with “My name is…”
Come the second class, I was pretty lost as to what to do. I asked them how they would like the classes to run and was met with a wall of silence. Eventually one student made mention of how the classes used to go. Everyone would take a turn at making a short speech about what they had been up to, a news item they had read or a story from their past that they wanted to share. No one seemed opposed to continuing this style of class, so this was how it went for the following year. I would come in, have a 30-40 minute yarn about how life in Japan was for me and what activities I had partaken in, then we would run through each of the students giving short (or sometimes looooong) speeches. Topics included the quarrels with China over who owned the Senkaku Islands, the pretty little hand-woven baskets that someone bought at the local market, and even the training of a particular student’s mind-powers so that he could kill the annoying morning crows with a mere thought. After each speech everyone would clap, I’d try think up a few questions for the speaker, and then everyone would clap again.
These speeches were for the most part entertaining and lesson preparation was obviously minimal. I learned a lot about the class members and was able to sort a bunch of little dramas like where the best dentist was or the most cost efficient way to get to Osaka. There were, however, a few speakers whose presentations were not as interesting (for the other students at least). Some of the heavy political talks for example, had words and content far beyond the capabilities of the others. On occasion these were over 15 minutes long, and I was the only person in the room who could understand the speech.
One fateful day, instead of giving a speech, a student decided to share their views of the class and how it was run. They mentioned that sometimes the talks were “too long and boring” and that they’d like a mix up in the way things were going. I was a little taken back by their bluntness but I appreciated it immensely. I put it forward to the rest of the class to see if they all agreed. Again I was met with the silence wall, but this time I saw a cheeky nod or two.
So it was time to switch things up. However, I was completely lost as to how to teach English to a class of such varied abilities. I asked one of my wisest and most trusted friends, Mr. Google, for some advice and I came to learn that I was not alone in my struggles, and that others out there had been presented with similar issues and come out the other side with a class of satisfied Eikaiwa members.
I began making a word file with all the ideas/activities that I came across, activities where students of any English ability could participate and hopefully learn a thing or two.
Here are a couple of examples:
Print out pictures of people from various countries/ethnicities doing various activities. My pictures ranged from a guy in a suit using a flaming $100 bill to light his cigar to a tribal dude with more piercings in his face than there are words in this article. Number each picture. First, walk around and get each student to pick one picture at random. Then, ask them to write a small self-introduction from the point of view of the person in the picture. After this, collect all the pictures and spread them out, with a few extras thrown in (about 40 pics in total worked well), over a table. Get the students to stand around the table and take turns at reading out their self-intro. The other students must look amongst the pictures on the table and decide which number picture the self-intro was written for. A lot of fun and an interesting insight in to their views of people around the world.
Make a stack of various English words: a mix of nouns, verbs and adjectives works well. Split the students into a few groups and have one student from the first group come to the front of the class. They pick up a word from the pile and try to explain/gesture that word to their group without saying the actually word. For example, I pick out ‘mountain’ and say “It’s very tall, and I can climb it, there is a famous one called Fuji, etc. etc.” If the group guesses the word correctly, the student picks up the next word and tries to explain/gesture it out. Students have one minute to get out as many words as they can, and one point is given for each correctly guessed word. This was always a lot of fun and easy to adapt to a class of varied English abilities. I allowed the lower level students to skip if they didn’t know the word.
-The deck of conversation (You’ll easily find the rules for this one if you give it a Google. Highly recommended.)
-Aesop’s Fables (I changed the stories to easy English in a bunch of fables, we read the stories and discussed the morals)
- Mad Libs
-Yes/No are Forbidden (Everyone has three scraps of paper. They walk around and make conversations with other students, if someone says the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they must hand over a scrap of paper to whomever made them answer yes/no.)
A few months down the road, at the end of a class one student asked if they could say something. They stood up and bravely declared that while the latest range of activities had been entertaining and helpful they would like to be able to have a class of speeches every now and then. Again I put it to the rest of the class, expecting another null response, but this time I got input from several people. They agreed with the other student and suggested that we do an on/off rotation: one week being individual speeches, the next being an activity that I prepare. Along with this there were suggestions of a set of rules to be placed around the speeches. We discussed these for a bit and came to the following list of laws:
1. Speeches must not go longer than 5 minutes.
2. Students are free to ‘pass’ on their turn, should they have nothing to talk about.
3. After each talk, students must form a few questions for the speaker so that it has more of a conversational feel to it.
Now I finally felt that I was doing as decent a job as I could with the students I had. I would come in and have the same 30-40 minute chinwag about my latest adventure(s), then we would move into either the individual talks or the English activity I’d prepared earlier. The students seemed at their happiest with this set up, and it was a fun challenge for me to create exercises that could be done by the varying levels of English. If you’re after the assemblage of activities I collected, just flick me an email at email@example.com, and I’ll forward them on.
And that’s all I have to say about that,
Posted in: The Mikan
October 13th, 2015
By Rowan Carmichael
Want to level up your Japanese? Everyone has their own method, but there’s nothing like making your hobby a +1 bonus to language learning. Some JETs come to Japan, or even start learning the language, because they love games, so time to level up the gamer way.
Know what you want from any given game you play.
This is easily the most important advice you will ever hear for gaming in a foreign language. Different games you play for different purposes, so what you do and don’t need to learn in order to play changes greatly depending on the genre and what you want to get out of it. If you are playing an Adventure game but skipping through all the text you don’t understand, you probably aren’t getting what you want out of it.
Here are some examples of goals for a few different games:
a) I want to enjoy the combat in Jump Ultimate Stars. I don’t care about the text, I just want to progress. (Strategy: Use a walkthrough to solve progression problems. It’s not a game suitable for studying Japanese, although you’ll probably notice patterns in the UI.)
b) I want to enjoy the gameplay in Sengoku Basara 3. (Strategy: Look up words for menus and maybe some in-game alerts, but for story you’ll play it by ear and read what you can without doing much homework.)
c) I want to enjoy the voice performances in Umineko. (Strategy: Since the main part of your enjoyment is the vocal performances, you should be looking up some words to confirm understanding, but not necessarily every word or grammar point. The core study goal here is listening.)
d) I want to understand the story of Corpse Party in Japanese. (Strategy: look up words and grammar until you have a good idea of most text boxes, but not necessarily every word or grammar point.) With concrete goals, you can prevent yourself from getting side-tracked or stuck on things that aren’t helping those goals.
Know your level!
Now you have a goal, it is important to see if that goal is viable. If you can’t read the following sentence 私はポケモンが大好きです, then maybe you should not be trying to play Steins;Gate in Japanese. Just be reasonable, know where you struggle and be prepared to struggle. Do keep in mind though that with patience and a good dictionary on hand to help you, you should be able to solve most vocabulary problems eventually. Even if your level is low, you can struggle through some difficult visual novels with enough dedication. People beat Final Fantasy IX at level one, after all.
Have a smartphone dictionary on hand and know how to use it.
For mobile dictionaries, I recommend JED, a fairly basic but never-fail free dictionary. If you are doing any kind of looking up in your games, you should make a list to review with later. With JED you can attach tags to words, which you can then add to a program like Anki for review, or bring up the tag list as a quick reference while playing.
Another app you might find useful is the Google Translate app. While its translations are less than ideal, that is not its strength for gaming. You can have it scan photos taken with your smartphone for text. Use it to scan photos of your game screen to help you get a few kanji readings quickly. Used in tandem with a dictionary this can be a powerful time-saver.
But remember your goals. If you just want general understanding, not every unknown word needs to be dealt with immediately while playing. Think about your level and where you want to be. If you want to progress more quickly, use intuition, voice acting, and context-based assumption if you feel you have a good idea and have already just looked up four words.
Use game features to your learning advantage!
Does your game have a lot of voice acting? Backlog with the option to replay voices like Persona 4 Golden? Maybe a cutscene replay option like Bravely Default? Excellent, you are set for a good learning experience. You can use the voices to follow along with the Japanese text to help you get a feel for it, then can go back and read through to check meaning. With higher resolutions on handhelds and Nintendo making an effort, furigana has never been in more games than this generation. While constantly looking up kanji is a pain, having furigana to guide you without the time pressure of voice acting can be a relief. Many games still don’t have this feature, though, so don’t assume it’s there.
Use genre conventions to make the experience easier.
Look at this screenshot. If you are familiar with games, you have probably already worked out it is an RPG of some kind, even if you don’t recognize Final Fantasy VII. Being a JRPG, there are certain things we can assume about the menu. Somewhere there are probably Magic/Skills, status, equip and item options. Maybe even a config and save option too. In a few minutes you can skim through all those menus, check what they are, and associate meaning with the words up there. You might have learned まほう (magic) and そうび (equip) without even needing the dictionary.
Learning words in context is incredibly powerful, and games can let you use knowledge you might have already established to help you learn more. Since genre is particularly codified for games it is a powerful piece of context that helps you pre-emptively guess at what you are looking at. This combined with a testable environment means you have a lot of tools to learn language in a more natural way. Every time you enter that menu, you will see all that text, helping reinforce it constantly. No RPG player ever forgets まほう. Keep in mind those goals though. If you are playing to learn, don’t get lazy and use genre as an excuse to not look up things you really should.
Most games can be pretty demanding in new vocabulary. For English-language games, you might plan your playtime around actual time, but for language learning you should consider planning it around new vocab. 20-30 new words per session is quite a lot, but you can reach that amount very quickly. I ran into maybe 20 new words I had to check in less than an hour playing The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Too much longer than this can be frustrating, exhausting, and ultimately inhibit learning. Hit your predetermined cap, take a break, review, and then come back another day.
As you progress you’ll find your sessions will get longer naturally. This ties in with your goals. If you don’t care about the story, then once you’ve learned menus, there will be little vocab to actually learn. It’s important to not overplay as you want this to remain a fun experience. Remember: it is your hobby! Hopefully now you’ve leveled up a little and can assign some skill points to Japanese!
Limit Break! Recommended Titles:
Animal Crossing New Leaf (『とびだせ どうぶつの森』3DS) Relaxing, low commitment, furigana and hundreds of common items with context make this excellent for learning basic Japanese. Aimed at young children, this is a great game for Japanese-language beginners, and most of the words you’ll learn will be useful in everyday life (unlike most of the other games).
Pokemon series (『ポケモン』various platforms) You know Pokemon already if you got this far. Aimed for younger audiences, this series uses much more kana, which can sometimes prove to its detriment for reading. But since many people already know what they are getting into, Pokemon will really let you focus on the important things, like knowing exactly how that pun came to be. If you want to keep it simple but a little more advanced, Dragon Quest is another unchanging constant in Japanese games.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (『ゼルダの伝説 夢幻の砂時計』DS) Cheap, region free, and featuring the ability to touch kanji to display furigana make this Zelda a great one for learning kanji, offering hints only when you need them. Being for younger audiences as well means the game might be a little complex with its language, but should be manageable.
Tales series (『テイルズオブ』シリーズ, various platforms) If it’s a platform since the PS1, it has a Tales game on it. The series is a lot of fun, although clichéd both structurally and story-wise. However, a focus on voiced short character skits often involving fairly conversational (anime) Japanese, and the series habit of highlighting important points in a different colour helps you notice what is really important.
Atelier Totori (『トトリのアトリエ』PlayStation Vita) Atelier Totori is a low stress RPG about a girl who makes things. Lots of voice acting, combined with the clueless main character’s habit of repeating dialog in an often simpler manner helps. The series focuses on small skits rather than a grand complex story, keeping vocab from getting too obscure (although the crafting system does get difficult).
Visual Novels (genre) Most versions of Visual Novels, Japanese Adventure games, for PS3, PSP and PS Vita feature extensive voice acting for characters other than the player, usually with a backlog feature to go back and replay voice clips and check past conversations. This is recommended more for higher skill levels in Japanese, but games like Bakudan Handan, Clannad and Umineko can serve a great place as learning materials.
Posted in: The Mikan