A voiceless class

As a teacher (or instructor or whatever you like to call a profession who talks in front of a group of learners), my voice is very important. I know it is, but not until it is gone… and it IS gone now.

I realized that it was fading in the reading class yesterday. If my voice had completely gone in the reading class, I would have gone through another tough time. The reading class requires the teacher to take initiative and conduct class by doing most of the talking. For the last five minutes I found it hard to speak, no matter how much I coughed, feeling as if something was stuck somewhere in the throat.

I had a cold.

Today I’m teaching a TOEFL Speaking class, which is much more benign to my throat than the reading class. I have already made a lot of material to be used when students practice in pair. While they work on the material, my throat will take a rest. Anyway, I will ask them to gather closer to me today so that I can even whisper to make myself heard. My voice may be gone, but that can be taken advantage of when it comes to teaching.


The 7-5-3 ceremony

Shichi-Go-San (753) is a Shinto event just after the year’s harvest. They thank Shinto deities for the year’s yields and for the sound growth of children. It dates back 400 years ago to the Edo era. To pray for the children to grow and live long, Chitose-ame candy (pic) is given. Its length represents longevity. Girls who are 7 years old and 3 years old, and boys 5 years old join this celebration, hence 7-5-3, the name of the event.

This is my definition of the event, anyway. Since my son is 5, my daughter 3, both of them joined this celebration this year, I mean, yesterday. We went to the nearby shrine, where lots of families gathered for the same purpose. It was a group prayer where the chief priest read each name of the kids who were present there and said his prayers. (I have to admit that I had no idea what he was saying except my children’s names.) All children must have had a tough time, just sitting on their heels, kneeling on the tatami mat, listening to what they didn’t understand. Was it all for the candy they would get after the ceremony? Well, at least for my daughter, it was.

Fairy tales

Both my son and my daughter like hearing stories. They would enjoy reading all those stories if only they could read, but not yet. So with the same desire to read by themselves if they could read, they ask me to read to them.  Those fairy tales and folktales are virtually the same in their structure. That will give readers a sense of inner security, hence comfort. They love stories.

Unlike the comfort in which children listen to the stories, a wolf is always deemed to fall victim.

Most of the time, it just swallows a couple of people or little feeble animals. But in the end, while asleep its tummy will be cut wide open and the people are rescued; instead the tummy will be stuffed with stone of an equivalent weight. When it gets up and feels thirsty, it walks toward the nearby river and tries to sip water. Then it tumbles into the river and drowns.

The moral of the story: Chew well and consume well 😉

An Early Bird

I left home around 9:00 a.m. to drive my son to kindergarten this morning. I usually do this but especially this week, since this entire week is off (although I’ve got a lot to do from home, just as you know if you are your own boss. It’s just that the school I teach part time has no class this week.)

On arriving home, my three-year-old daughter was too excited to sit still. She was (after being encouraged by her mother) ready to leave for the nearby library. I was the designated chaperon. We enjoyed reading picture books for kids. When she became satisfied and couldn’t consume any more, she agreed to get back.

Now, I’m about to have lunch at home, but really quick, because I am going to pick up my son. He must be planning how to play with me when he is back.

After that, I either go to work at a prep school and teach one or two classes or stay home to take care of my two kids until they go to bed (with me). For this week, the latter is the only choice I have.

Now, the question is when I work? I need to work to make a living, but considering this crazy-busy schedule, when? The answer lies in your dream. When you were still dreaming around 3:00 this morning, I was already awake and working on the current project. I also studied what I had to myself in addition to having some pleasure of reading. Only 5 hours sounds like a short time, but if I do so early in the morning, I am twice as productive as I would if I did it while taking care of my children. That means my 5 hours is worth 10 hours.

I cherish this morning activities.


I know there are two main types of motivation: instrumental motivation and integrative motivation. If you have set a certain score of an English proficiency test as a future goal and work on it, you have instrumental motivation. This is probably because you know that your test score will affect your future career path. Some Japanese companies require the candidates for managerial positions to have a certain test score of an English proficiency test. The higher position means the higher salary, and the higher social status means the more personal satisfaction. There is no doubt that quite a few people are involved in this test (in most cases, the test is TOEIC). If you keep studying English for this purpose with instrumental motivation, however, the English uttered by you may turn out a bit weird from the viewpoint of those who study the same language with integrative motivation.  Some people like me want to join the circle of native English-speaking people at the beginning of their pursuit of the language. If so, they are more likely to choose a book with lots of sentences actually uttered by native English speakers. The content, as well as its conversation structure is different from that of test preparation books. Test prep references, on the other hand, cater to test-takers whose primary purpose of learning English is to get a good score on the test. Accordingly, those books offer what seems too logical, and they have limited numbers of topics in them. This affects learners’ perception of what English conversations should look like. Many learners with instrumental motivation find it hard to keep the conversation going, because that not what the proficiency test asks them to; on the other hand, many learners with integrative motivation find it hard to make a grammatically correct sentence or stop excessive use of slang and colloquial expressions. Overwhelmingly difficult as it seems, an ideal learner must take an integrated approach to mastery of the target language.


The December TOEFL workshop will be offered on 12/6. More info at http://www.shikenyajuku.com/


In 10 years…will it happen?

Five English teachers observed my TOEFL Speaking class on Thursday. I don’t know in detail (cuz I teach part time there and steer clear of the management.) , but basicaly, just observing whatever class you choose out of curiosity does not necessarily mean you can learn from the class. 

My class is situated on the other side of the  spectrum of Japanese English classes. This is so true when it comes to the Speaking class. Here I take a laissez-faire attitude and let my students try to maximize their ability to speak. This is only possible, however, when students already know how to start a response, when to use a new phrase, or how to change their idea when it is hard to put it in English. 

At school, those basic skills or even basic knowledge with which to build basic skills are to be taught. TOEFL classes may not offer ideas that apply to Japanese school English classes. 

So I thought on Thursday. 

Now, however, I do hope that English education in Japanese secondary school will one day catch up with the TOEFL course standards. TOEFL 80 is now regarded as too high a score for an average student to achieve. I would like to see it changed in ten years’ time. 


One of the questions that we will be dealing for today’s TOEFL Speaking class is on obesity. It is a frequently asked topic, so I think it will be to the students’ advantage if we discuss it in detail.

According to the prompt, obesity is becoming an epidemic, and therefore its prevention, as well as treatment, should be taken seriously. At the same time, citizens can make use of common sense to prevent the problem. They should eat more veggies, fruits. More milk, instead of carbonated soft drinks or juice. TV ads on fast food also negatively (and maybe effectively) affect younger viewers. Etc, etc…

I will also introduce one famous lawsuit on obesity: that is Pelman vs McDonald’s Corp (2003).  In a nutshell (as I remember correctly) Pelman frequently used McDonald’s. This led him to become obese, increasing the level of bad cholesterol, causing a range of diseases. Pelman decided to file a class action lawsuit.

It can give my students a good opportunity to think about their lifestyles. After all, many of them will follow such a lifestyle very soon.