You Speaking To Me?
Once a year schools in Japan send two or three students to compete in a local, prefectural or national English Speech Contest. Usually the winners of the local contests go on to the prefectural ones and the winners there go on to the nationals. Students either volunteer or get pressured into it by a teacher.
There are two sections in the contests; Recitation and Speech. In the Recitation section competitors choose from a selection of predetermined passages. In the Speech section students compose an original piece of their own. The Recitation section focuses more on English ability and memorization whereas in the Speech section content is very important too.
English Speech Contest Practice
The EFL teacher is usually called upon to drill and prepare students for the English Speech Contest. How to conduct these practice sessions is really down to the teacher’s style as well as the students’ personality and ability. Here are a couple of approaches I take which will hopefully help and inspire other Speech Trainers.
- Voice Recording – An EFL teacher can record themselves doing a model reading of the text. This gives the student a practice aid they can use when the teacher isn’t around.
- Tongue Twisters – Using a selection of simple tongue twisters at the beginning of practice time is a fun way to get warmed up while drilling tricky pronunciations.
- Repetition – I divide a student’s text up into chunks. I then ask them to read one chunk, I point out areas for improvement then ask them to read it again. Also, when practising individual words or phrases I make sure the contestant repeats the word numerous times.
- Pronunciation Practice – There are a number of sounds in the English language that learners regularly struggle with, such as “v”, “th” and “l”. It’s helpful to identify which sounds in particular the student has trouble with. I would ask the student to come up with a list of words containing those sounds and we would go through that list at the beginning of each practice session.
- Mouth Diagrams – To help with phonics, I tend to draw a profile cross-section of a mouth to indicate roughly how the tongue moves or where the teeth and lips should be.
- Word By Word – When practising a tricky word or phrase I try to break it down. Through repetition we try to nail the most difficult word (or sound), then we say it with the preceding word in the sentence. Next we say it with the following word. Then we try it with all three. Then we include another word, and a few more, each time repeating and repeating.
- ABC Audience – I consider eye-contact an important part of delivering a speech effectively. To practice this I show the contestant a top-down diagram of an auditorium, divided into 3 segments: A, B and C. I then tell the speaker to turn their head to face each segment in turn as they deliver their speech. This practices the motions of talking to large group.
- Positive Reinforcement – “Good.” “Great.” “Fantastic.” During practice I’m like a machine gun of positivity. I want the student to keep trying and keep pushing through the repetitive nature of speech training.
- Gestures – Gestures are particularly valuable to Recitation participants who choose some form of story or narrative. As well as making their presentation more memorable and arresting, gestures can act as a kind of memory prompt to the speaker. Going through motions reinforces the order and flow of the story in the speaker’s mind.
PRO TIP: Don’t rely on or over-use gestures! Gestures are always the last thing I work on with students because I’ve seen far too many speakers who stuff so many gestures into their performance that it’s like a twisted ballet danced by an incomplete robot. Also, unnatural or awkward gestures can totally ruin a decent speech.
Not Just A Competition
I’ve always had a hard time remembering names, especially when I see more than two hundred different faces per week. The names I always pick up are those of my English Speech Contest students. Practice usually takes place one-to-one so it’s a good opportunity to get to know each other.
My proudest memory of Speech Contest practice was a few years ago in a Junior High School. A second grade student wanted to participate in the Speech section of the contest. Speeches are written by students under advisement from their JTE with a final proof read by the EFL teacher. The Speech section for Junior High School is usually comprised of third grade students who have a wider knowledge of the language. Not only was my student going up against older, more advanced students but her JTE was too overloaded with work to be of much help. In fact it was up to me and her to translate her Japanese manuscript.
I had only been in Japan a few months so my Japanese was at the low end of the scale of sucky. Me and this girl stayed after school multiple days of the week, for a solid hour each time, working through her script. We struggled to communicate with each other through crazy pictures and wild gestures. Eventually we did it and she performed fantastically.
A few weeks later she came to me with a brand new English dictionary. She thanked me and told me how she wanted to continue to do her best at English. She asked me to write her name on the dictionary in big letters. I could barely hold back the tears. I wrote her name and handed it back with a joyous grin on my face. She pointed out the spelling mistake. The big. Black. Permanent marker. Spelling mistake. On her new book …
So, as well as being a competition, the English Speech Contest can also be a deep, meaningful experience for a teacher and their student. The effects of which can often be felt in subsequent lessons and even years later.
Have you ever been involved with a speech contest? What techniques do you use when training students?
For a full class of students a teacher’s going to need different kinds of activities, maybe like these.