This past Saturday I volunteered to be a judge at a debate contest for senior high school students from all of Fukuoka Prefecture. The debate took place in English. It was this precise competition which my kids had decided they weren’t even gonna try participating in. The kids at the contest, even the ones who won, didn’t impress me as far as their level of English is concerned, but the amount of effort they put into it was obvious and commendable. In the end I can’t say I blame my kids. They simply would not have won.
I wonder if at the top schools, the schools that win these debate contests (…well, I should say “the school” since it’s apparently always the same one, and this year it ended up being two teams from the same school against each other in the final), if they teach the kids how to debate in Japanese first. Supposedly, debating is antithetical to Japanese culture. Indeed, one of the vice principals once said to me, “English is like a volleyball game.” I said, “Oh? Oh! Because everyone states their opinions?” I guess to him, that automatically means speaking in English is like a constant argument. I don’t see it that way, but…if I had said so, it would have proved his point! Perhaps it was easy to let it go since we were speaking in Japanese. I just said, “it’s interesting, isn’t it?”
But anyway, it was clear that even the kids who won the contest didn’t really know what they were saying. They had well-written constructive speeches, but in the cross-examination and rebuttal, it was obvious that all they’d done was prepared bits of information and grouped them by what type of argument they could be used to make. Granted, this is more than my kids would do, but I can’t help but wonder what those students think of their own English language ability.
I’ve noticed that among many of the students, and even some of the Japanese Teachers of English, there seems to be this idea that one’s mastery over the English language is best demonstrated by how quickly one can speak it. This often results in sentences getting rammed together in less than natural ways, akin to reading aloud while ignoring punctuation. Alas, I had a hard enough time getting American students to read with rhythm, so I don’t know what I could say to get Japanese students to understand you shouldn’t strive to sound like a speeding run-on sentence.
In more positive news, as that Saturday myself and the JET showing me the way were running a bit late, we decided to actually run. (Don’t worry, Ma.) I hadn’t really ran since my accident, so my lungs were not prepared for the exertion. I was out of breath after a shamefully short distance. But, I was happy that I ran without limping. And in heels at that! My ankle made his displeasure known the next day, but it wasn’t too bad. (I could say that “ankle” is masculine in Spanish and that’s why I refered to it as “he,” but…I wasn’t really thinking all that. Well, maybe subconciously I was. ^o^)
For our time, all volunteer judges got 5000 yen (56 USD as of this typing). I treated myself to the December issue of Out of Musiq as it featured GACKT (the cover, 25 pages, and a poster, lol). Not that that magazine cost 5000 yen, I just hardly ever buy magazines.