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Today was the big day: the debate contest between 1st and 2nd year English course.  The kids had been preparing for this since early January.  No, it would be more accurate to say that this has been on their plate since early January, as many didn’t actually do any work since back then, and indeed, many continued on barely lifting a finger to this day.  That sort of thing happens easily when you’ve got students who either have no pride, have no shame, don’t care about anything, and/or, worst of all, are in a group and figure others will do the work.

The second years performed well, as expected, since they used their class time wisely and came to the teachers’ room to ask questions and practice during lunch and after school.  The first years, on the other hand…I feel bad for the diligent kids in that class who aren’t strong enough to resist the pull of their classmates’ laziness. Sure, this match was a bit unfair given that the second years have more experience.  But part of the lack of experience on the first years’ part was their own fault.  For one, they chose not to go to the prefectural debate contest which the English course has always gone to since they’ve had debate at this school.  Secondly, they chose to use their class time to screw around.

I’m disappointed in the first years.  I’m a bit attached to the first year English course because I see them four times as often as the other first years and twice as often as the second year English course.  Also, it’s their first year here, and it’s my first year as well.  So I wanted them to do well in the debate.  Countless times, I told them, “if you have questions, please ask.”  “Come to the teachers’ room to practice after school or during lunch.” “If you don’t know how to pronounce something, please ask me any time!” But did they ask? Only 3 out of 40 did. In comparison, most second years spent time outside of class on this, and one girl was even so worried and stressed out about it that she was asking questions through tears! It’s no wonder every single first year team lost to the second years.

My co-ALT tells me that every year, the teachers consider dropping debate, but that they never do because what would they replace it with? I suggested that it would be better if the kids debated in Japanese first, so that they could learn the point and structure of debate, then debated in English.  The teacher I was speaking with basically turned that suggestion down, saying that it was hard to state one’s own opinion in Japanese since Japanese culture is all about preserving harmony, and that even she felt she couldn’t state her own opinions when speaking Japanese but could do it easily in English.  I admit, what I heard when she said this was “excuses, excuses.” Yes, so it’s not polite to always go around stating your opinion freely, but it’s not like the language itself lacks the words for doing so, and it is not the case that Japanese never express their opinions. They may do it in ways that would be considered weak when compared to English (i.e. instead of saying “I think that ~,” saying something that equates to “I think, isn’t it the case that ~?”), but they are doing it nonetheless.

At today’s match, one of the JTEs who isn’t involved with debate asked me, “do they learn how to debate in Japanese first?” I assume she asked this thinking that if they learned in Japanese first, there’s no excuse for their not understanding the basics of debate, such as what the point of the cross-examination is.  But I suppose it’s possible she was thinking ‘if they did it in Japanese first it’s interfering with their ability to do it in English.’  I didn’t get that impression, but it’s a possibility.

What gets me the most is the simple fact that the students write out all their speeches in Japanese first anyway! None of them are good enough at English to write a composition in even broken English without first writing it in Japanese.  In fact, I usually ask the students to tell me in Japanese what it is they’re trying to say because I can’t make any sense of their English.  So, would it really be that big of a leap to go from writing their arguments in Japanese to actually reading them aloud in said language?

If the JTEs ask me my opinion on the matter, I’ll say what I think, that honestly, it’s largely a waste of time to have the kids continue on like this. The only redeeming point is that they’re at least being introduced to important current issues, though I can’t say that they don’t study these things in some other class.  This school year’s almost over, so I guess we’ll see soon enough if anything gets changed.

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