The Students Don’t Have to Speak English (but some of them want to...)  


Eigo Noto classes are not to discourage students from further English study, nor are the lessons meant to be Conversation Lessons. But what about students who CAN and WANT TO speak English?

Do you, or the HRTs you work with, ever insist that the Eigo Noto students interact in English? I sometimes hear Home Room Teachers exhorting kids to speak English together.
There are times when we want a student to speak English in the Eigo Noto lessons, to be sure- when listening and repeating words and phrases, or when checking accuracy in pronunciation, for example. And looking at the workbook itself, you could easily get the idea that the kids are supposed to be speaking English.
But as for student-to-student interaction in English,

there are voices from above, as well as implied expectations in the Mombusho Guidelines, that would not have us, as teachers, insisting that students interact in English in the Eigo Noto lessons.

This seemed obvious to me months ago. But an HRT/elementary school head English teacher recently returned from a Mombusho Eigo Noto training event and was telling me that she was told there that we should not be expecting the students to speak English. From the tone of her voice I got the feeling that not expecting the students to speak English in the Eigo Noto lessons was, for her, a striking and extraordinary idea.
Based on that conversation, I thought it worthwhile to discuss it here.

My thoughts on this points are based on these ideas:

  1. ‘All students should feel a sense of success in the final activity.’ See the post here.
  2. Not all students will be able to produce correct spoken English after 2-3 classes.
  3. Eigo Noto classes are not to discourage students from further English study. (From the Ministry of Education’s Guidelines for Elementary English Education. See the post here.) This is also true for students of ability who CAN speak English.
  4. Students don’t need to speak English to be able to communicate together.

If we can accept these points, it becomes easy to make a list of the things we can or should do, and those we shouldn’t, in Eigo Noto classes:

Things NOT to do in Eigo Noto classes

  • Don’t choose, or require, a student to stand alone in the class and speak English unsupported by a teacher. This includes any lesson that finishes with a Show-and-Tell activity. (The Listen and Repeat CROSSFIRE activity is meant to test students’ pronunciation, for all to learn from, and demonstrates an exception to this rule. A teacher is there as support.)
  • Don’t explicitly tell a student that they are saying something in English incorrectly (“That’s not right!”)
  • Don’t insist that all, or individual, students perform tasks in English.
  • Don’t expect students to speak English without A LOT of modeling and practice. And while they may be able to say the words and/or structures, meaning is something that will take even more time.

Ways to Structure Communication, and Spoken English, in Your Classes

  • If you expect students to perform a speaking task in the last activity of the lesson series, model from the very first lesson the language you want them to produce. And then repeat the language, in both listening and speaking activities, again and again and again.
  • Keep English langauge patterns very simple and very repetitive.
  • Use vocabulary words that are commonly used in Japanese.  See suggested word groups here.
  • Ask for volunteers to demonstrate spoken English to the whole class.
  • Allow the whole class to respond in English as a single voice first. Then ask for a volunteer to say it again after the correct form has been identified by the whole class and confirmed by a teacher.
  • If a student speaks English incorrectly, say the correct form for them to hear. Using a rising intonation at the end, like a question, can mean, ‘Is this what you meant to say?’ Or, give examples of the pattern, changing a word, to model the language by talking about yourself.
  • In the whole class, when someone responds in Japanese, ask if anyone knows how to say it in English. If they don’t know the whole meaning, start breaking it down into smaller and smaller chunks- phrases first (blue shoes), and then single words (blue, shoes). Gesture, and point to examples, to help.
  • When speaking to individual students, and they respond in Japanese, repeat back to them what they just said, in English. Or, make it an English question. (‘Onaka suita.’ -> ‘I’m hungry.’ or, ‘Oh, are you hungry?’)
  • To support low-English ability students, prepare materials with pictures and written Japanese as much as possible.
  • Use written English on the blackboard and in materials.
  • Narrow the conversation in activities to simple, repetitive patterns. Some of the Eigo Noto lessons use several language structures in one lesson. The lessons have simplified the language in these lessons already.
  • Use small group and pair speaking activities to advantage- these groupings lower student anxiety, allow for more direct interaction, and many other things.  See this post. And this one.
  • Structure activities so that students can repeat the same language experience several times with different partners. Some partners will offer better modeling than others, assisting lower-skilled students to advance their ability. Repeating the experience allows students to learn from their own, and others, successes and mistakes.
  • Make activities as communicative as possible. This is the most difficult to describe, but in simple terms, meaningful responses confirm comprehension. Responses can be verbal (Yes or No is the easiest to understand), active (Here is the FISH card.), gestures, or in Japanese.

With visual and written English support, spoken Japanese, spoken English and gestures, and enough repetitive practice, all students will have the best chance of successful communicative interchange, whether it’s in English or not. And those students who WANT to speak English get a chance to.

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