Chapzine No. 2

Update 11/14/2018

This Chapzine has been edited for readability for publication on this site. Photos, charts, and tables, all painstakingly created by the authors and carefully posted by the editors have been removed. We apologize for this and appreciate your understanding. All of the documents are included in the PDF file which is available on the main page. Thank you and enjoy the Chapzine No.2.

Best regards,

Matthew Kocourek

Incoming President

Tokyo JALT

September 2011


Welcome back for the second issue of JALT Tokyo Chapter ’zine! TYO is a destination code for Tokyo, and the TYOchap’zine is a destination intended to provide some primarily light and entertaining magazine style reading for its members and anyone else who is interested. We have four feature articles by chapter presenters, as well as My School, Essays from the Front, Letters to Prof. X, Classroom Quips, and Cartoon Classrooms. We hope that you find something that you like and consider contributing in the future.

Nick Jungheim

In This Issue


Whence fluency comes

Marshall Childs

English education in Korea: Early exposure

Kee-Ho Kim

Words, words, words

Steve Gershon

English rakugo and English teaching

Tatsuya Sudo


Cartoon ClassroomsMy SchoolLetters to Prof. X Classroom QuipsEssays from the FrontTaste of JALT 2011

Whence fluency comes

Marshall R. Childs

Temple University, Japan CampusTokyo JALT sponsored presenter, JALT 2011

Twenty years ago, when I began teaching English at a conversation school in Tokyo, I had a plan. I would reduce the essentials of grammar to two pages, and teach it to students. I figured that in two weeks at most they would be over their grammar block and well on the road to fluency. I am proud of my command of English grammar, and I did indeed reduce it to two pages. But as it turned out, my clever plan did not work at all. My colleagues said they could have told me grammar doesn‘t work, but they couldn‘t tell me exactly why it doesn‘t. I have spent twenty years trying to figure out why. Now I‘m closer to the answer.

Every approach to teaching is based on some idea of how the brain learns. Twenty years ago, these ideas were not well formed. The language centers of the brain were thought to be on the left side (in most people), but teachers did not regard brain function as informative because nobody could describe a clear connection between brain function and language learning. Some theorists imagined that grammar is the principle by which language is performed. Some brain researchers searched for the grammar center in the brain. Theorists and researchers were barking up the wrong tree.

The Brain and Language

Now, thanks to modern techniques of brain scanning, we know that when we use language, we mobilize resources in many parts of the brain. The brain uses so many neural connections that it never does anything exactly the same way twice; instead massive networks follow patterns. We mobilize mostly the same brain resources for listening and speaking. Language is not a separate function in the brain, but part of a larger function of communicating with people in social situations. Where does fluency come from? It comes from using the whole brain, not just specialized parts of it.

Jill Bolte Taylor was a brain scientist at Harvard in 1996 when she had a stroke that disabled her left hemispheric cortex. As she recovered over the course of eight years, she clearly conceptualized functions governed by each of the hemispheres. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, here is what she said about the brain and language:

With language, for example, our left hemisphere understands the details making up the structure and semantics of the sentence – and the meaning of the words.... It then strings words together in a linear fashion to create sentences and paragraphs capable of conveying very complex messages.

But the right hemisphere, a silent partner, furnishes and interprets meaning:

Our right hemisphere complements the action of our left hemisphere language centers by interpreting non-verbal communication. Our right mind evaluates the more subtle cues of language including tone of voice, facial expression, and body language. Our right hemisphere looks at the big picture of communication, and assesses the congruity of the overall expression.

In light of this understanding of language in the brain, teaching techniques, textbooks, school administrators and many teachers now seem hopelessly old-fashioned. For two centuries or more, they have aimed their efforts at only part of the brain. They concentrated on explicit and logical points of language – the bailiwick of the left side of the cortex. This was not a conspiracy to deny language learning to uncounted millions of students; it simply seemed best at the time. Not only best but orderly, and organizable in small steps. There was just one problem: the right hemispherical cortex participates in language processing, too. When we teach the left brain alone, language learning is immeasurably slower than it might be, and students speak slowly and unnaturally if they speak at all.

Harold Palmer’s Insight

Harold Palmer (1877-1949) was a genius who knew all this 80 years ago, even though he knew little about the brain. Palmer was an Englishman who was trying to improve English teaching methods in Japan from 1923 to 1936. He had carefully observed how children and adults learn language. His short paper, "The First Six Weeks of English," described the ideal classroom situation for beginning junior high school students.

Palmer assumed that the goal was to teach students to read English, but for the first six weeks he denied them any written language. Instead he drilled them for an hour a day, talking about real things in their environment (whatever they could understand), developing their sense of patterns of English and English pronunciation. After six weeks of this, they had basic fluency and reasonable pronunciation. Then, when they had internalized the shape and feel of the language, they were poised to increase their range and power.

Palmer said that having a native English speaker is helpful for pronunciation but by no means necessary. If the teacher was not a native speaker, students would still learn the intonations and timing of English along with fluency, so not much was lost – and that only temporarily.

Over the centuries some effective teachers have hit upon methods like Palmer‘s. The basic method is called "natural" or "direct" (I‘ll call it "natural" here). Until now, the theory behind the natural method has not been understood, and the method generally rejected because most people could not see any logic or organization to it. Or people have grudgingly said that the natural method might work for children, but cannot work for intermediate or advanced learners.

The truth appears to be that the natural method works well for all levels and all ages. The reason is simply that it uses the whole brain, and activates emotions and meaningful connections – something that exercising the left brain alone fails to do.

English in Elementary Schools

This year, elementary schools in Japan have started to teach English, or something like it. They are having to follow Palmer‘s methods of using the language because elementary-school students are mostly immune to abstract ideas about language.

Many people don‘t understand what is going on in elementary schools. One man wrote a letter to an editor protesting that, as everybody knows, studying a language is a highly intellectual endeavor – so elementary school students simply can‘t do it. Many elementary school teachers, remembering their own frightening experiences with English, doubt their ability to "teach" it. The remedy, both practical and theoretical, is not to teach English but simply to use it in natural and understandable ways. Not memorization but repeated experiences are the key.

Elementary-school teachers might well conduct English classes in a spirit of fun and discovery. Their attitude might be one of having mutual adventures with students, like sneaking into an amusement park after hours. No one would expect them to lecture, and certainly no one would expect paper-and-pencil tests. Children should be able to follow their interests, subject, of course, to adult supervision to insure safety and health.

What about reading? Well, for some reason the Ministry has forbidden it in elementary schools, so that is already one point for Palmer‘s side (I hope "no reading" also means no singing of that horrid "ABCD" song). Experience shows, however, that after a while elementary students demand to be taught some reading and writing in order to use the language they already know, both to record their thoughts and to communicate with remote people. When they demand reading and writing, it should be given to them without argument and without a huge formal introduction. Just give them enough to serve their needs.

I haven‘t the space here to discuss teaching in English in secondary or tertiary schools, but in those settings, too, teaching deserves revolutionary change. The basic principle is to continue the flow of activation of the language, to keep the neural network active in the brain, not to halt it. If there are too many unknown words, or if the meaning is too often unclear, the flow is halted and the train of thought is lost. Obviously, the language must not be too difficult, and must be offered within a context for understanding.

When planning a course, if we check frequently to consider if we are addressing the whole brain, we are likely to come up with good results. I am a fan of Paul Nation‘s "Four Strands" idea, which is to balance aspects of language learning sensibly. Also, Nation and Macalister‘s 2010 book Language Curriculum Design pays careful attention to both balance and satisfying the needs of learners.

We always hear the objection that our hands are tied, that we can‘t teach real language because we must teach students to defend against the ogres of university entrance exams. It seems to be the case, however, that if we design and conduct whole-brain classes in light of current knowledge, our students will learn to use English fluently and, as an incidental consequence, will perform well on entrance exams.

English education in Korea: Early exposure

Kee-Ho Kim

Korea UniversityTokyo JALT sponsored presenter, JALT 2010

An expression commonly applied by foreign English teachers in Korea is 'The tail wagging the dog.‘ No matter how excellent the teaching methods an instructor may wish to apply in the classroom, they are of no use unless they are relevant to the students‘ target exam. This is one of the main similarities between English Education in Korea and Japan.

Considering the enormous volumes of time and money dedicated by Koreans to the study of English, it is rather bizarre that Koreans continue to have great difficulty communicating with native speakers of English. The same can be said for their stubbornly low TOEFL scores. This is a further parallel with the situation in Japan.

The high cost of English education has led this to become more than a simple academic puzzle; it has grown into a pressing social issue. Every year, the huge amounts of money budgeted by the Korean government are supplemented by eight trillion won of private funds drawn directly out of family incomes. Just like in Japan, this makes up more than 30% of total spending on private education. The poor results in the face of massive expenditures naturally raise the question: What is wrong with English education in Korea and Japan?

English has become a crucial subject for academic success starting in elementary school; not simply because it is a critical component of college entrance exams, but a key attribute sought by employers. A high level of achievement in English has been considered an achievement that can be transferred from the classroom to success in the workplace.

One of the central social issues related to English is its potential to reinforce a vicious socioeconomic cycle. If economic resources are required to excel in English, the rich will hold an advantage. The perception is that the poor become poor at English and as a result end up poorer still. The rich receive a better English education and grow even richer. Many social thinkers are currently pondering how we can sever this negative feedback loop.

Three major changes have been undertaken by the Korean Ministry of Education (KME). The first was the introduction of listening questions to the CSAT (College Scholastic Aptitude Test) in 1994. The second was the introduction of compulsory English instruction in the elementary schools (starting in the third grade) in 1997. Finally, beginning in 2007 and scheduled for completion in 2015, there is the ongoing introduction of speaking and writing to the National English Aptitude Test (NEAT).

Korean English Education since 1994

In 1994, the KME responded to the growing consensus in support of the merits of communicative language teaching by adjusting the national English curriculum to include a greater emphasis on speaking and listening at the expense of grammar-translation. The most visible step was the introduction of a listening component to the CSAT. In that year, eight listening questions were included among the 50 total items. This was increased to a total of 17 in 2011. Research has shown that this wag of the tail did indeed move the dog: a demonstrable improvement in listening skills has been documented in Korea over the years since its inclusion in the CSAT.

English was first introduced to Korean elementary schools in 1982 as a one-hour-per-week extracurricular activity for grades four and up. Starting in 1997, it became compulsory from the third grade. The primary goal of this education was for the students to grow interested and confident in English from an early age and acquire basic communication skills that would allow them to begin using English as part of their daily lives. In 2010, KME expanded the program to two hours per week for the third and fourth grades and in 2011 fifth and sixth graders were required to study English for three hours per week.

Despite some controversy surrounding the introduction of English from the early grades, since at least 2006 KME has been considering introducing English as early as in the first grade. In contrast, Japan just recently included English as part of the elementary curriculum (from fifth grade) and China brought it into the third grade classroom in 2006.

The results of this emphasis on younger learners have been mixed. Research has shown a measurable improvement in four-skill English ability over the years in question. However, the gap between the highest and lowest achievers has widened, as has the distance between urban and rural students. Anecdotal reports are circulating of left-behind students essentially giving up on the study of English at lower and lower ages. Meanwhile, the cycle of money leading to English leading to money continues to be exacerbated and is fueling social frustration.

Since 2009, speaking and writing components have been phased into the NEAT, a nationwide internet-based test of English proficiency. These are intended to culminate in their complete representation by 2015. The three levels of the NEAT each have specific targets, from high schools students up to working adults. Level III is similar to the current standards for tenth graders and is targeted at high school or university students who require a minimum of routine communication skills. Level II is designed for high school graduates or undergraduates entering programs where English will play an important role, and is similar in level to the current CSAT. Level I is designed for adults, including college students, as Business General English and is being designed by a consortium of four leading Korean Universities (Korea University, Sookmyung Women‘s University, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and Seoul National University, in partnership with the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry).

The development of the NEAT began in 2009 with an initial preliminary test. Several model tests have been conducted in 2010 and 2011 in preparation of the launch of the actual test in 2012. It is hoped that it may replace the CSAT with Levels II and III.

The NEAT is designed to be a tail that has a beneficial impact on the dog, also known as positive backwash. Since Korean teachers of English have previously used those teaching methods that best prepare students for an upcoming exam, it can be surmised that the introduction of four-skills testing will have a positive impact on education. Professor R. Fouser of Seoul National University has characterized the current approach toward English education in Korea as ̳a test-score approach‘, meaning a variety of methodologies are adapted ad hoc in order to raise test scores. This bodes well for education reform through testing reform. In terms of the pressing social issues related to English education, they can be summarized as:

  • How to reduce the cost of private education
  • How to improve the quality of English education in the public schools
  • How to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and between urban and rural areas in terms of access to English education

The Korean government has taken several major steps to address these issues: 1) They have expanded English class hours in elementary schools; 2) They have brought in 'specialist instructors‘ to teach English conversation; and 3) They have introduced speaking and writing testing in the form of the NEAT. Steps have also been taken to directly improve the quality of English instruction, such as by supporting teachers‘ professional development, providing special classrooms dedicated to English, and working to allow fairer opportunities in English education for everyone. It is the fervent wish of all involved that these measures will go a long way towards improving the results of Korean‘s considerable investments in English education and will provide a more level playing field for all students.

Words, words, words

Steven Gershon

J. F. Oberlin University

Like many language teachers, over the years I‘ve spent a good chunk of my planning time focusing on grammar as the necessary 'meat and potatoes‘ of the language learning diet. However, recently I‘m much more interested in vocabulary. It seems that many researchers have come to view vocabulary, not grammar, as the main nutrient that feeds language proficiency. As they remind us, 'With no grammar you can say very little; with no vocabulary, you can say nothing.‘ Or, put a bit more academically by Michael Lewis in his lexical approach, 'language consists of grammaticalized lexis, not lexicalized grammar.‘ In other words (pardon the pun!)... our NS fluency is much more a product of our store of lexis (in chunks and phrases) that we make grammatical, rather then in our store of grammatical patterns that we just fill-in with words. Perhaps, it‘s just a chicken and egg thing; at any rate, let‘s consider some of the issues related to vocabulary in general, and English vocabulary specifically in the hope that they may provide us some direction for our classroom practice.

Our Vocabuviews

A good starting point is to explore some of our teacherly beliefs, intuitions, and assumptions... in other words, our Vocabuviews. Take a look at these statements and decide how much you agree or disagree with each one:

1) Grammar is more important than vocabulary for language proficiency.

2) Studying a wordlist w/translations is the best way to learn vocab.

3) Students learn vocabulary more effectively on their own by reading.

4) Knowing a word means you can give the definition of it.

5) Students should be able to use all the words they can understand.

6) It‘s best to present new vocabulary in a lexical field (semantic set).

7) Learners usually remember new words after meeting them 2-3 times.

All of the statements can of course generate quite a bit of discussion, but for now, let‘s just keep our responses in our mind as a frame of reference while we proceed.

English Vocabulary Quiz

Now let‘s narrow the field and consider English vocabulary. Here‘s a fun (and I hope enlightening) quiz, which I have culled from various journal articles. Make your best guestimate for each question. The correct answers are googleable (Is that a word? If not, it should be!), though you will probably find slight variations in the exact numbers involved.

a) English has about _______ words in its largest dictionary (Oxford English Dictionary).

b) The average educated native speaker (NS) knows around _______ words.

c) An educated NS uses around _______ words in daily conversation.

d) The most frequent 1000 words cover ______% of all words in informal conversation.

e) The most frequent 2000 words cover around ______% of all words used in written texts.

f) A vocabulary size of _______ words covers 95% of all teenage novels in English.

After checking your answers with the correct ones (at the end of the article), take a minute and jot down some of the implications the quiz answers might have for our teaching. I imagine that some of yours are similar to mine:

English has a huge (largest of any language!), potentially daunting inventory of vocabulary.

  • In daily life the average NS uses a very small percentage of the total available vocabulary.
  • It‘s not necessary (or even possible!) to know most of the words in the English language.
  • If you know a relatively small number of English words, you can understand and communicate well in many day-to-day situations.
  • The first 2000 words of the General Service List GSL) gives the highest learning return value.

So, how many English words do our students know? Interestingly, whenever I ask my students to guess the size of their own English vocabulary, their first reaction is utter confusion. Then, more often than not, they drastically underestimate their vocab knowledge.

At that point I ask them to go online, search English vocabulary test, choose one of the many versions that pop up, take the test, print it out, and bring it to class. They are often pleasantly surprised by their results, and armed with that, I launch into a pep talk using the English Vocabulary Quiz answers and implications as ammunition.

Knowing a word

Up until now, we have been freely throwing around the word 'know‘, as in 'how many words do you know?‘ However, what does that actually mean? What does knowing a word involve? Think back to Vocabuviews statement #4 above. My hunch is that you disagree. If so, take a minute and complete this statement with as many ideas as you can:

Knowing a word means you can...

I would guess that you came up with all or most of the ideas below.

Knowing a word means you can...

- understand it when you see it or hear it.

- remember it when you need to use it.

- pronounce it understandably / spell it correctly.

- use it grammatically in its correct form.

- understand / use it appropriately for register (level of formality).

- know its word family members and associations (collocations).

Of course, I‘m not suggesting that vocab knowledge is a monolithic 'all or none' proposition that always necessarily includes every point above. Like every other aspect of language learning, it‘s a messy business, moving to and fro in fits and starts on a continuum between the extremes of total ignorance and complete expertise. The point is simply that 'knowing' a word in a communicative context normally involves a lot more than the usual notion of 'the definition,‘ and therefore, what we do with vocabulary in the classroom should reflect this.

What is vocabulary?

And speaking of throwing around words like know, what about words like... vocabulary? When it comes to teaching/learning language, what is a vocabulary item? By way of an illustrative example (sorry, I can‘t think of a better example sentence myself at the moment) I‘ll direct you to Scott Thornbury‘s very useful book How to Teach Vocabulary (Longman, 2002). In chapter 1 he asks us to decide how many words are in the sentence below:

I like looking for old bits and pieces like second-hand record players and fixing them up to look like new.

The obvious answer, as he points out, is 20 words—or is it 21 because you view second-hand as two items? And similarly record player, keeping in mind that both record and player can each have multiple meanings. And how about like? We can say it‘s one word appearing three times in the sentence. But it‘s a verb meaning 'enjoy' the first time, a preposition meaning 'for example' the second time and as part of a multi-word unit meaning 'appears' the third time. And then there‘s looking and look. At first glance, one word family, true, but then again in this sentence looking means 'searching for‘ and look is part of the chunk we already mentioned meaning 'appears'. And speaking of multi-word units, we also have bits and pieces and fixing them up, each three words but as a ̳unit‘ having a rather idiomatic meaning.

No need for us to belabor the point, but I think it‘s useful for us to keep in mind that the notion of what constitutes a 'vocabulary item' is not in direct relation to what is a word—even though many students do associate learning vocabulary with learning individual words. The implication here, at least for me, is that we need to expand our students‘ notions of what vocabulary includes.

Remembering vocabulary

And speaking of 'learning'... we have not yet considered the mental and memory processes involved in trying to learn and remember new vocabulary items. We won‘t get into that here as it is too complex and I‘m sure I would get a lot of it wrong. However, I will offer (second-hand, I confess) a fun, interesting word-memory game I was introduced to a few years ago by Dr. Susan Barduhn during an ELT conference presentation: Study the following list of words for one minute, then cover it up. No cheating!

water, life, rabbit, home, field, ball, dog, apple, sheep, head, picture, year, chock-a-block, hill, cloud, horse, shape, pen, wind, pig, line, cow, foot, sky, door, snow, flower, cat

Now write down all the words you can remember. Then answer these questions:

1) Did you remember either the first word water or the last word cat?

2) Did you remember chock-a-block?

3) Did you write the names of the animals together? Did you include animals not in the list?

4) Did you write flower & field together? cloud & sky? Any other words you wrote together?

5) Did you write all/most of the words you remember in the order they appear in the list?

Did you answer 'Yes' to questions 1 and 2? If so, according to Peter Russell, author of The Brain

Book (Plume, 1979), it is because we tend to remember the first and last items in a list, and also we tend to remember unusual or odd items, like chock-a-block, with a distinctive sound pattern. How about for questions 3, 4 and 5? It seems that our mental lexicon prefers to organize and store similar items together (eg, animals) as well as items with natural associations (eg, flower and field; clouds and sky).

If we look back at your answer to Vocabuviews statement #6 in the light of the above memory quiz, we could perhaps conclude that it makes sense to introduce new vocab grouped into semantic sets or lexical fields, though the obvious mitigating factor would be the number of items introduced which could counteract any benefit by adding the potential of confusing of similar items.

And what would happen if tomorrow morning, just for fun, you once again try to write down the words from the list that you remember. You would then be drawing from your long-term memory rather than your short term memory, and chances are your list would be a bit shorter, especially if you hadn't done any reviewing in the meanwhile. We normally lose in the first 24 hours something like 80% of whatever we have learned, then the memory loss levels off. And when it comes to learning new vocabulary... (remember Vocabuviews statement #7), it turns out that it normally takes 7-9 distinct, well-spaced encounters with a new word before it stays with us. A good reason for regular recycling!

Good News, Bad News

So, what does all this mean for our classroom lessons. Well, there is good news and bad news. The bad news first: according to experts like Susan Barduhn and Paul Nation, deliberately 'teaching' vocabulary doesn‘t seem to be a very efficient or effective use of class time. As Dr. Barduhn put it at a conference presentation a few years ago, 'We can‘t really teach vocabulary; we can only present and provide opportunities to visit the items.'

So much for the bad news. The good news, I think, is that if we keep all the issues we've raised here in mind as we decide how much and what vocabulary to present when and in what ways, the opportunities we provide for the students will help to enrich their awareness and develop their strategies so that they are much better prepared (and hopefully motivated) to do what is necessary on their own to keep on learning.

English Vocabulary quiz answers:

a) 500,000 b) 20,000 c) 2000 d) 93% e) 80% f) 2600

Source: Nation & Waring; http//

Rakugo and English teaching

Tatsuya Sudo

Kanda University of International Studies

Rakugo is a unique form of entertainment in Japan. In this article I would like to give some background to this truly Japanese art form and give a few suggestions about how it could contribute to learners‘ acquisition of English in a creative way.

Tatekawa Danshi and Katsura Shijaku

First of all there were two rakugo performers who had a great influence on me; Tatekawa Danshi and Katsura Shijaku.

Tatekawa Danshi (1936-) left the Association of Rakugo and founded his own school of rakugo called 'Rakugo Tatekawa-ryu' in 1984. I joined the school as a kind of supporter right after its foundation since I had been intrigued by his rakugo and his view on rakugo. Danshi often talks about rakugo in comparison with Kodan, another form of spoken art in Japan.

Kodan describes the life of heroes and heroines of history while rakugo deals with the life of common people. Common people do not always act like great people. They sometimes give things up easily; they can not always be obedient to their job or to their supervisor. Take, for example, the story of Ako-roshi in the Edo period. 47 samurai in Ako took revenge upon their lord by killing Kira, the lord who scorned their lord and they killed themselves later. The story is well-known in Japan but actually there were more samurai in Ako who did not join the revenge. They didn‘t join it because their family was more important for them or cutting the belly or hara-kiri is very painful. Danshi says kodan describes the story of 47 samurai while rakugo, of other samurai. The latter may not be considered great but that‘s what people are like. Danshi calls the behavior of the latter 'karma'. And he says rakugo stories affirm the karma, the behavior and the sense of values of those people.

His view of rakugo was very striking to me and touched a string in my heart. Also, the fact that he was such an analytical person was also surprising to me because performers usually do not analyze what they do like Danshi.

Katsura Shijaku(1939-1999)was a super star in Kamigata or the Kansai district. His rakugo with a lot of gestures and facial expressions caught the attention of many Japanese. When young, he wanted to be either an English teacher or a professional rakugo performer, and he chose to be what we call ̳rakugo-ka‘. So doing English rakugo was not something unusual for him. He started English rakugo in the early 1980s. I saw his live English rakugo performance at Yuraku-cho Mullion Hall in 1990. A half of the audience was Japanese, the other half was non-Japanese and both enjoyed his rakugo from the beginning to the end. That was the time when I decided to do English rakugo myself some time in the future. I stared English rakugo class in 2007 and I have more than 25 students now.

He left behind some 16 English rakugo scripts, which I still refer to when I do English rakugo or when I teach my students. His book entitled 'Eigo de eikaiwa' is about English rakugo, in which he writes how he and his teachers translated rakugo into English. The difficulty they faced in the process of translation is very interesting from the cross cultural perspective. Like Danshi, Shijaku was also a very analytical person. I think it is dangerous for artists or entertainers to analyze what they do because they often deny their own life if they are too critical about themselves. He suffered from neurosis and killed himself in 1999. His death was shocking to all the rakugo fans including me.

Kairakutei Black and his achievements

Kairakutei Black or Henry James Black (1858-1923) was a British rakugo performer from the 1890s to 1890s. He was born in Australia and came to Japan when he was six years old, following his father doing businesses in Japan.

Black was a man of wide interests. He started his career as a magician when he was a teenager. He was a kodan performer, a kabuki actor, an English teacher, a detective story writer, a rakugo writer, and a record producer as well as a rakugo performer. His rakugo and detective stories were stenographed and published, which affected the writing style of Japanese language at that time when there was a movement among writers to unify the spoken and the written styles. One of the rakugo stories written by Black is Beer Drinking Bet, which was carried in a Japanese magazine in 1891. Later, the story was modified and it is now known as Tameshi-zake or Test Sake and is performed by many rakugo performers. I translated the story into English and performed it for the JALT meeting held at Sophia University on July 11, 2011.

He should also be known as a record producer. When a man working for a British record company came to Japan in 1903 to expand their market, he asked Black to be a producer. Black produced 273 records and he recorded seven stories himself. The whole set of records had been missing for a long time, but it was found at the archive of British EMI in 1998 and re-released as CD by Toshiba EMI in 2001. When I heard his real voice, I felt as if I had been brought back to the Meiji era.

In spite of his contributions in various fields, he was a black sheep among his family members and his friends because an entertainer was considered to be the same as a bum and rakugo was low culture at that time. I believe he would be even more popular if he were alive now. I would like to reevaluate his achievements by talking about him and performing his rakugo in Japan and hopefully in Britain and Australia some day in the future.

English rakugo

Since Shijaku‘s death, some rakugo performers such as Katsura Kaishi, Katsura Asakichi, and Katsura Sunshine, a man from Canada, have started English rakugo. Also some books about English rakugo have been published. In Exceed, a high school English textbook published by Sanseido is included a piece of classical rakugo, 'Cat‘s Dish'. The textbook is used at 258 high schools or 32,000 students.

When I present rakugo in English, I sometimes make a little change such as the names of characters. In a popular rakugo called 'Manju kowai' or 'Scary Manju', I change manju to hamburgers so that foreign people can easily understand what‘s going on in the story. Rakugo is not a rigid form of classical art like Noh, Kyogen, or Kabuki, so such changes are acceptable not only in English but in Japanese.

Rakugo is a story based on conversation. Therefore, it is suitable to acquire spoken English. You need to recite the story hundreds of times before you present it to the audience. This process of reading aloud is crucial to develop the skill of spoken English as Prof. Masao Kunihiro said in his book Eiigo no Hanashi kata or How to Speak English published in 1970.

Also, since rakugo is a solo performance, you don‘t need a conversation partner. It is true that the number of foreign people is increasing in Japan, yet it is still hard to find a partner to talk to in English as long as you live and work in Japan. In rakugo, you talk to imaginary characters such as your friends, your parents, and siblings, so you can practice conversation by yourself and you can create your own story. This idea of 'self conversation' is the one I took from the book Eigo to Watashi or English and I written by the late Toru Matsumoto, who was a professor at Meiji Gakuin University.

With this ̳rakugo method‘, I believe Japanese people can improve the ability of spoken English and simultaneously acquire a sense of humor and improve presentation skills. I once had a junior high school student in my English rakugo class. His English level was intermediate, and he was rather shy. After he learned English rakugo for about a year, he took part in the English speech contest sponsored by The Daily Yomiuri. He won first prize in Saitama prefecture, which was a nice surprise for me, for his family and for himself. It just goes to show how rakugo could help a shy student come out.

If you are interested in English rakugo classes and recitals, please contact me at <> or visit my website <>.

Cartoon Classrooms

[See the PDF file for the illustration]

My School

Rikkyo English discussion class

Caroline Bertorelli

Rikkyo University

Since the academic year 2010, Rikkyo University has made it compulsory for all freshmen to take a small-size discussion class in addition to other English classes including presentation, writing, and E-learning. The rationale behind this is to prepare students for the global working world, which increasingly relies on English for communication. Here, I briefly describe the English discussion class.


The English discussion class is run by the Center for English Discussion Class, a program established to deliver the class. There are currently around 40 full-time English instructors of various nationalities including Japanese delivering the course.

Students are divided into four levels according to their scores on a commercial standardized listening comprehension test. The four levels correspond to beginner, pre-intermediate, intermediate, and advanced levels. There are usually eight students in each class, although some classes may have seven or nine students.

Course outline and text

The English discussion class is a two-semester course. There is one 90-minute class per week. The course is based around topics, communication functions, and communication skills, taught using an in-house-developed text. The topics are general topics such as education, technology, and the environment.

Communication functions include giving and asking for opinions, connecting ideas, and sharing experiences. Communication skills include agreeing and disagreeing, and negotiating meaning.

Lesson structure

Lessons follow a similar format: a quiz, presentation of the communication function or skill, practice of the communication function or skill, a fluency exercise, and discussion preparation exercises followed by discussions. The quiz is a short multiple-choice quiz on a homework reading of an article in the text. The homework reading introduces the topic and gets the students to think about the topic before the lesson. Communication functions typically involve a set of specific phrases. For example, the communication function of giving and asking for opinions includes phrases such as "In my opinion, ..." and "What do you think?". The function practice activities provide the students with a chance to practice the new phrases. The fluency activity is a speaking activity related to the week‘s topic. The discussion preparation exercises help prepare students with sufficient ideas to talk about in the discussions.

Course evaluation and grading

The lessons are held in English and students are encouraged to participate 100% in English, focusing on their ability to convey opinions and ideas using the English they know. Grammar is not assessed. Students are graded for each lesson according to their performance in a group discussion using the communication functions and skills, as well as talking about the topic. There are usually three discussion tests in the semester to more critically evaluate how well the students are performing.

Outcome so far

Although in its early stages, the English discussion class has been deemed a success. Attendance has been relatively high compared with other classes, and student feedback on the course has been positive. Many students show improvement in their English discussion skills as the course progresses. At the beginning of the course, students tend to take it in turns to give their opinion in the discussions, often in a stilted polite way, sometimes with periods of silence. However, by the end of the course, there is a more fluid exchange of opinions and turn taking, and the students are more comfortable challenging each others‘ opinions.

Letters to Prof. X

Dear Prof. X,

We just had an interview for a new teacher and it was a disaster. I'm starting to wonder if there are any good teachers out there! I'd like to put together a list of suggestions for future applicants to think about before they come in for the interview. Do you have any good suggestions?


Losing Hope

Dear Losing Hope,

I think this is a good idea. There are certainly many suggestions that might help applicants through their interviews, but giving too many might give the wrong impression. Try just a few points to give a general idea. Some important points for me: Bring a clean USB ― not one that you have to fumble through showing other job applications until you find the PowerPoint for this job, if you need one. Don't mention your wife and kids four times in the interview. Don't drop Japanese slang into the conversation just to show you speak Japanese ― keep it professional. Don't go on about something your prospective boss's research disagrees with. Be aware of the length of your questions ― don't ramble. It‘s not always a good idea to offer information that the interviewers do not request. Relax and stick to the point!

Good luck!

Prof. X

Classroom Quips

On a placement test essay, a student wrote about the topic of "underage drinking": ...if you drink too much it's a problem. One time I returned the food I ate from my mouth near my friend.

(Jim McKinley)

A student writing about the band she was in during high school: If I have a chance, I would like to play with my precious member again.


In a basic writing assignment about stress, a student wrote: If students don't join clubs to relieve stress then they may kill their parents and hide them in a cupboard.


Kris Young is startled in her English class when students say things like: "You're lying!" meaning "No kidding!" or "She is loose," when another female student is running late for the class.

Essays from the Front

Taking language learning and practice outside the classroom.

Jenny Morgan

Meisei University

Language learners need plenty of real communicative contexts, or even 'imaginary-real' contexts in which they can use their target language for authentic communication. Despite the fact their major is "International Communication" many of my English language students have little opportunity to experience this. My colleagues and I try to bring a sense of internationalisation into the classroom through content-based materials and project topics. We try to give our learners varied opportunities where they must use English to communicate with people from other cultures. Some task-based contexts are real- Internet blogs, writing to 'email-pals' from sister universities, and working with international volunteers to teach English to local school pupils. Other premises for English communication and intercultural awareness-raising are imagined, via the textbook – 'design a tourist guide for visitors to your hometown', or 'explain important cultural rules to a homestay student visiting Japan'.

Recently, I had the chance to take my 2nd year students out of the language classroom t attend an on-campus music performance event organised by senior students and their 'zemi' (seminar) professor. The event was a "Mini-Africafe" where an exuberant Mr. BB Mofurann from the Congo, and long-time resident in Japan, played African drums and lead the students and teachers in dancing, percussion and singing. There was some African food and drink to sample; and time for questions from the audience - conducted in both Japanese and English. My class had just completed a textbook unit on "Expressing Opinions and Feelings", and together we decided we would write a music review of this event for our classroom newsletter.

The majority of the class are fairly low level writers, so I scaffolded the target task (the review) with a 'survey style' worksheet. The students were instructed to find out various information/facts about the musician, and also to write their own opinions and reactions to the event, by circling phrases or vocabulary used to express opinions and feelings (recycled from the textbook). They could either interview the senior students who were organising the event, or ideally ask Mr. Mofurann himself. In the end, only one brave student went to the microphone to ask Mr. Mofurann, in English, about his drumming career, and an amusing English chat followed about the joys of drumming. Other students then interviewed the seniors in English (and a little Japanese) about the event and the guest musician, in order to construct their music review.

Role models

What I witnessed then was near-peer role-modelling, where 4th year sempai (several study-abroad returnees, with high level English) were communicating naturally in English and helping younger students with their classroom task. There appeared to be increased motivation and agency about communicating in English. We all experienced intercultural communication through L1 and L2, through music, food and dance. Intercultural awareness carried into the post-event lesson. One student commented, "let's do a project on world drumming". He comes from a taiko family. Another student said, "I was surprised he spoke so good Japanese...then he spoke how many languages can he speak?" Finally, vocabulary retention is evidenced with students naturally using a number of 'expressing opinions' phrases in class, often tongue-in-cheek, like "I can't stand vocab quizzes, Jenny" and "I'm crazy about Yuki's poster!" Future poster project topics chosen by students include- 'Global Music in Tokyo'; 'Where in the world do people speak English', 'Foreign families in Japan'. Perhaps by taking English learning out of the classroom, these students have experienced in a small way, real international communication and so their curiosity, agency and motivation for learning more about language and culture has been increased. This can usefully support their language learning now and in the future.

Student Music Event Review - Expressing Opinions - "Mini-Africafe"

Today we went to a musical event called "Mini-Africafe" on Meisei Campus. It was organised by Kikuchi-sensei's seminar class. One of us asked Mr. Mofurann questions in English! We also asked senior students from the 'zemi' class for information about Mr. Mofurann. There was food and drink such as chai and fried bread. Chai is spicy milky tea. Most of us thought it was “delicious, or very nice”. One person “couldn't stand it”. We all thought the fried bread was “tasty or not too bad.” We watched a musical percussion performance. The musician, Mr. BB Mofurann is from the Congo, and he has lived in Japan for about 23 years. He plays the African drums and has been playing for about 23 years. He loves drumming because..."everyone plays with him" and "it makes him happy” and “it's good communication".

We thought his clothes and his drums were “exotic, interesting, colourful”. We listened to his music and thought it was "interesting, fantastic, exciting, enjoyable". We all felt "excited, happy, amazed". We also learnt about- "African music is kind of communication" ; "I learn what is happiness"; "I learnt about African culture and music"; "I was amazed because it is like Japanese drum, taiko".

We recommend this kind of music performance to "my friends, Meisei students, people who like dancing." All in all, we really enjoyed this music. In the audience, many people said "I am crazy about this drumming music"!

Fascinating life stories and the German language at Onichi Kyokai

Morten Hunke

Onichi Kyokai

People learn languages for a multitude of reasons. Some want to travel, see the world, broaden their horizons, and share life and experiences with speakers of other languages. Many are made to learn languages in school or at university. Some never develop a liking for them, some do so very late in life. I teach German at a language school in Shibuya: Onichi Kyokai, tucked away nicely on your way from Shibuya Station towards Daikanyama. It is a small school specialising in German language teaching that has been offered there for decades. Students are often adult learners of German that would like to improve or maintain their language skills. Occasionally university students are coming to us to get additional tuition or to deepen their skills with some of the specialised classes on offer. Many of the school‘s students have a very personal and a very intricate connection to the German language, to German-speaking countries. A lot of them have spent time in Germany as company employees, students, as spouses looking after children, visiting friends on the other side of the globe, or travelling as tourists.

Student commitment

When I first started teaching there in late April 2011 I was struck by the language level of the students and by the commitment of many students. German, a niche language at best today is thriving and very much alive at Onichi. When I was asked to cover for a colleague in one of his groups, I had no idea what to expect. When one of the students told us her personal connection to the language, I thought, quite literally, "Essays from the Front". This student, a lovely and vivid lady in her 80s has a very special relationship with Germany and the German language indeed.

As it happens, this year marks the 150th anniversary of German-Japanese diplomatic relations. At such a date, naturally embassies and other official bodies organise and arrange many events and celebrations. But this student‘s life story epitomises German-Japanese relations in a very peculiar way. This lady‘s father had been a diplomat in Italy during the war. When Italy changed allegiances to the Allies, the family moved to Berlin. And there she lived, a 14 year old Japanese girl, making her way to a Hauptschule (basic level secondary school) every day, in war-stricken Nazi Germany Berlin. She and her family even stayed in Berlin until December 1945. When I heard this story, I was feeling pretty dumbfounded. In front of me in a German language classroom in Japan was somebody from the most unlikely background that had personally witnessed the reality of everyday life in war. In a far away land, a war of the making of my ancestors and hers, as allies.

Just Japan‘s part of that war was fought a lot closer to her family‘s homeland. And still, to this day I have never, by any of my relatives or family relations, heard such vivid descriptions of life in wartime Berlin ever before.

This student‘s life in itself has been and still is a history of German-Japanese relations throughout the decades. She has kept alive her passion for the German language. It has survived the defeat of her then host nation, the defeat of her home nation. It has survived the many difficulties, trials, and new beginnings that life brought with it after WWII. But she appears to never have been bitter. She learned to love a language early in her life and she kept that love ablaze ever since.

Taste of JALT 2011

What’s that noise? Creative podcasting with adult learners of German

Offering new and interesting speaking opportunities is always a challenge. Adult learners may even be more reluctant to try out new things. However, creative audio has so much to offer. As part of the Multilingualism Forum, Morten Hunke of the Onichi Kyokai will report on productions submitted for an audio competition.

Sunday, November 25th, 16:45-17:15, in the so-called Multilingualism Forum of the OLE-SIG.

Outgoing Chapter President’s Message

Dear Tokyo JALT Chapter Members,

It has been my great pleasure and honor to serve you as the president of the Tokyo Chapter of the Japan Association for Language Teaching for the past four years. I have been blessed to have the constant support of our chapter officers and couldn‘t have done this without them. The past four years have passed like a flash, and our huge chapter has grown to have almost 600 members. I hope that the Tokyo Chapter continues to prosper long into the future. Thank you all for your support. May we meet again somewhere.

Sayoko Yamashita

Outgoing PresidentTokyo Chapter

Call for Contributions to the Tokyo Chapter's TYO Chap'zine

Tokyo Chapter is looking for contributions from its members for the second issue of its chapter publication, the TYOchap'zine, scheduled for publication around the end of September 2011. Articles will include magazine style reports of chapter presenters and entertaining features related to language teaching in Japan. Contents are not limited to English language classrooms alone. Contributions related to Japanese as a second language and other foreign language classrooms are especially encouraged. We will also willing to consider articles written in Japanese. Please contact the editor for further information on Japanese language submissions. The following are regular features open to contributors:

Feature articles: Usually chapter meeting reports by the presenters (1,200-1,500 words). These should be written in a magazine-style format without citations or references and can include a picture or some graphic.

Essays from the Front: Vignettes describing interesting situations or happenings in classrooms at schools in Japan (500-600 words)

My School: Descriptions of unique learning environments (600-800 words)

Letters to Professor X: Prof. X will give advice to the forlorn teacher, with a touch of humor, the "Miss Manners" of the language classroom (200-300 words). Individual questions are also welcome (fake questions are also welcome!).

Classroom Quips: Short, clever statements that could be attributed to students or teachers, real or imagined (brief!)

Cartoon Classrooms: Four-panel or one-panel cartoons depicting the classroom situation humorously; be the Dilbert of the language classroom. Members who suggest "Letters" or "Quips" will receive acknowledgement on the inside cover.

For your reference a pdf of issue No. 1 can be downloaded from:


Send all contributions by e-mail attachment in MSWord or rtf format for stories and 300 dpi tiff files for cartoons, along with your name and contact information to the editor: <>

37th Annual International Conference on Language Teaching and Learning & Educational Materials Exhibition

November 18-21, 2011

National Olympics Memorial Center, Yoyogi, Tokyo.

Tokyo JALT Chapter Sponsored Presentation

The Right Brain is the Dreamer

Marshall R. Childs (Temple University, Japan Campus)

[See more in the PDF file]

Forum : Teaching & Learning JFL in the World

Co-sponsored by the JSL SIG &Tokyo Chapter Presenters: Megumi Kawate-Mierzejewska (Temple University Japan Campus), Sayoko Yamashita (Meikai University), Kazumi Tanaka (International Christian University), Takashi Matsuzawa (IBM Solution and Services Company), Shin Matsuo (Tokyo Woman's Christian University), Kazue Imasato (Kanda University of International Studies)

[See more in the PDF file]