Being an ALT in Japan, the mantra “it depends on your school” really does dictate your teaching experience. Whether you’ve got preschool kids slapping their backside or you’re being asked if your skin tastes like chocolate, it’s different for all of us in different ways.
However, there’s one common ordeal that all ALTs will encounter at some point in their tenure—the infamous English speech contest.
No matter which term, year, town or school you’re at, this all-too-regular event always follows the exact same plotline. This is largely thanks to the generic roster of competing students who can be categorized into the five following types.
Competitor #1: The “I like cats”
This student will offer a forgettable run-of-the-mill speech about a personal experience that doesn’t evoke any strong debate but just shows they can speak the language and gesture at appropriate times. She’s ready to talk about her cat and talk about it a whoooole lot.
Competitor #2: The train otaku
Yes, out of the 95% female competitors, there rises a single boy. Usually, this one will speak about his passions very… passionately. Perhaps he wasn’t able to express these opinions in Japanese, but he can in English because his classmates probably won’t understand him.
Competitor #3: The returnee
You’ll listen to this student with perfect intonation, pronunciation, and expression, all while wondering if they’re a hafu or not.
*Looks in the program for a Marie Brown or Yuki Smith*
Then BOOM! Right when their account of a deeply personal experience comes to an end the big plot twist is revealed: they’ve lived overseas for a number of years. Surprise!
Competitor #4: The forgetter
Of course, not everyone is as amazing and well prepared as your own prodigy student. Sometimes they’re just there because they’re forced to be. These are the guys and gals who don’t remember their speech but are really good at filling the room with excruciating pauses that seem to last a lifetime.
Competitor #5: The woke kid
Just when you thought the content of the English speech contests ended at cats, trains, and omotenashi at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, up steps the woke kid. They tackle big societal issues about Japan and seek to be the change they want to see—leaving you feeling totally inadequate with your ALT self.
Jokes aside, English speech contests are one area where ALTs can really make a difference with their students. At the very least, helping them get ready to duke it out against rival schools’ students is an opportunity to bond over why you became a foreigner. Come to think of it, that would actually make a winning topic for an English speech contest.