Richard's Diary!

Take any problem in the World and it's invariably caused (or made worse) by a lack of education. Too many kids hate school because it's too boring.

The aim of Genki Learning is to have all subjects in all countries taught in a fun, engaging and effective way. There are already a few million kids benefiting from this, and even a whole country where the government has put it in all their schools. But there's still a long way to go!

While I'm on the road you'll hear about my travels & workshops, and when I'm doing studio work I'll keep you up to date with ideas, updates to the site and some of my favourite teaching resources. So if you want to find out what's it's like behind the scenes or how & why I do what I do or even if you're just nosey or a bit bored, have a read.

I'll update the diary as often as I can, so keep coming back. And of course whilst I'm away, the office staff are always ready to send off your CD orders just as soon as you send them in!

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August 29th 2008 - Okayama - Amazing teachers!

After the past few days I got up this morning thinking "Please let this school be good, please let this school be good." And they certainly were!

The head teacher picked me up at 7:00 for the hour long drive into the mountains and we had a really good chat on the way. He'd been in business before becoming a teacher so was well versed on the problems of the public system like we had yesterday. He was also very into Japanese culture, but not the sort of thing you see in the "kokusai rikai" books, but real made in Japan stuff like haiku or old stories.

"Good Japanese" speak...

One of the tools I've been using to combat the "children must be perfect in Japanese before they learn English" reason for banning elementary school English is to use the Goethe line that "Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own." I, somewhat cheekily, suggest that the reason Japanese kids are so bad at Japanese these days is because they don't speak any other languages. Then I illustrate it with the most famous Japanese writers, nearly all of whom spoke English or German or Chinese e.g. Natsume Soseki who studied in the UK, or even the people who wrote katakana took it from Chinese kanji. The head teacher today rolled off a huge list of important Japanese writers all of whom spoke other languages.

Eye contact is Japanese...

Plus we also talked about how eye contact is a traditional part of Japanese culture. In martial arts you bow whilst making eye contact, and one of the old tenants of teaching in Japan was to "teach in the students' eyeline". It was only in Samurai times that lower caste people were told to lower their gaze when the Samurai passed them by. It just goes to show that many aspects of culture aren't what they are always thought to be.

Full speed...

Anyway, this school is again a government pilot school and they have to teach from next term (i.e. next week!) so were really motivated! They got warmed up in two minutes, gave me full respect from the start and asked loads and loads and loads of questions! We ran through two demo lessons, one with me teaching, one with them and did tons of stuff to illustrate all the solutions. They were loving it, seemed hyper relieved by what we did and I only just made my bus back in time because there were asking so many questions! Excellent.

They have to teach the Eigo Note in 5th and 6th grades, which is fair enough (they'll expand on it using the GE songs etc. like I describe here), then they'll use the GE Curriculum in years 1 and 2. In years 3 and 4 they're not allowed to teach "English" as such unless it's for a reason.

So they came up with the idea of doing projects or "video letters" ; ) , working out what language the kids will need and then working the curriculum back from there. Things like "how to grow rice" I think are great projects to exchange with kids in other Asian countries. (It's coming up to rice harvest time in Japan)

So I'm now sat on the train heading home to Imabari feeling very, very happy. Usually I start my Japan tour being shocked by how low level the teachers are compared with teachers overseas. This time the Summer Tour started with really amazing teachers in Ehime, Osaka, Tokyo and Okinawa. It did tail off a bit this week, but mainly because of the people in charge rather than the teachers, so it was really nice to finish with such a high energy fantastic bunch of teachers. I've certainly learnt a lot this Summer and I now have a big new list of requests for new materials to make!

And that, ladies and gentlemen is the end of my Japan Tour 2008. I'll be around for another couple of weeks before heading off to the schools in India once Ramadan has finished, then workshops in Cambodia, lectures at the University of Newcastle in the UK and Lulea in Sweden and then finish the year off with my first workshops in Beijing, China!

August 28th 2008 - Okayama loses its crown

Today was a workshop for the Okayama City Education Center. I know lots of the teachers here, it's the 7th year they've invited me and I was really looking forward to presenting lots of new things for them, as they are always really keen and probably the best teachers in Japan!

I'd put together a brand spanking new presentation for them going through all the new materials they've been asking me about, talking about the Private Schools for the Poor in India, blasting through all the new songs from CD8 and finishing off with a big Q&A session about some of the higher level problems they're be having. All the stuff the teachers from here are really into. I was really looking forward to doing something new.

There's always a but...

But ... this year they've changed the system. Instead of teachers choosing to come, last year we had loads, this year one teacher from each of the 92 schools has been assigned to be in charge of the English implementation. No problem I thought, there are more good teachers here than any other city in Japan. But ... just as I'm about to start they tell me that just about all the teachers were chosen almost at random by the head teachers, hardly any of them are experienced teachers and they really have no idea what they are doing. "They're totally newbies and totally petrified of having to teach English" I was told.

Ah lovely. So instead of my nicely crafted brand new workshop they basically said I had to do my "from the beginning" workshop again, for the umpteenth time this month. If I'd have know that I'd have simply told them to play my "Basics Workshop" DVD!

But I was here and had to do the most basic of basic level stuff because these teachers seriously did not want to be here! It took them 20 minutes to get the idea that they had to do something and not just sleep, then another 20 minutes to get them to respect what I was saying, then another 20 minutes to get them relaxed enough to ask honest questions, plus a break. Then we had hardly any time left, and all the questions were the basic same things that they could have looked up anywhere. It was not fun at all!

I could have just gone with the new workshop, but last year the few new teachers got lost when I just jumped straight into activities and stuff. You, I and every kid in the world knows the CD8 is dead easy, but for your average Japanese teacher, they see it as something akin to brain surgery or rocket science.

I had a look at the reports at the end, and as I thought I got my worst evaluation ever! The newbies all gave me A's, but the few old timers that were there gave me B's and even C's for not doing anything new! I know the path to failure is to try and please all the people all the time, but I just wish they had told me and I would have insisted on making two groups, one for beginners and one for experienced teachers. I should have suspected something was up when some of the really good teachers in the city said they weren't allowed to attend. This is one place where they don't pay my fee, they just pay travel expenses which was a deal I worked out with the guy who used to work here, today they really did take advantage of that hospitality.

I must also apologise to the ALTs, I really did want to do some good stuff for you today as well, sorry.

Okayama is also the place I champion to everyone else, I say "Look at the great teachers here, look at the really cool stuff they are doing and look how good their kids are!". But what is the point in having so many really good, really well trained teachers if you then put total newbies in as the co-ordinators for each school? Make no wonder parents are complaining!

School roof & video letters

In the afternoon they had another workshop by a teacher who was talking about what she was doing in classes. So I stuck around to she what she would do as I thought you might appreciate some new ideas. It was actually really, really good. She was using lots of videos of the kids doing stuff. They weren't actually doing much new English, which the teachers seemed very happy about (no effort required on their part!), but she had some really cool projects, calling them "Video Letters" which I think is a much better name. For example the kids would go to the top of their school roof, ask "What's that?" and explain the landmarks they could see. They also did things like playing instruments (sing "I can play the ....?") and some other really good ideas which I really should have written down.

She also showed a good activity using the picture book "The World in a Supermarket". She gave the kids some food cards and flag cards and they had to guess which foods came from which countries. Great idea! Then she read the picture book to see if they got the right foods in the right places. Then the kids did their own version of the book showing where they get their own food from.

The only bad point was that the teacher was fluent in (accentless) English so could do such stuff. I doubt if any of the teachers today could re-do the same type of lesson, but as usual they enjoyed just being the students!

Also as usual in Japanese workshops some of the teachers were sleeping in the afternoon. Personally I don't let teachers get away with that and make sure to change the pace of what I'm doing well before then, but here the back few rows were happily snoozing away, all paid for with our tax money of course! Then they have the cheek to turn round and say ALTs are unprofessional and I was like "Dude, you're paid to be here and you're sleeping". Some aspects of Japanese culture don't need spreading to the rest of the world!

Then one of the older ladies from the Education Center gave me a lift to the station and was apologising profusely for what happened this morning. She seemed just as upset by the new system as I was disappointed. Well, at least they know something's wrong. And in the current transition period where no-one really knows what will happen even next year then I guess it's sort of understandable. I just hope the really good teachers in Okayama will keep on being just as good as they have been for the last few years, even if they aren't the ones in charge!

August 26th 2008 - Kagawa - Reduce, not increase, your workload

I should start reading my own blog. Last time I was in this prefecture one teacher came from every school and they did really well. But then they had a series of other workshops that just demolarised them and defeated everything I did.

So what happens today? Exactly the same thing!

They were great in the morning. Although I only had 100 minutes with the same content done twice (as they couldn't find a room big enough, why didn't they just take out the desks and leave the chairs?) they did really well, and I even had the second group of teachers say "Challenge!" when asked if they wanted it easy or challenging. Cool. I added in lots of new bits and got everything down in 105 minutes.

The whole thrust of my workshops are to take away their stress. I find out what they are worried about and give them, often really simple, solutions that make them go "ooooo". They're overworked and underpaid so don't need the extra hassle of having to learn English before they teach (they can learn with the kids) or to have to spend hours making materials and lesson plans (we've already done that for them). They're teachers and that's what they do best. So needless to say by the end they were revved up and totally ready to go!

Then in the afternoon it was a model of exactly how not to do a training session. They just completely contradicted and ignored everything I had done by putting the teachers in groups, giving them a (photocopied!) "Eigo Note" book and told them to plan their own lessons.

Surely it would be better to give them lesson plans and get them to practice teaching them? After all, that's what will happen when they go back to their classes!

Making a lesson plan from scratch is hard. Making a good one is even harder. And finding what the kids want to say, choosing the correct English for it, then creating fun activities and materials to make a child centered effective lesson that covers all the bases takes months of feedback and practice. I know because that's what I do everyday in the Winter! There's no way in a million years they could have done that. And there's no way that that is necessary. Even if they did go with the Eigo Note instead of the much easier to teach Genki English lesson plans, there is a full teacher's guide book, but they weren't allowed to use it!

Without knowing how to teach English (they're all beginners at this) or even speak it they were supposed to give model lessons in front of everyone else. I wondered round and it was appalling. They were inventing mistaken English left right and center (it doesn't help that the Eigo Note contains lots of irregular items as examples). One group even had the funky idea of going to Kyoto, picking out the white people and introducing Kagawa to them. I think they heard my jaw drop on the floor, but the teacher insisted it was fine and racial profiling is quite a natural thing to teach in school!

The lady in charge gave a demo class where the ALT introduced himself and she was saying "Just pick up on a few words he says and repeat them to the class. It will make you sound like an English teacher." Ah dear.

Luckily one group had a computer so I slipped them a copy of CD 1 and the lesson plan book. They were over the moon saying "Hang on, this is so easy? Why weren't we given these anyway?" Why indeed!

This is certainly another place on my "not to visit again list", because there's no point me motivating the teachers just to have them brought back down. The teacher in charge basically gave the insinuation that "you just want to promote your stuff". Well yes, because it works! I didn't spend 10 years developing it for the good of my health, I did it to solve the teachers' problems. There's no point asking teachers to re-invent the wheel when a) they don't have the skills to do it and b) they don't have the time to do it. Real teachers aren't going to spend 3 hours planning a lesson. And what about the kids? Don't they deserve something with correct English, I'm sure 1 + 6 = 8 wouldn't be allowed in a maths lesson! What's best, something that's based around their needs and has been improved and improved with input from thousands of other kids and teachers? Or something put together on the back of an envelope the day before?

The only good thing today was that the lecturer who was on at the same time as me in the morning was from one of the institutions that wrote the Eigo Note book. Apparently he wasn't too glowing in its praises either!

August 2008 - Get the latest songs!

If you're wanting the latest Genki English songs in download form (i.e. you want them right now!) I've just updated the Download Pack to include all the new CD8 songs (plus a couple of extra goodies). If you've been thinking of buying it, now's the time.

Current Owner Club members have a special CD8 download upgrade discount. I'll be sending complimentary upgrades to those of you who bought the full download pack in the last couple of days!

P.S. If you don't have CD7 yet, the special CD7 & CD8 bundle offer finishes on August 31st. From then on CD7 will be full price for everyone!

August 22nd 2008 - Ishikawa - Motivating 6th grade + ALTs

As I mentioned yesterday I was a bit wary of today. They invited the local ALTs to do crafts and activities with the kids calling it an "international day". It was all funded because they are one of the English pilot schools for this year. The reason I'm wary is that very often these events turn into "look at the foreigners, aren't they strange!" festivals

Luckily today they had a very good bunch of ALTs who came up with some very cool stuff, e.g. making a Native American dream catcher, making "s'mores" (first time I'd heard of them!) in a camping lesson, plus other games and songs for the other grades.

All the teachers for my workshop in the afternoon attended and the school was pushing it as part of their English education programme.

However apart from the window dressing there was no English education at all. The ALTs tried explaining things in English, to which the kids responded with "eh?" so correctly switched to Japanese (otherwise the kids would just have ended up hating the lesson), and when the ALTs did give English that the kids understand the teachers would quickly realise it was something that they understand and instead of giving the kids time to think they jumped in with their, often incorrect, translations.

Maybe a better way would be to plan the curriculum for the previous few months to include language that the kids are likely to use here. Then when the ALTs do arrive the kids will be really, really happy and very proud that they can actually use the English they've learnt. That's what I try to do when I do when I visit schools. Then again I might be wrong.

So as far as English goes today, zero points. As far as an exciting and very enjoyable day for the kids to remember forever, full marks.

Model Class

Then it was my "model class" for 5th and 6th grades. 6th grade is tough. I can do stuff for that age group, but it's very hit and miss and not what a "model lesson" should be. As most 6th graders at the beginning it was like drawing blood from a stone. So I used my normal trick of doing my self introduction. It's a bit showy off, but if you can tell the kids you're the CEO of an an internet company and show pictures of you travelling the world then at least you have their attention.

If you can, try and find one thing to impress the kids in your own self introduction, even something small can often work wonders. Teachers are, after all, role models, so if a kid thinks "Wow, I want to play baseball in America too" or "I want to play the guitar too!" then it's a good day's work.

Next was to try and get some motivation out of them to learn English. As this school has been doing the Eigo Note and just "playing with English" the kids don't have much sense of why they are learning it. That's the next thing to work on.

How to motivate 6th graders

One trick here is to find out what they want to be when they grow up, and then get them to try and find a job where they won't need English! If it were about today, then in Japan that would be quite easy, but when you get them to think of 20 years' time, where most of the jobs they will be doing haven't even been invented yet, there isn't a single job in Japan where you won't need a foreign language at least a little bit. (If you don't believe me, try it yourself!)

That had them sold on the idea. So now it was to find out what they know. The teachers yesterday told me to do my self introduction etc. in English. I said that wouldn't work unless they could at least understand part of what I was saying. So I asked the kids what English they knew, to which the answer was "none!". So then comes my usual trick for showing 6th graders that they do at least understand a lot of English, even if they can't actually speak that much.

Once I had them on that we had 5 minutes to show a "model lesson" so I just did the Genki Disco Warm Up and Rock, Paper, Scissors to show the GE rules, and they were really, really good.

As with anything, if you can see the road you are going in, it's a lot easier to actually move along it.

Funky Japanese Noodles

Then for lunch we had some excellent nagashi soumen.

Shyest teachers ever?

Then it was the teachers' workshop.

I thought these were the shyest teachers I've ever taught. Until I realised that the reason they weren't asking questions or sharing their problems was because that they don't have any! They've been taught to not bother whether the kids get good at English or not, and for the curriculum they have the eigo note. Hence they were not very motivated. The only real questions came from the junior high school teachers. One of the teachers asked why I was so genki. The reason was that I had to be to get them to even have an ounce of passion amongst them!

As usual with these types of teachers, it wasn't the "how to teach" that they wanted, many just wanted to have a free Genki English lesson. And sure enough in What's your name? and Wie heisst du? they became the outgoing, confidence filled speakers they can be. But if I have to teach every person in Japan myself there aren't enough days in the year! I need their help to do the actual teaching. Which is actually what they are paid for!

Luckily though in the evening I had dinner with the teachers and it was a lot easier to explain that "getting good at English" doesn't necessarily mean tests or grammar or whatever, and that even if the kids think they are just "playing with English" then they can learn a great deal as long as the school plans the curriculum and materials well. They were actually really into things by the end of the evening and were really into the idea of getting the kids to be able to speak anything they want to in English.

Why ALTs are the best

However one thing that struck me today was how much better the ALTs are than the classroom teachers at teaching English. I've always known this, but as ALT budgets are being cut and as there are no where near enough of them, most of this year I've been focussing on how normal classroom teachers can teach on their own. This can be done, and there are some great teachers out there, but in general they need a heck of a lot of confidence training, and a very supportive system behind them.

Whereas with the ALTs all they need is a little guidance on what to aim for, a few warnings about what not to teach (e.g. don't start with ABCs) and then the vast majority take the passion and excitement they have for being in Japan and use it to really inspire the kids to learn AND they get amazing results.

So come on Japanese teachers, prove that you can be just as good as the best ALTs! Dekiru, dekiru, dekiru to omoeba dekiru!! desyo! : )

August 21st 2008 - Ishikawa - English banned in 3rd & 4th grades

Another long flight down to Komatsu, plus a bus, plus a train, then arriving straight into a meeting with tomorrow's teachers.

Although they have a teachers' workshop in the afternoon, in the morning they have a "let's play with English" set of sessions with the local ALTs. Then they want me to do a "model lesson". As you probably know, Genki English is the best method in the world for teaching kids starting from 1st to 4th grade. So which grades do they give me? 5th & 6th! There's just nothing remotely like a "model lesson" that you can do for that age group, so I was more than a little worried.

So then I asked why and found out it's because they had one of the Ministry of Education staffers come down to do a presentation where he banned them from doing any English, actual teaching or even just "getting to know English", in any grades other than 5th and 6th!

With the appalling Eigo Note coming out, we've known that are promoting English for the upper grades is happening, but it was always hoped that we could continue on teaching real English in the lower grades, where anyone can see it is much more effective. I have heard of other areas banning it in 3rd and 4th grades, but to actually have a Ministry presenter going round the country saying it is really going to ruin things for the kids of Japan.

August 20th 2008 - Hokkaido - Teaching with Digital Whiteboards

Here's a little video to show you how easy it is to teach English using the Genki English software with a touch screen plasma TV or digital whiteboard. The idea is to take the stress away from teachers who don't know how to use a traditional computer. It's also how the British Council use the Genki English CDs overseas. The video is in Japanese but I'm sure you'll figure out what's going on. Just ignore the fact that I look like I've eaten far too much Japanese food recently!

August 20th 2008 - Hokkaido - 600 kid class + Plasma TV

Today's school is another pilot school and as it's also the start of the new term in Hokkaido (they get a longer winter holiday) so I also had a demo class for the kids. If you can do Genki English with 30 kids then it's pretty easy, or actually easier, to just do it with the whole school, which today meant over 600 of them.

They were great, as expected (you can always tell how good the kids will be with how the head teacher greets you - he's a very cool guy!). And I guess this is the main difference between Genki English and the other "experts" who go around doing teaching workshops in the summer, I can't imagine many of them teaching a handful of kids never mind a full school! You've got to be able to practice what you preach.

Communication Skills

Anyway everyone was happy so afterwards they took me on a tour round the classrooms. Half the kids were doing tests, yes this is the first day back after the holidays, and the other half were doing "show & tell" style activities where they'd brought something in that they'd made over the Summer and were presenting it to their class. This is something that will feature more and more in all subjects in primary school when the new course of study comes in in March. The idea being to try and improve the kids' general communication skills, which along with a "willingness to take on a challenge" are the two main qualities that business leaders say that Japanese students lack when they enter the workplace.

Have fun or else!

However a couple of the classes brought up instant warning flags of things to do in the teachers' workshop. One was in the 6th grade, where the teachers were ever so sternly telling the kids "enjoy speaking english now!". To which, of course, the kids just turned their noses up. Setting goals and aiming high is very important, but pushing the kids or "forcing" them to "have fun" can never work. You just have to relax, let them decide what they want to say, then help them to be able to say it.

Next in the 1st year class the kids were asking all sorts of weird and wonderful questions, which is always the great thing about younger kids, you've no idea what they're going to come up with next! One of the kids said "How come you speak Japanese?" to which I replied "How come you speak Japanese?". One of the other kids said "because she is Japanese", to which my reply was "ah, so that means if you're Japanese you can speak it right from being born?" to which they started thinking and started saying "well no, we just started talking with our friends and stuff". "There you go, that's just what I did! And that's how you'll get really good at English".

Japanese Face?

But then one kid asked if I was Japanese, a fair enough question, considering some of the kids at the school are of mixed race. But the class teacher instantly jumped in with "Do you think he looks Japanese?! Just look at his face, of course he's not!" which certainly took me back a bit. Can you imagine that in a school in England or the US? Needless to say she was very apologetic when she'd heard my war speech in the workshop.

And the workshop itself was pretty good. The only thing is that the teachers here have studied more than most, and are hence confused more than most. Although I must admit I was a little unfair. Their curricula is the one I've been using for the last few weeks as an example of how not to design one.

DIY disaster?

This is one of the problems with the pilot school system though, all the teachers think they have to make their own system from scratch. But it's not as easy as it looks. It's taken me 10 years with a lot of help from thousands of teachers to make Genki English. There are so many subtle things "under the bonnet" that make it work. If you just take from it bit by bit without understand why everything is there, you won't get the same results.

Anyway, the head teacher was very impressed that all the guest teachers from other schools were congratulating him on inviting me to the school, so that was cool, and the kids were great, and some of the teachers were nearly in tears this afternoon, and I also got to play with their new fifty inch plasma touch screen TV, which would be magical in any classroom.

August 19th 2008 - Aomori - 14 degrees in August?

Up early for a drive through the mountains from Odate in Akita to Aomori airport. Along the way the sign posts were showing the temperature of the roads (vital info in the Winter.) Most of the way it was 17 degrees - in August! At one point it was down to 14 degrees.

We also stopped off at a conbini and checked that they did indeed ask to warm your onigiris. Convenience stores up here also have a special porch on the front to stop snow flooding in in the winter.

Then up to Japan's main northern island of Hokkaido. Luckily it was a little warmer here, but still too cold for shorts in the evening.

In the afternoon I popped into the school for tomorrow and it sounds like it's the most perfect school I could hope to present at. They teach English from 1st to 6th grades but are not too sure of the curriculum and won't be teaching the Eigo Note book. They were also asking lots of questions, all of which I can help with. It's also the beginning of the new school term so tomorrow I'll also do a kids show in the morning. They had a projector set up, and I jokingly asked if they had another, and they did, so a show with two projectors, cool.

Then I again jokingly asked if they had an interactive whiteboard for the teachers' workshop. They said no, but they'd just received a fifty inch touch screen plasma TV that they don't know how to use! Excellent. I've used those before but never in an elementary school, it will make things so much easier to just be able to touch the pictures on the CDs and have the voices come out. But sure enough they had it set up just as a normal TV because they didn't know how to use the touch screen functions. Amazing the waste of money in Japanese schools, but then everyone moans they don't have any budgets!

The kids were also doing choir practice, and it sounded amazing, just like the Harry Potter soundtrack. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.

So some Sapporo ramen for dinner and off to get some sleep.

August 18th 2008 - Akita - Snails are first!

Some people have been wondering why I put "snails" as the first animal in the new "I like animals" song. Surely something more exciting would be better first? Well, if you saw the kids' almost cinematic reaction to it this morning you'd have seen exactly why snails are the best!

What you do is ..

1.) Teach the "Do you like animals?" song first (or even in a previous lesson), which is usually quite easy.
2.) Ask the kids to guess what your favourite animal is.
3.) After lots and lots of guesses you final say "snails!".
4.) To which the kids all recoil in shock that you could possible like such an animal and let out the most enormous "eeehhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!" sound! That's the kind of reaction we like to get!
5.) Then you get them to ask back "snaaaaiiiilllllssss???" in the same expression.
6.) Then it's dead easy to run through the song, and with this song even if the kids haven't learnt all the animals before, they can pretty much manage all of it.

Coupling this with the Do you like animals? game (written up here in the food version), where the parents were runners and nearly ended up killing each other as they were so competitive, and a (digital) version of the Dinosaur Danger game and we had a pretty much perfect 3-in-1 lesson, after the Genki Disco Warm Up and Rock, Paper, Scissors had got them into the Genki English style. Good job the TV and newspaper people turned up.

Then a quick break before the teachers' workshop in the afternoon. When I've been here before it's been mostly private teachers or adults who were interesting in English who attended. But today was all elementary school teachers so I did the full on elementary school workshop and everyone was very impressed and were totally motivated at the end. Three of them cried with the Do Flowers Fly? video.

So a really easy, and fun, day (well, compared with last time I came here when I did demo classes for 2,000 kids!), and a very nice party in the evening before catching the plane up to Hokkaido tomorrow morning.

Just remember to put the snails first!

August 17th 2008 - Akita - Don't ever travel on Obon!

Take my advice, don't ever travel on the last day of the Japanese Obon holidays. It's like Christmas Eve in the West or Chinese New Year and the airports are packed. Mostly with people who've no idea of what to do with check in luggage or metal detectors (we're allowed carry on liquids here though). And whatever you do don't ever set off at 5AM to catch the first plane of the day and then plan to take a connecting flight in Tokyo.

Unfortunately I didn't take my own advice. So after 12 hours of travelling I'm now way up North (it's actually cold here!), and half asleep. Had a nice dinner though.

P.S. Apparently it's not just Okinawa where they ask to warm up your onigiris in convenience stores, they do it in Akita as well!

P.P.S. Please ignore that last sentence if you don't know what an onigiri is, it will only make it sound worse if I translate it!

August 16th 2008 - Junior High Phonics

I've just done a quick video so you can see what's inside the new edition of the Foxy Phonics book. If you teach in junior high school it's highly recommended.

Also apologies for everyone who ordered Foxy Phonics over the last couple of weeks. Our delivery was late arriving, but they have now all been sent off and should be with you very soon. And at the price it was when you ordered.

The publishers, AJET, have increased the price due to printing costs, so it's currently 1,900 yen + post and packing. However this price might increase in September. So the advice, as usual, is to get your order in soon. (I only found out the other day!)

I've also done a quick video of the Planet Eigo book so you can see what that looks like as well. Hopefully it will give you a better idea of what's inside. Again it's highly recommended for junior high school or senior high school.

August 12th 2008 - Japanese Breakfast & Awa Odori

Started off the day with a fiery Japanese breakfast.

Then found myself changing trains in Tokushima City, just as they were having their famous "Awa Odori" festival. This is early in the morning so people are quite sober and co-ordinated. They continue like this during the day, drinking more and more beer and sake, until everyone falls down by late evening! (I speak from past experience here)

As the saying goes, you see something strange and interesting here every day.

P.S. this is what they were practising in the woods the other day.

August 11th 2008 - Tokushima, Anan - JHS teachers don't speak English

I often get people saying "How come when you do workshops the teachers answer your questions and actually join in? In my workshops they just sit there nodding even if they don't understand, hate to make mistakes, they never ask questions and some of them even sleep". Well, that's what's taken me 10 years to figure out, how to warm them up and get people relaxed enough to actually ask questions, and ask for help, without feeling shy or embarrassed. The only thing is that it takes a good couple of hours to get them into that state!

So in places like today, where it's the second year, I'd ideally like to skip all that and move straight to more advanced activities. So that's what I did, and ended up with the dead pan reactions that plague usual Japanese workshops!

It turns out that more than half of the teachers were new and hence I had to cut my losses and re-start from the beginning. That's tiring, but fair enough. Eventually I had their attention I sat them down in pairs to write down all the problems they have at school, then we played a game to write them up on the board. As you can see most of the questions are the usual things and are easily solved.

In the "how do we teach English if we don't speak it" part, where I usually say it doesn't matter, just see it as learning with the kids, one of the ALTs shouted out "I don't know what you are worried about, most junior high English teachers can't speak English, but they teach it everyday". The primary teachers looked around in shock, they assumed JHS teachers were all fluent! We all looked at each other thinking "if only"...

Then it was lunch, where I could chat with the teachers, which was quite nice, and then an extra session in the afternoon.

The only tough question today, and it was similar to Friday, was "We don't feel any responsibility to teach". Well I guess the only thing for that is for the board of education to make it compulsory for the teachers!

So that's what we did, we sat down with the people in charge and figured out how to make it compulsory. i.e. the teachers would teach the English, then when the ALTs visited, the kids could actually practice the English. With Genki English it's really easy to do, but of course the people in charge are always wary of committing to one particular way of doing things ( even if it is the best ; ). Luckily the people in charge are the educational research center. I suggested they take two schools and introduce GE, then another 2 schools with another system etc. etc. Then test the kids and teachers every month for half a year and compare the results. That way they should have some concrete data. They'll also hopefully find that GE is the easiest subject to teach in elementary school!

Yesterday I had sat down with the research people who were very stressed about curricula etc. So I just kept asking them what they want in an ideal world. Then I just popped open the appropriate GE page and their jaws dropped with "this is what we've been searching for all year". It's all out there!

The ALT in town is also one of the best in the country (it's Garry from the forum) his desk is a mad scientist's lab filled with thousands of strange and wonderful Genki English mini cards and funky new pictures, so they really are lucky in this town, if they do decide to teach themselves they have a fully qualified trainer on hand.

One great idea that Garry did for his kids was to print out mini versions of the picture books to take home. You just set the printer settings to print several pages on one sheet. They really do look good and are a great present for the kids.

(The ten pound note is just there to show the size!)

August 8th 2008 - Kagawa - The only way to motivate teachers ...

I came to this town last year and from what I remember everything was immaculately organised and the teachers were great. Cut to a year later and we decided to do an advanced techniques workshop in the morning and a practical session in the afternoon. It should be tough, but they should be able to do it.

Or so I thought...

We did Wie heisst du? (to show how the materials work for a language you don't know), curriculum design and When is your birthday? and that was basically it. It was just a fraction of the content of the other workshops this Summer. So I began asking and pretty soon found out why, it's because these are the first teachers I've taught this year who don't actually have to teach English. Those of you abroad are probably thinking "eh, how does that work?". Well, they don't have a proper curriculum and just leave it up to other teachers or volunteers to do a few lessons a year. They're planning on introducing the new English Notebook next year for 5th and 6th graders, and then probably cutting English from 1st and 2nd graders. So make no wonder they were so slow, it's like if someone said to you "here's a workshop on how to teach advanced ballroom dancing" - unless you really loved it, you wouldn't try too hard if it wasn't going to be a part of your job.

The lackluster continued into the afternoon, where although they tried, there wasn't the hungriness or passion of teachers who are told they have to teach. The Ehime teachers were so much better! The Education Ministry are always worried that they can't make English compulsory because teachers can't or won't teach it. But from my experience, especially in places like Okayama or Fukuoka, it's the act of forcing teachers to actually teach it that makes them able to do it. There certainly was none of the biting my hand off when suggestion new ideas that we'd seen earlier in the week. And sorry, none of the lessons were worth videoing for you!

So I guess it's a shame, as they did put effort in attending and organising everything, but it's definitely helped me see I'm right in charging for public school workshops from November, because without the compulsion to learn how to do it, the workshops really don't have much meaning.

But now I'm dreading some of the upcoming workshops which are in just the same situations!

Today was rather draining, so instead of heading home I went straight on to Tokushima where I'll take a rest tomorrow. I think I've missed the famous Awa Odori festival, but did see something strange in the woods!

August 6th 2008 - Ehime & Cakes

This morning was the final day of the Ehime workshop and the difference in the teachers from the "we want to, but can't do anything" mentality on Monday compared with today was amazing. Some of the lessons today (such as "What are you doing?" ) were better than I do! They really knew how to keep the kids interest alive and to use the computer to get the pronunciation perfect.

They also twigged on the idea of doing the conceptually difficult things such as Under, on, in or the Guessing Game in Japanese first, then once the kids had got the concept they said "OK, let's learn how to do that in English". This worked really well, not only in making sure the kids knew exactly what was going on, but in motivating them and getting them excited about doing something really cool in English. I thought that was great to see.

Unlike many trainers (or English schools!) where the aim is to keep milking people and providing lessons for ever and ever, my aim is to make myself as redundant as possible as quickly as possible. The first day I plough in there as genki as anything, but once the fire is lit I pull back and back and by the end of the 3 days the teachers can help, support, critique and teach each other without me even being there. Excellent.

Then I took the Hong Kong teacher (who also happens to be a fantastic hip hop producer!) out for some ramen and the Japan tourist spots of the Bochan Train, Dogo Onsen hot spring (the oldest in the country!), and of course the most popular of all Japan's tourist attractions, the cake shops!

Not quite a Bullet Train.

Oldest Hot Spring in Japan

Japanese Cake Shop!

August 5th 2008 - Ehime - Under the Sea Videos

The teachers did so well yesterday that I started taking some videos today. Here are the first ones, purely by chance mostly to do with the Under the Sea theme!

Under the Sea

Sticky Fingers Game

Nemo Game

How much?

August 4th 2008 - Ehime - Getting good at this

It's only a couple of years since I started doing the "jissen" workshops where teachers actually teach and then learn from their mistakes. And I think I've got quite good at it, what used to take 2 days I can now do in 1. Of course it helps that today's teachers have been trying to teach English for the last year and were in need of some help. It was almost like the QVC shopping channel the way they were oooing and ahhing at the software!

They actually did quite well, and we also had a nice suggestion of doing the Make a Face game on two boards at once, with the kids telling the person at the board which face parts to draw next!

August 3rd 2008 - Okinawa Hotels & Hong Kong

If you're in Okinawa, I'd recommend the Naha West Inn, brand new apartment/hotel for 4,500 yen a night!
Also my mate Cesar's Mexican restaurant, hopefully you'll catch me there next time.

Today I caught the plane back to Japan to Matsuyama where a Genki English trainer from Hong Kong was flying in to join this week's workshops. She couldn't have chosen a better time to visit as it's my town of Imabari's big "Onmaku" Festival with a huge fireworks display, and lots of sushi - which of course is the best in Japan!

August 2nd 2008 - Perfect Gesture Game?

Although I recommend charades (or "gesture game") for What are you doing? or What do you want to do? (members bonus theme) I've never found a way of doing it that I was totally happy with. In one of the workshops this week I think I might have found it:

1. Put the kids in two groups.
2. One person from each group comes to the front.
3. Show the two people at the front a mini card
4. They gesture to their group.
5. The quickest team to answer wins.
6. Repeat from step 2.

Adding in the competition of having both teams doing it at the same time really turns up the pressure and gets the kids shouting things out. Adrenaline is a very nice motivator! You can of course use it with any of the GE themes that have gestures, which is just about all of them!

August 1st 2008 - Pacific Island of Okinawa

After catching up on a bit of work, and before dinner with the teachers from this week, I got picked up in an open top car for a nice drive round the beautiful Pacific Island of Okinawa. It's so nice to finally have a day off here, as usually I just fly straight in and straight out. I love the sunshine!

Update: The sunshine apparently doesn't love me. I now resemble a well done boiled lobster. No more videos this week I think!

July 31st 2008 - Do flowers fly?

To be honest over the last few months I've seen CD8 as a bit of a mismatch of themes to fill holes in the curriculum or to bring about themes that haven't worked out until now. But today I played the songs for the teachers and they loved it. Out of all the songs we've done this week, every song on CD8 they enjoyed more than all the others. Wow.

Otherwise we finished off the three day workshop with some hip hop stuff, phonics and curriculum development (including dissecting other prefectures curricula, and they were quite stunned at how bad they were!).

Then after recapping the projects I finished with this video: "Do flowers fly?". In India it's used to show private school teachers how public school fails kids. In Japan I used it to show elementary school teachers why they shouldn't become like junior high schools. At the end the teachers were crying. Education is important.

July 30th 2008 - CD is out!

Breaking news: CD volume 8 is out early! We were supposed to be getting CD8 from the factory next week, but they've actually sent them on their way already so I figured I might as well get it on the site.

There are song samples, picture cards and new mini cards and all sorts on the website for you. It's very late and I've been in workshops all day so if you do spot any errors or broken links then please let me know.

But enjoy all the new things on the site and also your CD Owners Club discount!

July 30th 2008 Okinawa - Day 2

Normally day 2 of a 3 day workshop ends on a "will they really be able to do this?" note. But today's teachers were fine right from the start. It does take a bit of getting used to teaching Genki English, especially the idea that pronunciation and learning something new actually matters, but once you've done a couple of lessons, even if it's just in front of the mirror to yourself, then it becomes a whole lot easier.

It used to be that they could do all of Genki English in a three day workshop, but there's so much material in the Teachers Pack now, I think it would take a month to get through them all. We also took some videos of games today which I'll try and get up on the site for you tomorrow, once I figure out how to get HiDef video onto YouTube!

July 29th 2008 - Okinawa - Bad, Good, Praise and Funky Animals

People often ask me if I ever get tired or feel like quitting. Usually, no. This morning, oh yes. Now I know why Japan is so bad at elementary school English....

This week I've been invited to do two and half days of training as part of the certificated Japanese elementary school teacher programme. I have a pretty much free rein on my stuff, but this morning for the first time I got to see one of the other sessions. It was appalling.

Not only were the examples riddled with English mistakes and on topics that kids find totally irrelevant, the CDs, from a Japanese publisher, were in-the-horr-i-ble-style-that-makes-you-talk-like-a-ro-bot. Even the basic teacher training points wouldn't get much more than a "D" on any overseas training course. Boring, irrelevant and just plain wrong. Lovely, just all the things I rail against in my workshops. At one point we even had a grammatical analysis of "Liar, Liar pants on fire".... It's a shame because the lecturer is such a nice lady...

Luckily I had underestimated the teachers, as in my workshop they were totally on board with my, somewhat toned down from usual, comments about how to, in my view, correctly choose what and how to teach. Rather than just talk about what makes a good curriculum, lesson or material set I used some Genki German and Genki Korean to show how it should be done and how quickly it can be done. It was really nice for me to actually teach a language to adults for a change. I think I should do that full time, I could earn a fortune.

Anyway the teachers were cool and as bright as buttons, asking all the same questions as yesterday but also requesting ways of praising kids. "I hear there's such a thing as praising kids too much" one asked, to which my reply was "You can never praise too much. False praise is counter productive, but when someone has done something well they have a right to know". Yesterday I was listening to Zig Ziglar's podcast and he was talking about one of the famous music teaching systems. He said the first thing they teach is how to bow, because if you bow people always applaud. And applause is the greatest of human motivators. Needless to say I gave the teachers lots of applause today as they were great.

Then it was out for sushi and a friend showed me what she was doing with the Genki English animal picture cards. For her baby sign class she'd printed out the cards, laminated them, cut them out and stuck them on sticks so they can bob around when the kids do the sounds they make! They were really good. She was saying how much the parents and kids love the old animals cards..... just as I was thinking of changing them for the new ones!

What do you think?

July 28th 2008 - Mie - Workshop + Funny Pictures

Today was the first board of education workshop of the year organised by one of the Ministry of Education's test schools. They also opened it up to other teachers - including junior high teachers - so we had quite a nice turn out.

Content wise it was the usual confidence building & questions: What if I can't speak English, how can I teach it? What to teach? How about 5th and 6th graders? Why teach English? What about katakana? etc. all easy stuff. I also tried out the new !, you, he, she, we are hungry song which worked a treat after "How are you?".

One guy was arguing with me saying that it's OK to teach pronunciation that's wrong, which was a little tricky to counter, but other than that everything was cool. At the end the junior high school teachers were asking all sorts of questions, which was really nice to hear, I think they got just as much out of it as the elementary teachers. And apparently I got full marks on the evaluation sheets. Naoyama sensei is coming up from Kyoto to do their next lecture, I wonder how that will work out.

I also got asked twice about the GE artwork and why some of it looks "funny". "The kids point at them and make comments" said one of the teachers. Well, that's the reason why they are like they are! I purposely use stuff that gets a reaction from the kids. Unfortunately it's the teachers who decide to use GE or not, hence why some of the newer cards are more "professional" because teachers like them better, but it's the older funny looking ones that gets the kids talking!

Now it's onto the first of 5 (yes 5!) trains to get to the airport to fly down to Okinawa for tomorrow. I'll be shattered after 9 hours of travelling. Well, at least I didn't have to catch two aeroplanes like was originally planned!

July 27th 2008 - Shrines & Techno Toilets

After not taking any photos in India last month and regretting it, I went out and bought myself a Casio EX-S10 camera (looks great, very easy to carry) and I'm glad I did because after 5 hours on the train today I arrived in Kumano City in Mie ken (the place of tomorrow's workshop).

This place is great with the oldest shrine in Japan, Shishiiwa ("Lion Rock") and "Oni ni Jyo" - Castle of the Demons - which was apparently where pirates used to live so they gave it the demon name to keep people away! Dinner with the teachers was also really nice, tempura, sashimi & Japanese beef and then a really nice chat with the local ALT.

Oh, one other thing, my hotel for today has a Japanese techno toilet. People ask me about these all the time, so here's a video for you!

. . . . .

July 26th 2008 - Living in Tokyo

I've just spent the last week in Tokyo. I think it's been my best week of year so far. Jet lag had me fully awake from 4AM so I just ploughed on through and got so much work done. It's amazing how much I got done. Well the saying goes that if you want to make yourself happy, just make something. I'm very happy.

Then when you take a break you pop outside and there's so much stuff to do. I haven't "lived" in Tokyo since 2002, and it's really changed. The whole area around Tokyo station has been built up and it feels like Tokyo should feel, all bright lights and futurism. It's also been hot and sunny which is great.

The best bit is the food, it's amazing and eating out is so cheap compared with the UK. Tonight I just had BBQd chicken and quail on a big bowl of rice. Yesterday I had a "viking" ( the Japanese word for "all you can eat" because they can't spell Smorgasbord - oh, google just told me I can't spell it either!). That was 5 GBP with just so much food. Starbucks costs the same in yen as it does in pence, i.e. half price. Nice.

Right now I'm off to take an onsen (hot spring!) before catching the last episode of season 4 of the West Wing - Zoe's just been kidnapped!

July 24th 2008 - What color is the sky?

It seems that Japan is a haven of amazing teaching materials produced by foreign teachers.Try this by Koomakids in Kumamoto, then try getting it out of your head. I was very impressed!

July 23rd 2008 - What you really want to eat

As promised here are some of the ideas I picked up from Hokkaido's Yorozuya Sensei's workshop the other day. I've added in some extra bits, but his main theme was to try and get some real exchange of information instead of simply practising the English. The latter is fine, but the former is of course the real definition of "communication", if you can add it in all the better. So for example instead of getting the kids to run around saying "What would you like for breakfast?", change it a bit..

The end of the world!

1. Play a video of the Sun exploding!
2. In the kids' native language say "Oh no, the Earth is also going to explode tomorrow morning! Tomorrow is your last day on Earth. What would you like for breakfast?"
3. Kids have 5 minutes to interview 5 people asking what they would have for their final breakfast on Earth!

(Professor Yorozuya didn't mention this, but the Sun isn't actually big enough to explode. Make sure you explain this after the game, you don't want to teach bad science! But this gets any worried kids off the hook and gets the curious kids asking science questions, which is really important everywhere.)

Anyway the paradigm shift of taking the question out of the classroom and into something so "urgent" really gets the kids thinking. You will need to allow time for them to really decide what they want (this is the imagination development part) but then instead of just "eggs" or "bread" they come up with "super double chocolate cake" or other things that they don't know the English for. This is cool as you can then get a list of these words and teach then in the next lesson. As it's English the kids really want to know, they just soak it up.

Birthday Paradox
As an alternative to asking your friends when your birthday is, which they probably already know, try this technique which is one of the staples of standard communication courses (even in the kids' own language).

1. Get the kids to line up in order of their birthdays.
2. Of course they can only use English to explain when theirs is.

This sounds simple but as you don't know everyone's birthday then you really have to communicate the information using English.

Professor Yorozuya didn't mention this either, but the reason I like this game so much is that you can also introduce a little Genki Maths. With any group of around 30 or more, ask them what the chances are that two or more of them have the same birthday. Usually they'll say it's very low. But actually it's almost a statistical certainty, there will be at least two of them! Just try it, it's amazing and works wonders at getting kids interested in maths. Cross curricula stuff is so important.

English book -> Show & Tell

Another idea was to use the English Book idea, which I never really liked and always used to use as something for when everything else failed in 6th grade classes, but make it into show and tell where the kids come to the front and present their book to everyone. As you are talking about you and your things then apparently even the shyest 6th graders get into it! That sounds really useful. Have a try and let me know how you get on!

There were a couple more ideas so I'll write those up for you later...

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July 22nd 2008 - How to Revolutionize Education

Today I was asked by one of the big American cable companies (I don't think I can tell you which one, but you've certainly heard of them) to pop along to their Tokyo offices for a chat. I wasn't quite sure why, but popped along anyway. It turns out they were wanting to ask me about giving a language education slant to their channel. Which quite surprised me as they're one of the top TV companies in the world!

But anyway, it would be great if companies like this got into the education scene. One of the main reasons that Genki English works so well is that compared to the chalk and talk of most lessons, just adding in the right songs, games and pictures (ones that the kids have chosen, not the teachers of course!) makes it a no brainer for kids to concentrate more on their English lessons. If you had a big media company with armies of professional artists, animators, musicians and researchers just imagine what you could do! Everybody would be fluent and we could all retire.

Unfortunately the education market is usually considered too small for big budget stuff and in the general market you're not just competing with boring textbooks, you're competing with everything out there from movies to video games to sports to the latest toys.

But like I mentioned the other week, TV is usually credited with getting kids in Scandinavia fluent by middle school. If you could do something like that here it would be fantastic. I guess you'd either have to remove the local language competition by either something like parental control where they only allow TV for 30 minutes a day unless it's in English, or just by making the most stunningly brilliant kids channel ever that also happens to be (re)designed to really teach something. Now that would be cool to get involved with!

July 21st - How to Learn Chinese for Free

Learn ChineseIf you've ever fancied learning a little Chinese (just in time for the Olympics!) then the site is now live.

There are six games on there (numbers, months, colours, countries, left & right & body parts) and the design needs finishing off, but they work really well. After I finished coding them up I was trying them out myself last night and I'm amazed how quickly you pick things up!

Have a try yourself and see: Learn Chinese online: Free and Fun

July 19th 2008 - A ship called Japan

Today I was invited by the Seigakuin University to do 2 lectures to teachers and students near Tokyo.

Usually after being abroad I get really depressed with the state of teacher training in Japan. This morning some of it was as boring as anything with very dodgy English being taught, but generally things were pretty good. One class was really good, going through lots of bad activities (where I was getting worried) but then saying why they are bad and introducing good ones. I actually picked up quite a lot of ideas there and I'll write them up for you this week. It was also nice that when the lecturer got stuck on how to teach something he actually asked me for help, which is nice to be appreciated.

Then it was the key note speech. Dr Kajita's picture looked like it was going to be really boring. He's one of the architects of Japan's educational policy and I was just waiting for some xenophobic nationalist rant about why Japan is superior to everyone else on Earth. But then he starts out by saying "We're all together sailing in the same ship. Some people think this ship is called Japan. Some people think it's called Korea or China or Russia. But it's not. The ship's called "Earth" and we're all in it together.". Wow. He then continued on saying his priorities are a) maths and science b) English (so we can communicate with other countries in Asia) then 3) learn Japanese history and culture. He was talking about development projects in South America, how to resolve political disputes and of course child development and education, in a very surprising and knowledgeable way. He's probably the first Japanese government advisor I've heard who really knows his stuff. Wow. Can we have this guy as Prime Minister please?

I was on next! Usually I spend half my workshop saying just the things that Dr Kajita had just said, which was great as it freed me up to do more problem solving and confidence training for the teachers. Very often teachers in Tokyo can be "just in it for the money" (they must be really bad at maths if they believe that though!) but today's teachers were excellent. We did some activities ( Genki Warm Up + Come on, Come on) but mostly it was Q&A about the problems they were having and how to solve them. I said "lecture" earlier but it ends up being a mass rock concert with everyone leaving the room thinking "Wow, I really can do anything". Even the second class, it was their 5th of the day, were still super genki at 5:30 and were totally into what I was doing. What a great way to conquer jet lag!

Then we walked outside straight into a festival. Nice.

So it was a good day and as I mentioned earlier, check back later in the week as I'll write up some of the nice ideas I got this morning.

July 18th 2008 - Amsterdam to Tokyo

Amsterdam airport have a new toy. It's a funky 3D body scanner. So now you not only have to take off your shoes, take off your belt, take out your computer, leave behind your deodorant, leave behind your bottles of water so you're smelly and de-hydrated on the flight, but now they also search your wallet. I asked what they were searching for and they said "Can't tell you ,security". I guess credit cards can be used as weapons now. I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't for the fact I'm paying for the privilege. With airfares double what they were last year it's not just fuel the "surcharges" are paying for. Plus it isn't any more secure at all, just buy a first class ticket there are no body scans there. It makes you feel like the terrorists have already won.

The flight was cool, I always like intercontinental flights as it's about the only time I feel I don't have to be working all the time. I was reading Alex James' "bit of a Blur". It's a good book and I thought it was pretty cool. Then I realised I'm being paid by a Japanese university to do a gig in Tokyo. Which is also kinda cool.

Touch down, a bit of a rest, a trip to the music stores to see what new keyboards there are, then a dinner meeting with my mastering engineer. With the CDs I write and produce all the music but before they are pressed at the factory they have to be "mastered". Which basically means they get a sprinkling of magic dust, that takes them from sounding "pretty good" to being "blimey, did I do that?". I've been working with the same guy over the internet for eight years but we'd never actually met. So it was great today to finally meet up, have a beer and realise he and his wife are really cool people. Cool. Then an early night before the jet lag kicked in.

July 17th 2008 - Korean Home Pack

If you teach in Korea, here's something that will interest many of your pupils' parents, a new Genki English Korean Home Pack (Page in Korean).

It's basically the collection of 6 Genki English CDs with a free Black & White MiniCards Book. But as there is no access to the online Owners Club nor the teaching guide DVD nor worksheets the price is a really low 120,000 Won ( plus post and packing )

We've been experimenting with a Parents' Genki English Pack on the Japanese site for a while and I'm sure the Korean version will be even more popular.

If you have any students or friends who you think might be interested, please tell them about the page (it's all written in Korean so as to be easy to understand for parents): Korean Genki English Parents' Pack.

And if you are a teacher in Korea you can order the full Teacher's Set today and deliveries are currently taking around 2 to 3 days to get to you. For some reason we seem to be having a rush of orders from South Korea this month. Is there something special going on over there at the moment?

July 16th 2008 - PhDs

The people who I've been working with on Genki Spanish and Genki Chinese over the last few weeks are all PhD students. It's amazing to see the research they are doing, which is basically the same we do here, namely find an educational need, propose an idea to fill it and then test the results.

I've been asked several times in the past to write up the Genki English ideas for a PhD, and I'd always figured we'd need to research for 6 years to really learn the long term effects. But it seems you can get a PhD from a simple several month study! This could be very interesting indeed.

For example with the India project we're in the lucky situation of introducing Genki English in a very controlled way to 10 new schools. The people from Newcastle University are testing all the kids at the moment. Then as Genki English rolls out across the schools we'll test the kids again to see if it really does work. As I've seen so many kids in other countries do well, I'm pretty confident myself that the results over such a time period will be great. But of course the people in charge of the Indian programme need hard data from their own studies before they move Genki English on to lots (and lots) more of their schools.

My background is in scientific testing so I'm quite happy to leave all this up to the social science people who know how to correct for all the various different parameters that effect educational testing, you wouldn't believe how complicated it can get!

As I said I'm confident the current research well come out with good improvements in the kids' abilities over a period of weeks and months. But for me it's the improvement over years and years that I want to know. How much of a long term effect are we having? How far does the motivation and ability continue to improve into high school? I'd love to be able to research that.

So before then I am seriously thinking about looking into doing a PhD study over a shorter time frame. It does seem there's no problem with me also being the materials creator, as everything is peer reviewed, these days (after many changes) just about everything about Genki English stands up to any educational scrutiny, so the only problem is writing it up which would take a lot of time.

Time is the thing we are all limited by. Would I be better using that time to make new materials and help more kids? Or to get the qualification and hence the credibility so more people would start using Genki English sooner?

July 12th 2008 - Mary had a little lamb

I mentioned in the newsletter yesterday my dislike for songs such as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". Along with the Mother Goose tracks it was the impetus for me starting the Genki English songs in the first place, because I found that whilst the kids could sing them they provided them with very little useful English for quite a lot of effort!

But it's not always the case in all languages. For example if you're learning Japanese, something like Mary had a little lamb is actually really useful. That's because the translations are more modern and are much simpler. For example in Japanese we have "Mary san no hi tsu ji". So you learn "hi tsu ji" means "sheep" and also it's good practice of "no" which means " 's " i.e. Mary san's sheep. Then it repeats "hi tsu ji" three times. The final line is "kawaii ne" which means "cute, isn't it". And those two words, "kawaii", and "ne" you hear every single day in Japan!

Then if you add in the music and pictures it gets stuck in your head.

I just wish more English songs were like that. I bet you wish you were teaching Japanese now, don't you!

P.S. what do you think of the poster above? kawaii ne!

July 11th 2008 - Okinawa & Tokyo Details

I've just got through the details of my (nearly a) week long workshop in Okinawa. I'll be doing sessions on the 29th, 30th and 31st, with the aim of getting you fully fluent in teaching any Genki English theme. Although the fee is quite substantial, and the course is all in Japanese, it's a small group with lots of questions, feedback and professional development content. The teachers last year loved it and if you have any friends who maybe interested, full details and the application form are here.

The other big event coming up is in Saitama near Tokyo on July 19th. I'll be doing the session on primary school languages, particularly the problems teachers have and how to cure them (quite easy once you know how!), and there is just about every other famous presenter doing workshops as part of the event. Full (pdf) details, again in Japanese are here.

If you're outside Japan and would like to get a group of teachers together for a workshop, I'm going to be in India again in September, followed by a workshop in Sweden in November. I'm also hoping to visit Germany in January. So November, December, January are the best times for workshops in Europe. Then from February onwards I'm taking bookings from South America and possibly the Middle East!

July 8th 2008 - High Definition

There's lots of buzz these days about High Definition TV (HDTV) and High Definition Gaming. So you might be pleased to know that your Genki English CDs are also High Definition!

All you have to do is to plug a suitable computer into your HDTV and you'll see all the Genki English songs, pronunciation guides, computer games etc. all super crisp and clean. They really do look good on a big screen (even on the monster 60" sets) so if you have the gear be sure to try them out!

July 4th 2008 - Last few days!

Get 'em while they're hot, it's the last few days for several of the Internet Exclusive bonus songs. Namely:

How many do you have?

Hip Hop Numbers
What's your favourite flavour?

Download them now because from next week they'll be taken offline to make room for some more new songs over the Summer.

Particularly the ice cream song is popular at this time of year!

July 3rd 2008 - GE as BGM

I got an interesting email from Nicoletta this week. She was wanting to play all the Genki English songs her kids have done so far as background music (BGM) during colouring or painting time. The idea being it's giving them added exposure to the songs and the English. I think that sounds like a great idea, and something I wish I'd have thought of myself! I wonder if it really does help...

June 30th 2008 - UK languages BBC

The BBC have put up an article showing how the new UK government aim of giving every primary school child the chance to learn a foreign language is getting on: More primaries teaching languages

There isn't much new in the report, but it does reflect the situation in many other countries. If you know any teachers who are looking for new ideas for French, German, Urdu or Chinese then be sure to tell them about the Genki English games pages as they work just as well for any language.

And tomorrow I have the first recording session for Genki Chinese!

June 27th 2008 - Story Nory

童話The fairy stories I put on the site last year have become quite popular with teachers wanting to brush up their English whilst reading something they enjoy. The interactive dictionary (where you hover over a word to get a translation) is probably what makes it work.

The next step of course is to actually hear the stories spoken. And to help with that I introduce you to Story Nory. It's a huge free site with recordings of dozens and dozens of famous fairy tales. The level is way above any beginners, but for teachers wanting listening practice in the car on the way to work or for more advanced students wanting a challenge, the soft, well spoken narrations are highly recommended. After all the more English input the better. Now if they only had printable illustrations to go with the stories it would be perfect!

June 26th - Cambodia & Japan Lesson Plans

I got the new PEPY newsletter today with a nice link to some lesson plans about Cambodia. They look good for Junior or Senior High and are a great way to support the work PEPY are doing.

June 23rd 2008 - Gestures & Actions DVD

Now FREE with the Teachers' Set!

When I used to travel around I'd often hear teachers saying things like "I don't use .... song, because I don't know how to teach it". If you just play the song, it can be pretty boring (well, still better than most kids songs, but not that exciting). But each song actually has a special way to use it in class, either with the making pairs as in "What's your name?" or the hand-in-hand dancing of "Fruit Market" etc.. So a few years ago I got together with a mate of mine to record mini videos of how to teach the first 30 songs. Originally it was available as the "Teaching Guide CDROM" but whilst I was over in Italy earlier in the year I reedited it and added in new videos for the "easy to teach" remixed songs and put it all onto 2 DVDs. Whilst I was back in Japan last week I oversaw the launch of the Gestures & Actions DVD.

Each DVD retails for around $40 US, but if you order the International Teachers' Pack you get the English version of the DVD for free! And teachers in Japan can get both the English and Japanese DVDs for free in the Japanese Superpack.

Just pop the DVD into your player or computer and within 5 minutes you'll have figured out exactly how to do the lesson and get your kids genki about every song on the first four CDs, it certainly takes the pressure off lesson planning.

Get your order in today and enjoy! As usual, the Teachers' Set is available for delivery in any country in the world.

June 19th 2008 - A nice week in Japan

It's 10 months since I've been in Japan and I'm only here for a week. It's actually been rather nice, almost like a holiday. The best thing has been cramming in as much gorgeous Japanese food as I can. There are so many great things to eat here from ramen to unagi, bibimba and all the sushi which you can't get at all overseas (they may call it sushi, but it isn't).

Smoking in restaurants is something that freaked me out (you won't find that in Europe anymore), Osaka drove me mad with the bland greyness of the architecture, and having to fill out a million and one forms by hand to renew my driving license were the bad things, but most other things were pretty cool. The inaka and Shikoku are cool places, full of greenery and wide roads (a shock after India and Italy) and things are really cheap here. I also got to spend a day checking out new synths and video cameras, which was great.

And in between sorting things out for summer I even got a little work done.

Now I'm sat on the overnight ferry from my island back to the mainland to fly back to Europe tomorrow. So I wouldn't expect any coherent email replies for the next few days!

June 14th 2008 - Workshop in Japan

After arriving back last night, this morning it was straight into a set of workshops at Osaka's Shoin University sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education.

My workshop was part of a 6 day course, split over several weekends and although there were 70 people I had 4 time slots with 20 people each. Compared with India it was really easy to do as I knew exactly what the teachers would have problems with and what questions they would ask, it also helps that I can speak their language. So although all 4 were slightly different they were basically the same as the Japanese workshop videos I have online.

The best bit was one of the teachers I taught last year telling everyone how she had tried the projects and about all the replies she had received from different countries. That was great to hear.

They were all good teachers so it was probably the first time I've not been disappointed at teachers here after being abroad, but it was the same basic things they were worrying about, which even just a touch of reading up and practice would sort out. But as usual it's the confidence that they lack, so that was the main focus of what I did.

I also got to see the printed version of the Eigo Note, apparently the latest advice is that it will not become compulsory, it's just one extra item for teachers to use if they wish. Judging by how bad it is (and how even worse the accompanying CD is, I don't think any native speakers were involved in producing it) that's probably a good thing, but I don't think it will stop lazy boards of education from making it the de facto textbook in a lot of places.

I haven't done much work in Osaka for a while so overall it was worth coming, even if I did have to fly all the way to Japan just for this one day!

In the evening the beers and food were great, before my jet lag finally kicked in.

June 12-13th 2008 - Dubai Dune Trek

It was my last breakfast in India this morning, and the drive to the airport was still as exotic as when I first arrived. India is beautiful, so photogenic and unbelievably colourful.

Then I had a 15 hour wait over in Dubai so whilst sipping cocktails in the Le Meridian I actually got most of my email work done for the day so figured I'd go out on one of the Desert Tours. It was with Arabian Adventures and was really worthwhile and excellent value. First up was being picked up in a 4x4 and driven out to the desert. The other people in the car were all Ozzies so it was pretty much guaranteed we'd have a laugh.

Then you hit the dunes, and it's better than any roller coaster. Well, it's not that violent or fast at all, it's just really, really cool to be out in the real desert. (My brain has been having a hard time realising just where I am this year). You stop for a couple of times to see the camels and the desert sunset, then head off to a camp for dinner. It was a bit touristy at the end, but for a night out it was pretty cool. The food was nice, the belly dancing was great and the free wine made for a fun time. The arabian coffee and dried fruits were nice, just don't tell my girlfriend that I had a "date" in the desert tonight. (I have a feeling I'm going to have to spend a long time explaining that joke!)

There were also free henna tattoos of scorpions and cobras and things, but I figured they wouldn't be the best thing to have when trying to get through Japanese immigration tonight!

The big thing that hit me was how developed Dubai was compared to India. Road markings! And people who follow them! It was a pretty huge contrast. Then a ten hour flight to Japan which was sort of mixture between the two.

June 11th 2008 - Wednesday - Really poor

I had been warned that yesterday's school was a bit "posh", well relatively speaking, for the schools we are working with. So today I asked to go to some of the poorer schools. I wanted to see this because when you do reach a certain level of poverty then the learning begins to suffer from nutrition and home life factors which is something I saw in Thai schools.

You could see the contrast straight away with today's first school. The street it was in was just like Pompeii. But not Pompeii in its heyday, Pompeii as it looks now. Rubbish was collecting outside the building and there were flies everywhere. They also hadn't started school yet so there were no kids for me to teach. And there were no computers for me to put the GE software on, so after an introduction we left for the next school.

On the way we passed through Jubilee Hills, which has to be one of the poshest places I've ever been to, where all the Tollywood (yes, Tollywood with a "T") stars live. But it's right next door to the next area which is the poorest I've seen here. The streets were barely wide enough for a car, with an open sewer and goats feeding off the rubbish left out in the street. We had to walk up to the school and the buildings were basic to say the very least. The classrooms were more like stables than a school.

But a school isn't the buildings, it's the people. Although there was a huge variation between the skills of the different teachers, they were all trying. Even though they didn't have the GE lesson plans or CDs (not to mention CD players) yet they were doing lessons based purely on what they had learnt last week. Some of them were great, and some not so. For example they had been taught phonics last week, where you introduce one sound at a time. But one teacher was simply reciting the alphabet with the Jolly Phonics gestures. In one class I was getting the kids to talk to me and the teacher was saying "Oh no sir, these children are too young, they can't speak". To which my reply was "What's Genki English rule number 1?" then we got the kids talking. It did feel like I was in Japan though!

So that was quite tough and I was thinking it will be really difficult to make sure all the teachers, and not just some, are up to speed and doing the best for their children. Part of my job here is as a motivator, to keep everyone happy and genki. And on the car in the way back I was thinking "How can we put a positive spin on this?". But we do have a system in place with 5 staff members who will go round checking on the teachers and giving feedback. We never expected the teachers to get everything from day one, if they did we wouldn't be needed, and this is part of the challenge. Just to make sure the staff members could give the correct feedback they came round to my room in the evening to try teaching a new GE lesson just from the lesson plan. And you know after 30 minutes I had no worries at all. They were well on the ball and knew exactly how to do this, how to correct things that need correct and also how to let each teacher do things in their own way. I'd also finished the lessons plans and all the master CDs by this point so after being really stressed all week, on my final night I was really happy about the future. They are going to be able to do this!

I guess seeing the villages this morning also made a difference, because I have no place moaning about having to sit behind a computer for hours on end when the parents of these kids are doing real hard toil for many more hours to pay for their kids to get an education. The schools have decided to use Genki English so if the teachers can put in all the effort they did last week, then I'll do all I can, and make as many material as I can, to help them.

June 10th 2008 - Tuesday - Indian kids

Most of my impressions had been formed by teaching and talking with the teachers last week. But as it had been the school holidays, I hadn't actually taught any kids until today. So that was this morning's work. Well, actually it was really fun. The class teachers were all the same teachers from last week so were eagerly inviting me into their classes. They were wanting me to do some Genki English example lessons, but my main aim was just to chat to the kids and find out what sort of language they use. This is how I design a curricula so it is very important. It's quite easy to do though, you just do a little warming up to get them used to you then ask if they have any questions for you! The questions were basically the same ones that kids ask everywhere, although we were careful to let them ask in Hindi as well so they weren't just limited by the English they knew. The only extra questions that aren't in the GE curriculum were things like "What is your father's name?" which did confuse me until I had the reason explained to me. What sports do you play? didn't work at all though, the answer in every single class was "Cricket!". "Any others?" I asked, and the reply was "Are there any other sports??". One kid did eventually come up with "kabaddi" though. It was also interesting when they were asking me where I live. As usual I got them to guess (it's good vocab practice for them and let's you see the sort of things they know), but the guesses were always England, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies... I guess the cricket world defines the country names known as well!

In the older classes I also tried the Hammer Game and the Lines Quiz. This showed that their English is generally quite good, but as anywhere in the world it's the confidence that needs the work. Which is just the thing I spend my workshops on.

One high school teacher kept looking across at my class and I thought he was telling me to be quiet. So I got the kids to do the English "Genki but quiet", but he still kept looking across. Eventually I realised he wasn't telling us off for being so loud, but wanted me to come and play the games with his class. And they were quite good as well.

So all this combined with seeing the teachers in their home environment really gave me confidence that this whole programme should work really well. There are so many kids packed into these schools (doing the warm up caused a dust cloud to appear in one class!) but with a few smiles and fun things to do, they are as genki and energetic as any kids you could meet.

June 9th 2008 - Monday - Hard Work

After a 10AM team meeting it does seem like last week was almost a holiday compared with the work I volunteered myself for today! I basically had to sit down and finally decide the exact curriculum we would use, write the lesson plans in a way suitable for these teachers, remix some of the songs, prepare the audio CD master and re-do a version of the GE software for the computers. All to be done by tomorrow!

I was part way through at the next meeting at 6PM, but finally crashed out at 3PM. Sitting in front of a computer for that long can't be good for you!

June 8th 2008 - Sunday - Charminar

I've been here for a week, it's my first time in India and haven't really done any sight seeing. So it was really great today to head out into the old town on my day off. This is more like what I imagined India to be, with rickshaws, traffic, fumes, noise and masses of people crowding the streets.

The main sight of Hyderabad is the Charminar which is very impressive, and you can climb right to the top.

Back on the ground we were scouting around for some filming locations later in the week, so headed off into the backstreets to see the pet stalls, market stalls and kids playing cricket. It was also nice to be able to walk around and not having people hassling to sell you things, everyone seemed genuinely friendly when saying "hello". That's not a feeling you get in every country.

One real gem was an old bookshop that was just like something out of a Harry Potter movie, packed from floor to ceiling with old books, maps and manuscripts, all with the pages facing outwards so you never knew what you were going to find. The gentlemen behind the counter was pulling out maps and documents that you really couldn't buy anywhere else. The professor that I was with inquired about a specific book and we were quite surprised at the price, the owner simply smiled and said "This is a rare book, but you already know that sir."

It seems strange to say but it was also good to see the poorer side of town. This last week the schools were quite nice, out of the city and the teachers were both happy, smiling and immaculately dressed even though they are paid hardly anything. It was a far cry from what I was expecting. But today you can see the poverty, where people live and how hard they have to work. But it's not like on TV with pleading, begging faces. Just looking around more people had smiles on their faces than you'd ever see in the US or UK. It does beg the question as to which areas are developed, and which ones are still developing. In any case I'm very happy that the work we are doing here is helping the people who need it most.

June 7th 2008 - Last training day

As I mentioned before, today was going to be an optional thing, but all the teachers insisted on joining, even though it meant being crammed onto a non-air conditioned bus on non-made up roads to get here. And they were great. We did a few more songs, and they finally got the idea that the games are fun, but they main thing is that the kids are practicing the English whilst they are having fun. Well, I think this might have been something to do with me telling them off for being so bad at the games. My telling off lasted for 1 minute, the translation went on for about 7 and roughly came out as being "Richard is too polite, don't let his smile fool you, if it was me training you you'd be in big trouble". And amazingly from there we never had any problems and they did things really well. The teaching in pairs thing worked well and I really could use the line I use at the end of my good long workshops: "Can your children be the best children in the city? YES! Can your children be the best children in the country? YES! And can your children be the best children in world?" YES!.

And with emotion, excitement, passion and genkiness like today, I think they probably could!

To be honest I can't remember what happened in the afternoon, I was so high on getting the teachers to such a level. Oh yes, now I remember, it was congratulatory beers that never seemed to stop flowing...

June 6th 2008 - Crazy Indian Dancing

Today was the last day of the phonics training. It was also a half day. However we still hadn't gotten the teachers to do much Genki English teaching on their own. So we split the class in two, with me taking one group and showing them how to teach one theme whilst the other group did intensive phonics stuff, then swapping round with the other half learning a different theme. The idea being that tomorrow they can teach each other a new theme that their "students" don't know.

I don't know what it was though, but just splitting the class down from 75 to 35 made them all eager to ask lots and lots of questions. I also got them to teach me Urdu, which got quite a few light bulbs going off as they realised they can't just rabbit on without giving me time to think or saying things clearly. So that was good.

Then as the, rather excellent as it happens, phonics trainer was going home today whilst the teachers were filling in their evaluation forms we got changed into Indian dress and learnt a few (very simple) dance moves. And as we walked in the teachers went mad! We had the Bollywood music going and they all got up and started dancing. If Thai teachers are the best singers in the world, the Indian teachers are heads and shoulders the best dancers. I just couldn't believe how amazingly good they were, with their co-odinated routines, it was like being in a movie.

Then an afternoon off to start work on the writing up etc. before heading out to one of the organiser's house for dinner. That was really kind of them and another really nice night. And if you ever get to see an Indian wedding book you should, I thought Japanese ones were cool, but our hosts' tonight was something else. Then we got taken home in a music pumping auto-rickshaw, which confused the doormen tremendously who I guess had been expecting the mode of transport from last night again!

June 5th 2008 - Day 3 Much better

As expected day 3 of the training was much better. I decided to hold back on having the teachers do too much too soon on their own so concentrated on going through the basic themes such as Where are you from?, How old are you? etc. and making sure that the language, activities and context was suitable. This is always a bit of challenge in a new area, especially with so many different cultures at play. I had remixed a special version of Where are you from? with India included, but there was almost a riot because it wasn't in first place! So the deal was that I'd put India first if they earned it. And I'm pretty sure they did!

Saturday is an optional part of the training course, so I asked them today if they did want to come in on Saturday or would they like to finish things off on Friday. I was very pleasantly taken aback when they were screaming to keep things going. Getting people to come to work on a holiday, it's must be good!

Then in evening it was the most surreal dinner experience I've ever had with the most surreal car journey back. Unfortunately it's probably more than my life's worth to blog about it, but if you meet me over a few beers be sure to ask about it!

June 4th 2008 - India Tough Day

To keep things flowing, and also because we had electricity, I was on this morning with the phonics workshops in the afternoon.

After yesterday's storming success there was no problem that the Indian teachers could sing, play the games and be incredibly genki about it all. Today was to get them used to teaching themselves, and not just enjoy a Genki English lesson.

So just like the lesson plan we started off with a warm up, got the teachers in groups and had them practice being the teacher in turns. They were fine with this and although they were saying "sleeping" instead of "sleep" etc. once it was corrected they were adding in their own commands with no problems.

Then it was yesterday's review with What's your name? And they were actually better than yesterday.

Next was to introduce the new language and for this I chose Left and Right. You have to remember that these teachers are from very poor areas, many hadn't gone to high school and rote learning is all they have ever seen. So instead of me modeling the lesson I had them come to the front and teach it in their own styles. This was very important for us as we instantly saw a few problems to fix. First was that they were ignoring the students in the class. They were just going on teaching the words without looking or knowing what was going on. There was no feedback.

The other problem is that some of them were jabbering. They'd say "now children, this is the hand signal that I am going to teach you the word left and you move your arm to the sides and this is very fun"... needless to say kids would never have picked up on the English she actually wanted to teach which was simply "left". To help with this we got them to teach us the words in Urdu. Eventually one or two teachers realised how to keep it simple, check to see if we were understanding and control the class (sort of), but many of them still weren't there. To try and illustrate the point I did the song in German, and I think what we found was that the teacher doesn't need to bother teaching the language at all, if they just do the song the language comes along with it!

Next was to get them reading the lesson plans and figure out how to play the games. This is where the kids use the English they learn in the songs. In most countries I have the book translated into the teacher's own language, but here that won't help as they all speak so many different languages. It did take them a long time to figure out what a game was, and even longer to do it, so that needs work, including simplifying the lesson plan book into really simple English.

I was about to break for lunch, but the professor in charge popped in so the teachers insisted on singing all the songs we've done so far, and they really were amazing again.

Indian TempleSo really we might either have to cut down the number of games so that maybe they only learn 2 or 3 and use them for every theme. Or maybe remove the class games and get them using the language in reading based activities. Normally I wouldn't recommend this as it usually kills any good pronunciation, but here they are so good at phonics that it might work.

Then again it's only day 2. If you've read my blog before you'll know that day 2 is always the toughest as the teachers are out of their comfort zone and usually do really badly. Things always turn around by the 3rd day, so lets see what happens!

For today I was totally shattered, but we had a couple of hours off in the evening so took an auto-rickshaw through the rush hour traffic to the local marble temple which was very nice. And when I was re-writing the lesson plans this afternoon, part way through I looked up from my computer, saw were I was and thought "flippin' 'eck, I'm in India!" which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

June 3rd 2008 - Genki in India

4 days of workshops for 70 teachers, half phonics and half Genki English. Sounds fairly straight forward? Well, this morning was quite an Indian experience, just bordering on chaos but miraculously by 10:30 the room was full of very genki teachers, all in wonderful Indian dress, and everything was ready to go. Well nearly ready, we didn't have electricity. But we expected that. Recently I've probably become a little lazy, relying totally on the software section of the CDs where you simply hit a button to hear the words and change the cards, not to mention the animations for the songs. Needless to say the schools here aren't going to have projectors nor PCs, so it was old fashioned Genki English flashcards and batteries in a CD player. I'm writing this whilst the phonics workshops are going on and the teachers are going great. Let's see how they do with Genki English this afternoon!

The first thing for me was to see if they could actually do Genki English. I had had reports that the teachers were bored, boring, not at all energetic and it would be impossible to get them to sing or move around. Well after the amazing phonics session this morning they were up for anything and were as amazing as any teachers I've ever presented to. They perfected the songs, loved the games and got all the class control things. Songs wise we did What's your name?, What's the weather like?, Genki Disco Warm Up. It was basically a super long Genki English lesson for them, rather than a training session, but they were so happy at the end that there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Genki English is going to be huge in India!

June 2nd 2008 - Jolly Phonics

The plan for the schools here is to teach "Jolly Phonics", following on to a more advanced phonics program for reading, then Genki English for speaking and a host of intensive reading stories etc. for fluency and vocab. It should make for a great combination.

As the phonics workshops and my workshops will be held together this week I sat in on one of the preliminary workshops. Jolly Phonics is really good, the kids love it and it's probably the best programme out there, but it was a little strange for me as I'm quite used to a more American approach for the more complex sounds. The Indian teachers were better than I was! But you quickly figure it out, and it fitted in very nicely with the Genki Phonics materials. Using the gestures for each sound really makes a big difference.

I also had a demo workshop for the people in charge, and they loved it, which was reassuring to hear.

Then more meetings and some gorgeous Indian food before bed.

June 1st 2008 - Indian Schools

Indian ClassroomYesterday was arriving and straight into meetings. Today was a look around the schools. The project we're involved with is for schools in very poor areas but I was actually quite impressed with their facilities. Of course they are very basic, very hot, no windows and quite cramped for the number of students, but it wasn't like Thailand where we can have land mines outside the school, armed police doing the lessons or even like Japan where children have to huddle with gloves and scarves in winter.

As it is the school holidays a couple of the classrooms had been painted. It's amazing what a lick of paint can do, transforming a dull dark concrete grey into a lovely bright classroom, and the sunshine helps keep the atmosphere happy and bright.

The rest of the day was involved with more meetings and preparations for the workshops.

May 30th 2008 - Off to India...

I'm just about to head to the airport to fly to India. As I'm probably going to be doing lots of workshops and might not have internet (nor electricity it seems!) all the time, there might be a delay in my replying to emails. I also have a full inbox from this week to work through. So please be patient. As usual the office is always open to send off orders etc.

Keep tuned in to see what happens in the sub-continent, it should be exciting!

May 23rd 2008 - Indiana Jones & the Secret Code

I went to see Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull last night. Well, hmm, yeah, it probably was worth going to see at the cinema, but only just!

Anyway here's another Indiana Jones inspired game "Indiana Jones & the Secret Code". It's based on the popular, but now long in the tooth, Da Vinci Code game, so should be popular with older kids. There are two versions, the first version is for a few Indy Jones inspired words. The second one uses every letter in the alphabet, which could be good for alphabet or phonics works. Just print them out and get the kids to decode the words. They work in either colour or black and white.

Indy Jones Printout
Indy Jones Version
alphabet printout
Alphabet Version

The nice thing about these games is that it gives you a feeling for what kids see English as if their own language doesn't use the roman script.

Oh, and also have a look at the other classroom Indiana Jones game!

May 17th 2008 - New Numbers Song

The "How many...?" song I wrote to practice "How many?" (surprise, surprise!). But until now there hasn't been a simple song for teaching just the numbers on their own. In Japan the "Seven Steps" song is quite popular, but not so much elsewhere.

So I've just put up a new demo song that takes the numbers part of the How many..? song but starts of really, really slow, then repeats, gradually getting faster and faster until it reaches the speed of the How many...? song.

You either hold up your fingers (like in the How old are you? song) or jump on each number. Then to make the repeats more fun, there's a story as each time you forget to add in the number 12. (I'm sure some kids will believe you are really forgetting!)

Hopefully the speed is slow enough for most classes, but I'd love to hear your thoughts! The mp3 and discussion is here on the forum. I'm hoping it can be used by inexperienced teachers as their first numbers song so your input is very much appreciated.

The best thing about it is that once you've done this song once, if you try it again what once seemed really fast now seems very, very slow, which is a great confidence builder!

May 16th 2008 - Pronouns & Clothes

Two more card games for you today.

One is for personal pronouns and stationery. e.g. He has a pencil. Although you could also change it for possessive pronouns e.g. It's her book.

To avoid grammar complications with things like "scissors" and "glue" I've just stuck to items that can be used with "a" or "an" e.g. pen, pencil, book, ruler & eraser. ( Apologies to the Brits for the American version of the last one!)

The other game is a simpler one with Winter Clothes & colours.

And for those of you curious about yesterday's teaser, Custard Cream, Jammy Dodger and Oreo were all ecim dleif. (only read it backwards if you've read yesterday's post!)

May 15th 2008 - Kid Control: Big Sheep, Little Cows

I was at a farm today. Not just any old farm, but one of the funky new ones with well trained guides: The Big Sheep & Little Cow Farm.

"Be quiet!" is a shout of many an adult unused to dealing with kids, but the farmers today were masters of kid control, using the time tested methods of suspense, intrigue and a just a dash of misdirection...

For example, part way through the tour the farmer said "I'm going to put the next animal out on the floor in front of you. Now be careful, make sure you all sit down and raise your feet just a little off the ground. Why? Because "Flash" just loves to climb up trouser legs!". Of course everyone sits down and raises their legs.

Then there is a pause, just the right dramatic length, before Flash is brought out. And, of course, Flash .... is a tortoise! "It'll take him a little while to get to you, so keep your legs in the air" joked the farmer, but he had the full attention of the kids, who were quite relieved and happy to see a tortoise!

Before that was the biscuit jar. We had the story of the homemade biscuits (food is always a good attention grabber), and in the jar there were Jammy Dodgers, Oreos and Custard Creams. The farmer passed the biscuit jar around the group. The first person peered inside, ready to choose a delicious treat, but jumped back in shock! Then a smile. But they didn't take the biscuit. "Ooo, what's happening here?" thought everyone else as they patiently waited their turn. And when the jar arrived, just imagine what was inside.....

Well I'm not going to tell you here, you'll have to visit for yourself! : )

So how can you use a little suspense, an inkling of intrigue or a little fun misdirection to get the attention of your students today?

(You see, you're just dying to know what's in the biscuit jar - you'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out!)

May 10th 2008 - University of Newcastle

Yesterday I popped into the University of Newcastle for a chat about the upcoming Genki English trip to India.

It does seem like a very exciting, very different and very interesting project to be involved with. Not least of which is because of the just-on-the-right-side-of-crazy people who are running things!

I'm sure I'll be writing more on this in the coming months as it is having a big effect on how I look at my volunteer based public school projects across Asia, and is also a great chance to learn new ways to help teachers in different situations.

If you'd like to learn more, have a look at the University's page at or some of the articles such as The Times, Newsweeks' Do it yourself education, or the BBC's Newsnight programme (real video player needed) . Could this be the future of education?

Keep tuned in for more updates!

May 9th 2008 - Amazing! Super! Incredible! Fantastic!

As you know, confidence is something I'm very big on. Here's the English version of my "Kodomo Eigo" article this month.

"Good" is a good word. When you hear it you feel good. You think to yourself "that was good". It's not bad. It's good. But it could be better...

For example the movie might be called "Spiderman", but the comic book is called "The Amazing Spiderman". Superman isn't just a hero, he's a super hero. The Incredibles aren't just good, they are incredible. And last year the Silver Surfer didn't just fight any four astronauts, he fought "The Fantastic Four". And because your students have you as their teacher, I'm sure they're not just good. I bet they are excellent. Or brilliant. So let them know. Instead of just writing "good!" on their homework, let them know that they, just like you, are really…

Normal English: Good! -> Genki English: Amazing! Super! Incredible and Fantastic!

May 8th 2008 - Weather & Countries Card Game

Weather Countries GameIn yesterday's newsletter I introduced the new Genki English "One Left" Card Games. Just like the famous game Uno, they are based on the traditional Crazy Eights game and work great in mid to high level classes.

Here's another one for you today, for teaching weather and countries. Simply teach the two lessons as usual then use the card game in the next class to show the kids how to link sentences together.

I wasn't too sure which way to write the sentence on these cards e.g. "In Canada, it's sunny" or "It's sunny in Canada", but went for the former as it seems to be more popular in textbooks. But if enough of you want it the other way I could do another version, just let me know!

I've also got a couple of other versions coming soon, and as usual any requests are much appreciated!


May 6th 2008 - Playstation 3 or Xbox 360?

With Grand Theft Auto IV coming out last week lots of people are thinking about buying a Playstation 3 (PS3) or Xbox. I'd definitely say "Buy the PS3!". It is more money than the Xbox, but it has built in WiFi and a web browser. That means that not only are mutliplayer games free, you can also watch YouTube videos on it and you can play all the free online games that are around, including all the Genki English Online Games and picture books. Genki English on your Playstation, that's something the Xbox can't manage!

However the Xbox does have one advantage, it's the perfect illustration for the letter "X" when you are teaching the alphabet.

(P.S. full disclosure, I bought an Xbox on Friday and now wish I had bought the PS3!)

May 2nd 2008 - Free trip to Japan or UK

The British Council have set up a new competition for Japanese schools doing exchanges with schools in the UK. The prize? A trip to the school you are doing the exchange with! Looks very interesting, details on the British Council site. Or have a look through some GE projects you could do.

April 30th 2008 - Why is Sweden so good at English?

There's no doubt that speakers of English in Sweden are much, much more advanced than in many other countries. The question is why?

The answer most people give is TV. It does seem that unlike the FIGS countries (France, Italy, Germany and Spain) and larger Asian countries that there is less localisation of programmes and also, admittedly just from a quick glance, less banal quiz show type programmes. From the brief time I flicked on the TV, all I saw were subtitled English programmes and movies. And of course if you are a kid you are simply going to learn the English rather then read the subtitles.

This is similar to the reasoning behind "extensive reading" in Asian countries, just give the kids lots and lots of input. Although from my experience TV seems much more effective.

Travel and study abroad are also often mentioned. Especially as Swedes tend to mix more easily and tend not to cling together to fellow nationals as many other peoples do.

Plus there are things like the similarity of the alphabet and common words in both languages. But this is also the case for the FIGS countries where the level of English is generally much lower.

I also think there are a couple of other things in play.

One is how even the advanced speakers in Sweden are always learning. We all know that fear of making mistakes is a big problem with many adult learners. But here people would just guess a word then ask if it was right. It usually was of course, but they weren't afraid to just try and risk getting it wrong. Every time they do make a mistake they do learn a new word. Even the most fluent speakers were doing this all the time.

Plus of course there's also the fact that just about everything is advanced in Sweden. Design, social thinking, parenting, everything points to it being one of the most advanced societies on Earth so speaking English is maybe just a small part of that!

One of the main things I feel is the self fulfilling prophesy that as so many people do speak English, everyone just sees it as something normal.

Before Roger Bannister ran the 4 minute mile everyone thought it was impossible, immediately afterwards it seemed everyone was doing it. The same applies here, the kids learn English because it's just something you do. Whereas in many other countries, especially Asia, non-English speaking experts fill the screens with tales of how impossible English is to learn. Here one Grandfather told me "yeah, kids just listen a lot then one day start speaking".

President Kennedy got America to the moon not because they knew how to do it, but because they didn't know it couldn't be done.

Any thoughts? Please share them on the forum...

April 27th 2008 - Stockholm to Liverpool

So that was my first visit to Sweden. Well, unless you count the time I was invited by a Swedish Princess to the Swedish island on the Switzerland/German border. But that's a different story...

For most of today I was actually held up in my hotel trying to catch up on my emails, they don't half build up after a week.

Now I'm just about to catch my $10 flight to Liverpool, which I guess sounds just as cool as Stockholm and don't you just love the prices of Europe's cheap air tickets. Then I'm heading off to see my Mum and hopefully getting my vaccinations and visa for India's workshops next month!

April 26th 2008 - Day in Stockholm

This week I took my day off looking around Stockholm. It is a very, very nice European capital city. I also chose the right time of the year, it was warm but not hot and just right for a walk around town.

I'm staying in the Rica Hotel which has the most amazing location, right next to the fresh fruit and vegetable market. Unlike many European markets it looked like it was out of a picture book, everything was impeccably displayed and smelt amazing.

Then a walk down the long, pedestrianised main shopping street (it's a great place if you need to do some shopping). And into the old town of Gamla Stan. This is the picturesque heart of the city, and is really, really nice.

I arrived just in time to see the Swedish Changing of the Guard, which was cool and also had a look round the shops in all the cobbled back streets.

Mind you at one point I turned a corner and was in China! There were hundreds and hundreds of Chinese students waving massive Chinese flags to promote the Olympics right outside the parliament building. The Swedish ceremonial soldiers did look a little out-of-place and quite "quaint" compared with the dynamism of the Chinese swarm of people.

Then a little more looking around the harbours and things. Admittedly any city looks nice in the sunshine, but I really like Stockholm. Southern Europe could also learn a thing or two about how to keep a city clean, it looks like everyone was taking a pride in the city.

If you like photography the old town is very photogenic.

Ryanair and other low cost airlines run flights here and I would imagine it would look amazing at Christmas time!

April 25th 2008 - Long Days up North

I don't think I've ever had such a long day for a while. Luckily a good night's sleep set me up for ....

6:30 AM Business Network International Breakfast
Business brain on and a posh breakfast, Great to see everyone so positive and helpful, and they quickly learnt how to use the word "Genki". I even had someone ask me for a workshop!

9:00 AM First Demo Lesson of the Day
3 and 4 year olds, usually a tough age group to teach. But Good Morning, Left & Right and Do you like..? ( including the game) went perfectly. Amazing.

10:00 AM Second Demo Class 9 and 10 year olds.
Again another age group that can go either way, good or bad, especially in Europe where cheekiness reaches heights unheard of in Asia. But no worries, these were a perfect class, asking tons of questions, being very impressed with my photos of Japan, Hong Kong etc. and they did brilliantly on the What's your name? and I can do it songs. As this is Sweden, by the time the kids get to this age half the class are fluent and half the class are very good. So rather than the English, the main aim was the same as in native English speaking countries, namely confidence (including eye contact) and the Genki English rules of "I can do it!" and "Try again!

10:45 AM Third Demo Class 7 & 8 year olds
Always the easiest age to teach and apart from a couple of rowdy-ish boys they were perfect as well, with How old are you? + mingle, Under the Sea + Nemo Game (which isn't pronounced the same in Swedish, but the kids picked up on it eventually!)

11:45 AM Recruitment at the local university

We set up a stall at the local university to try and recruit students to be trained as teachers for the programme. Plus we managed to grab a sandwich to eat.

And we probably should have left it there. But we didn't and....

2:30 PM Fourth Demo Class - total disaster!
You wouldn't believe it would you, after 3 perfect lessons. These were 5 and 6 year olds who are usually really easy classes, but they also brought in the 4 and 5 year olds from this morning. Things started OK-ish with Good Morning. Then I figured I'd try something a little more advanced with the new "I like animals" song. And they just didn't get it! In the song the teacher says "I like kangaroos" and the kids reply "kangaroos?". But they were so stuck in "repeat after me" mode that that's all they did! This morning they were fine, but not here. And this was the most important class with parents, a video camera and other teachers there.... So we cut that song short and moved on to something super, super easy i.e. How are you? and the How are you? Monster game. And that didn't work that will either - which is a first.

So it just goes to show that what I wrote yesterday is so true, some lessons just never go to plan. The 3 classes this morning were honestly perfect, I could have videod them as model classes. But hey, you win some you lose some.


3:30 PM Checking Emails

5:00 PM A BBQ in the Sweden Forest
This was pretty cool. Swedish people may pay a lot of taxes but they do live very, very well. April in the snow covered mountains with the forest behind and the frozen river in front might seem like December, but with a fire burning away and very nice people to talk to it was really, really nice.

9:00 PM Flight to Stockholm
Amazingly efficient. The Arlanda Express to Stockholm is probably the best airport shuttle I've been on and the hotel checking was as smooth as good be.

12:30 AM Writing the blog

12: 45 AM I'm off to bed. Good night.

April 24th 2008 - Genki in Lapland

Yes, I just found out today that the town I'm in is Swedish Lapland. Which does sound very cool. Apparently they have more snowmobiles than cars up here, as well as ice roads across the sea and the famous Ice Hotel nearby.

I'm up here because Northern Languages are introducing after school clubs based on Genki English. This evening we had a taster session for parents, and a few teachers. After a little warming up even the usually serious (as I'm told!) Swedish parents were singing the Genki Disco Warm Up, How are you? and the Thank You song and playing the How are you? Monster game and were happily smiling away. I couldn't explain as much as I usually do for parents workshops, but they seemed to get what it was all about.

The rest of the day had been going through the GE curriculum with Melinda, the owner of Northern Languages. With all the materials spread out across the site it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to make a full programme out of Genki English and Melinda was having this problem.

Probably the easiest thing to do in that situation is to download the Lesson Plans Book and follow the order and suggested games that are in there. Once you've done each lesson a couple of times you can also have a look at each theme's page to get some more ideas that may work better (or worse!) in different situations. The Online Video Workshop is also a must.

Flexibility is a big part of things, for however well we plan, lessons involving kids hardly ever turn out like we imagined. (And I find this out tomorrow!)

April 23rd 2008 - Rome to the Arctic (nearly!)

After catching the opera last night (it was good to see Tosca in Rome), it was up early and on the flights to northern Sweden.

And I must say I am very impressed! It may be because I've just spent the last month in wonderful but graffiti ridden Italy, but Sweden is just so clean, fresh, friendly and efficient. I always thought the best new airports were in Asia, but Arlanda got my bags out really quick, got the new ones checked in super fast and they even have award winning food.

Then it was the trip up north. I don't think I've ever been this north before (see the map!) I've been assured it's not quite in the arctic circle, but looking out from the plane the sea was frozen! But even up here everything is clean, very nicely designed and everyone is very, very friendly.

Tomorrow should be good.

April 21st 2008 - Summer Tours

I'm a little busy organising my Summer Tour at the moment. If you'd like a workshop at your school this year, then now's the time to get in touch. And look out for my write up of my first workshops in Sweden later this week!

April 18th 2008 - Cute Kitten English

仔猫の写真I was helping a friend set up a new website the other day "かわいい仔猫" (cute kitten), where she puts up a picture of a super cute kitten everyday. Now I don't really see the attraction of cute kittens at all, but to see some people's almost hysterical reaction I just knew it was something you could use for teaching English!

As it happens there is a "Learn English with Cute Cats" website that has captions for the writer's pet.

What I was thinking you could do would be to show the kids the かわいい仔猫 site and get them to come up with their own original English captions. The fact that it isn't in English is probably even better for students in other countries as they just have to go by the pictures. I have a feeling it could be a very popular lesson!

Oh and if you do happen to like kittens then please leave a comment over on my friend's site, I'm sure she'd appreciate it!

April 15th 2008 - Free Phonics Worksheets

Free Phonics Worksheets

If you're teaching the alphabet to first year junior high or elementary school kids, here are some new free phonics worksheets for you.

I've lost count of how many people have emailed me saying there is a mistake on the "odd-one-out" phonics worksheets because "volleyball" is on the "b" worksheet. Of course, that's the odd-one-out!

But to save my inbox from overflowing I've re-done all the worksheets as straight forward stroke order, writing practice and example words only sheets. They also now cover the whole alphabet, upper and lower case, and use a font style which most textbooks use for writing practice.

The example words are nearly all taken from the Genki English curriculum so if your junior high students have done Genki English in elementary school it's a great way to show the junior high teacher just how much the kids know i.e. watch out for "oh no, this is much too difficult" remarks from JTEs, just as the kids finish all the words!

If you do find any mistakes in these worksheets then please do let me know as this time they will be real mistakes! : )

UPDATE: More A4 & "school style" mini phonics worksheets added!

April 13th 2008 - How to Videos + Bigger

Do you like videoI've just put a couple of new "Teaching Guide Videos" on the site. One for Do you like...?, one for the adjectives song & my favourite song for getting older kids genki, Where are you going?.

They don't feature any kids, but just show you the actions, gestures etc. for when you teach the song. Video being a lot easier to understand than simply photographs!

The videos for the rest of the songs on CDs 1 to 4 are on the Teaching Guide Videos CDROM. These new ones are simply ones where I've remixed the song or just come up with an easier way to teach them! All the videos are in English & Japanese, which is good to show a class teacher for those of you in Japan. And there's also a new Mr Octopus video in Japanese only.

Plus I've also put up new A4 flashcards for the "Bigger, please" song to match the minicards.

April 2008 - Pompei & Vesuvius

Pompei Vesuvius

I haven't had a day off for a while, plus my net connection was down for a couple of days so I had time to visit Pompei & Vesuvius this week. Both are really good. You can walk right up to the volcano cone in Vesuvius and Pompei is just huge. Mind you I much prefer Ercolano just down the road. It isn't as big, but the buildings are much more complete, rather than just ruins, and you really feel you are wondering up and down a Roman town. More importantly I'd actually like to live there! : ) There are certainly lots of great things to see around Napoli.

It's back to work from today, but just to keep you up to date on my schedule, this coming week I'm in Rome then next week I have workshops in Sweden. At the beginning of June hopefully I'll be having several workshops in India, before heading for the Japan Summer Tour from June 14th.

Now I think I need to write a blog entry on carbon emission off-setting!

April 9th 2008 - Subjects & Days

The WorldAlthough it might seem like I was a quite harsh on the "Eigo Notebook" the other day (and I've been told that the latest version is quite different from the one they published on Friday), there are actually some really good ideas in there.

One of them is to combine Days of the Week with School Subjects into a great exchange lesson. I've written many times that Days of the Week is not the most useful English for younger kids, but in this case for 5th or 6th graders it probably fits quite well. The idea is that they use the two themes to compare school timetables with kids in different countries. I'm not sure exactly how they plan to do this in the "Eigo Notebook", but here's a lesson you could do straight away:

1. Teach Days of the Week with School Subjects (this may take a couple of lessons).
2. Put the kids into 5 groups.
3. They prepare and read out "On Monday we have maths, then English then..."
4. The next group do Tuesday.
5. Then take photos, or even better video, of those lessons in action.
6. Edit up the recorded speech with the images and make a video file to put on YouTube. (Easy to do with a Mac or modern PC, or ask the computer teacher as the kids can maybe do it themselves in ICT class!)
7. Head over to and find a like minded teacher in another country. (The hit rate is usually 1 in 10 i.e. you write off to 10 teachers and you'll probably find one who can do the exchange)
8. Get them to make a similar video for their school.
9. Show this video to your class and discuss.
10. Rinse and repeat with another class in another country.

These types of lesson work wonders with the kids, they were always my students' favourite lessons. Some of the technical stuff and issues I have written up on my Projects page.

And be sure to let me know how you get on!

April 8th 2008 - First Lessons

If you're just starting a new term, new class or even school year, here are a couple of articles I wrote last year that may help with some ideas:

First lesson of the year, if you speak the lingo
First Lesson when you don’t speak the lingo
First Lesson in Junior High School

If you have to do a self introduction type lesson then the best idea I've come across is the True or False Intro Game.

1. Tell the kids your name is David/Victoria Beckham.
2. Altogether the kids vote true or false.
3. Tell them your name is something else, they vote again.
4. Finally tell them your real name and they vote again.
5. Do the same thing with hobbies ( I have a black belt in Judo etc.), favourite foods, where you are from ( Mars?) etc. etc.

It's especially good for lower level groups as long as you do have at least one thing to introduce that is a little out of the ordinary!

April 7th 2008 - Eigo Note in English

The Ministry of Education (MEXT) only has information in Japanese about their new curriculum and "English notebook". So I figured I'd better translate it into English for ALTs who can't read Japanese: MEXT "English Notebook" curriculum in English

Overall it's not as bad as many of us feared and at first glance it looks quite similar to Genki English.

But reading through and translating all this my biggest feeling was disappointment. I spend a lot of time choosing the target language I use in classes, making sure it all fits and builds up as well as being what the kids want to say and real correct English. Here it just seems they've clumped together a bunch of Japanese phrases and said "Here, translate this into English". A real shame.

They seem to spend a lot of time on each topic, and I guess that is to help first time teachers who probably aren't up to speed yet. Plus reading through the content makes you think of 1st or 2nd grade classes instead of 5th and 6th!

But theses details are still in the "provisional" stage so may well change. I'll get my hands on the book when I'm back in Japan in May when I have a ministry sponsored workshop. I'll let you know a little more then.

As I said this curriculum isn't in force yet, so please feel free to try out my curriculum and experiment with your own ideas. Elementary school education is so important for the future of our students, I'm sure we can all do better!

Any feedback or extra information you have, please add it in the comments section of the English notebook page!

April 5th 2008 - New MEXT Curriculum

Just a quick word to let you know that the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) has just released on their website preliminary details of the new 5th & 6th grade compulsory English curriculum.

The site is in Japanese but also includes worksheets, flashcards etc. to go with the new "textbook" (which they are calling a "no-to" or "notebook") that will distributed when English does eventually become compulsory. Over the weekend I'll get to work on translations and reviewing what they have created.

Here are the topics covered (my translations from the Japanese) along with MEXT's own list of "phrases used" in each one:

5th Grade Phrases used
1. How the world says "hello"

What's your name?
My name is
Nice to meet you.
2. Gestures
How are you?
I'm happy.
3. Playing with numbers
How many?
4. Self intros
Do you like apples?
5. World's clothing
I don't like blue.
6. Gairaigo (katakana English)
What do you want?
Melon, please.
7. Big Quiz
What's this? It's a pencil
8. Make a timetable
I study Japanese.
9. Make a lunch menu
What would you like?
I'd like fruits. (doesn't this sound a bit strange?)

6th Grade Phrases used
1. Playing with the alphabet.
A -Z
2. Different letters
a - z
3. Make a calendar
When is your birthday?
My birthday is March 3rd.
4. Things we can do
Can you swim?
Yes, I can
5. Street directions
Where is the flower shop?
Go straight.
Turn left etc.
6. Countries I'd like to visit
I want to go to Italy.
Let's go. (I wouldn't bother, it's a bit cold here at the moment!)
7. My day
What time do you get up?
At 7:00
I go to bed at 9:00
8. Make our own drama
Please help me.
What's the matter?
9. Future dreams
What do you want to be?
I want to be a cook?

Aside from the few funny phrases, at first glance it doesn't look as bad as many of us feared.

Please excuse any mistakes on my part, it's 11PM where I am (in Italy as it happens) and wanted to get this out to you ASAP. Full marks to Yumiko for sending me the link so quickly. Check back here next week for more.

April 5th 2008 - Japanese Weather

Japanese WeatherToday it's the turn of the site to get an update, this time with the Weather in Japanese song / video. I haven't checked the stats yet, but with 1000 people subscribed to the YouTube channel I imagine quite a few people have already seen it.

The nice thing that's happening at the moment is seeing more and more teachers who have learnt Korean or German or Japanese using the genki games, then using the Genki English versions with their students as they know first hand how they work.

If you haven't tried the other genki languages yet, then have a go, it's a very nice eye opener to actually learn through the computer games as opposed to simply teaching with them!

P.S. Three new card games just added to the "Beta Test" section of the members' forum. Enjoy!

April 4th 2008 - Chants vs. Songs

If any of you saw Carolyn Graham's recent tour of Asia you'll know she really rocks. She was the first person to popularise "Jazz Chants" where you take a record and chant your class' target English over the top. If you get the music to fit the words (and not the other way round) it works great for learning English rhythm, works with all age groups and any English you could think of.

The only problem with chants is that, almost by definition, they don't have a melody. That's where you're losing out on something. For example if you think of the latest hip hop song on the radio, is it the rap in the verse you remember or the melody-like hook in the chorus?

With the latest Kylie or Madonna song, it's not the rhythm, it's the melody that sticks in your head and hence the lyrics get stuck in there as well. That's why ESL songs are so much better than chants, because the kids retain the English for a lot longer, usually to the next lesson and beyond. That's the best thing I like about them!

So why use chants at all? It's simply because they are easier to write! It's easy to make a chant out of any grammar point, you can do it yourself in 5 minutes, but it's a lot more difficult to come up with a memorable melody. Hence why there aren't as many out there. I'm just as guilty as anyone as most of my Japanese songs are actually chants, just because they are easier to do! I'd love to make them into songs, but it takes so much more time and resources. Luckily the success of Genki English means for the English materials I can actually take the time to make them into songs, which then benefits the students.


The other point is that for the melodies to stick they have to be original melodies. I've lost count of the amount of ESL songs that say 'sing to the tune of "Frere Jacques" or "London Bridge"'. These songs are easier to teach as the kids know the melody, but the problem is that as soon as you have two or more songs with the same melody you lose the link between the tune and the words, your mind gets confused and you don't remember them. They might make the lesson a touch more fun, but they're missing the most important point and you're still stuck with kids forgetting all their English in the next lesson.

That's why with the Genki English songs I always try and make sure each one has it's own unique melody to get stuck in your head along with the words. It does mean there are less songs than they could be ( I think we'd be up to CD vol. 53 if I only did chants!), but it's also the reason they work so well.

It's something to keep in mind when choosing the tools for your next lesson. But what do you think? Do you prefer chants to songs? Or mixture of both? Or something totally different?

April 3rd 2008 - Whose is it?

I had a request the other week for activities to teach "Whose ... is this?". I've never found anything that just clicked with this theme, until I came across the simplest of simple ideas on the net the other day:

It's a really simple idea...

1. Go round the class and collect something from each student (a pen or ruler etc.)
2. Put them in a bag (a magician's bag would be cool).
3. Pull out something and ask "Whose is this?"
4. Get the kids to shout out "It's mine!" or "It's Hiro's."

The best thing about this game is that it's one where you can use the game to actually teach the language, not just practice it. For example if the kids don't know "It's mine" they probably won't say it. So ...

1. Hold the object near and say "It's mine!"
2. Go round the class showing it off.
3. Hopefully the kids will say "No", so you just keep repeating "Yes, it's mine!".
4. Hopefully, if you've chosen something that belongs to a genki kid, they'll say "It's mine".
5. If they don't, just choose someone else's until you get the reaction you need.

If it's a really genki kid you can do a "It's mine!", "No, it's mine!", "No, it's mine!" comedy style sketch.

The key here is patience and lots of repetitions of the words. Once you hear the first "It's mine." you can practice together as a class.

Then you can introduce "not" and "It's not mine". From the next object most of the kids have to say "It's not mine", whilst the owner says "It's mine".

The next step is introduce and have them say "It's not mine. It's hers/his." whilst pointing to the owner.

This pretty much takes up a whole lesson but the kids will have learnt it well and using the real objects keeps it fun (sometimes too fun, you might need a few calming down techniques in some classes!) For smaller classes you might need to collect more than one thing at the beginning.

In case you do have time left at the end...
1. Put the kids in groups.
2. Give each group a bag
3. Let them do the same thing in the groups e.g. one person pulls out something and says "Whose is this?", the others say "It's not mine, it's .....'s". Very simple.

Have a try in class and let me know how it works for you.

April 1st 2008 - Celebrities Sing Genki English

As you know we like a little glitz and glamour here at Genki English. So today I'm very proud to present the latest Genki English CD - "Celebrities Sing Genki English Greatest Hits".

It's taken months of swanning around the world, hob nobbing with the stars and signing up the biggest names to record their favourite Genki English tracks. Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, they're all huge fans you know.

Full details of the all the songs and celebs are on the Greatest Hits CD page. I'm sure your students are going to love it!

But don't forget this is a special limited edition CD so get your order in today!

March 31st 2008 - Weather Game

Stephanie wrote in asking how I got the live weather reports on the "What's / How's the weather in ...?" game.

The live widget I used is from and it's called "Weather on your website". If you don't have your own site and want to choose different countries, ask the computer teacher, they might be able to knock up a page for you on the school's website.

The game itself is really good:

1. Teach the weather song and the "Where are you from?" song.
2. Give the kids a map with the countries.
3. They guess the weather and temperature in each place.
4. Print out the live weather reports just before the lesson
5. See who got the closest.

It's a nice way to combine two themes and it's really great seeing it click in the students' heads when they realise that Summer and Winter really are reversed in the hemispheres!

Have a try of the game in class and oh, don't forget the online games for learning the weather and countries.

There are also some countries ideas on the members forum: here and here and the song with new countries here (part way down the page.)

Click here for my diary January - March 2008

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Click here for Richard's Diary Jan-May 2003

Click here for Richard's Diary 2002!

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