Richard's Blog 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. So the aim of Genki English is to have all subjects in all countries taught in a fun, engaging and effective way.

And this is how I'm trying to to do it ...

Whilst not as exciting as the first few years travelling up and down the country in the back of a van, I still get to now fly around a lot of places and meet a lot of interesting people. 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!

This is a bit of an experiment so please get in touch let me know what you think!

I'll update the diary as often as I can, so keep coming back!





October 11th 2005 - Halloween Links & Software

I had an email this morning asking for the Halloween links that everyone sent in last year, so I've put them on the Halloween Ideas page ( down at the bottom). And I'll also list them here:

http://www.benjerry.com/halloween/
http://www.kidsdomain.com/holiday/halloween/print.html
http://www.eslkidstuff.com/HalloweenGames.htm
http://familyfun.go.com/parties/holiday/minisite/halloween-main/halloween-main.html
http://www.englishraven.com/Halloween.html
http://bogglesworld.com/halloween_worksheets.htm

I've also put links from the main menu to all the Halloween content, so there's plenty there for this month.

The rest of the day I'm doing some new computer games for the themes that don't have them yet. The cool thing about coding, as opposed to songs, is that once it works, it's done! Flash is pretty cool for stuff like this. The tricky bit is when funny bugs pop up, and I've no idea where they come from!




October 9th 2005 - Money, Money, Money

Thanks for all the support from everyone over the last couple of days. I don't say it often enough, but I really do appreciate all the great support people give. Thank you.

It sort of seems that the message behind Genki English and the reasons I started it have got lost as things have grown over the last couple of years.

Before I started Genki English, elementary school English in Japan was in real danger of either becoming just like Junior High where the kids hate it because they are bored to death, or simply a year full of "fruit basket" where the kids are taught how "different being Japanese is". Love it or leave it, at least now there is an alternative. It's not perfect and it's not finished yet, but the stuff usually works in motivating the kids to learn.

The thing is that too many teachers seem to thing they should get access to everything for free. If you're a volunteer teacher in a volunteer project then I can understand that, and I do my best to help teachers out in those situations. But very often the complaints come from teachers who are being paid very well to do their lessons, but they expect me to make everything without being paid.

Now I tried that for the first two years and it wasn't fun. And I am very lucky and very grateful that I can now pay myself and employ people and pay them for the huge contributions they make to Genki English. I guess the thing is that people don't realise just how expensive a project like this is. Just keeping the website alive and making sure it comes up in the search engines is pricey in 2005. But the major cost is in the continued development. There has been so much new material put on the site over the last year, and there's a lot more to come. But it all costs money to produce. Which is fine by me, because that's the way things work.

I guess the thing is balance. I personally pay myself less than most ALTs, and I try to give as much back to people who have bought the materials by putting extra stuff in the CD Owners Club. But I've also been trying to keep as much stuff free on the site as possible as well as supporting the free kids' shows and teacher workshops. If I thought in a purely business frame of mind, I'd cut all that out and move all the site content into the CD Owners Club. But that sort of goes against what I'm trying to achieve. The only reason I do this is because I can see the difference it makes. When I was a kid I hated much of school because it was so boring, so I want to at least give the kids the chance to learn in a fun way.

If I was in it for the money, believe me, I'd quit the hard hours I work now and do Real Estate full time!




October 7th 2005 - Well tired and No. 49!

I'm well tired! I've spent very much of the last 24 hours either mixing tracks, or just now writing a new online computer game. It's a good feeling to actually have got so much done.

And I just checked iTunes and the podcast is now at number 49! It'd be amazing if it kept climbing at this rate!

I also had a lot of extra hits to the site today. I had a look, and most of them were from one of the online discussion boards where people were saying not very nice things about Genki English. It's amazing how mean some people can be. Usually that's all it is, but this time people have been making up the most unbelievable things so I'm actually going to have to do something about it.



October 6th 2005 - More Kita Hiroshima, Phonics + No. 59 on iTunes!

This morning was another two schools and just like yesterday they went really well. The Head Teacher of the 2nd school was the lady who organised everything last time, and she is just great. She also made a request as she had the phonics CD but didn't know how to use it. That's cool, requests are always appreciated.

If you have regular lessons then the key is to just spend 5 minutes doing one phoneme ( one sound e.g. "b" ) per lesson. That's just enough so it doesn't get boring, but still means that over a couple of years you can still teach the major sounds, so that ( according to the theory ) the kids will then be able to read 80% of English words. The next 20% are tricky, but the first 80% is really easy, you just play and repeat the "mini lesson" and Genki Phonics song from the CD. The kids liked it, and it was good to introduce a bit of balance to the class. Sometimes with demo classes people expect me to just wow the kids with a totally over the top mega compilation of stuff. Which is cool for a one off "show", but for a real demo class it's better to do it like a real class, with ups and downs and a rhythm that your average teacher can copy. The numbers today ( 30 kids then 40 ) were also good to show off some games, so the teachers can see the kids doing it all themselves, with very little input from me. That's always the "holy grail", structuring the lesson so the teacher can pull back and let the kids speak themselves. And actually today's kids were really good at doing that, they needed practically zero prompting to say phrases of their own.

I also did the Halloween song again today, and it's nice being able to do it several times as I can push and pull things around and experiment to see what works ( and what doesn't!). I'm still surprised that the kids manage to get the whole "look there's a ...." part. I guess the key is stopping part way, and doing a mini game ( I did sticky fingers today) to practise without making it boring.

I wish I'd have had a little more time in the schools today as the teachers were really great as well, it's always cool to work in a nice environment. But I had to head back to Fukuoka. It would be cool to spend everyday in schools, but seeing as I do them on a volunteer basis it wouldn't make much financial sense!

So tonight I'm working on the current new project, and I also put the Halloween Song animation on the kids page!

And now I'm back in the land of mobile phone reception and the internet I checked the iTunes podcast chart and the Genki English Podcast has entered at number 59 !!! Yeah! Let's see if it can make the Top 10!

Oh and I also got a call from Joel. Yesterday's school were looking for good ideas on how to evaluate English classes, and Joel recommend the Amano school in Osaka. They are apparently doing some good stuff, and they have their curriculum online which also has some good ideas. Have a look!




October 5th 2005 - Kita Hiroshima - great kids

Up and out early ( I think I'm the only one staying in my hotel), and off to today's first school. Last time I came here I did all the teachers workshops so this time it's just kids. But they were asking for ideas the teachers could use in class, so instead of the usual "show", which they had last time, today I just went with doing a normal genki lesson.

The first school was really small - 9 kids! So they added in the kindergarten kids to make it about 15. And I sort of went with an easy option by reviewing "How are you?" ( they had it perfect), then the How are you? Monster Game, then Rock, Paper, Scissors, then the Halloween Theme and Harry Potter ( Halloween Remix). They actually chose to do the Halloween theme, which was cool, and the scream in the middle was brilliant!. And my voice was really dodgy after just 5 minutes, so all the English I let come out of the CD Software, which gave me a rest, and showed the teachers that not actually being able to speak English isn't too much of a hindrance. Last night I also knocked up an animation for the Halloween song, which worked really great with the projector ( if your school has one, try it with the CDs, the kids love it!), so I think I'll put that on the Kids Page this month. So the kids were really, really good, with ultra high stamina to do so much in just over an hour.

The best thing was as we were walking the out of the school (during cleaning time ) the kids were holding up their brooms and shouting out "brrrrroooommm" ( it's in the Halloween song), and some of them were jokingly asking for help with the cleaning by shouting out "help me!" ( from the Harry Potter game ) which was good, it's always nice when the kids actually use the English they've learnt!

The second school was again similar, with 20+ kids, and they were great. Then after lunch the third school was good, not quite as genki as the other two, but still very good. Which is just as well, as apparently last time I was there I gave them a bad review in the blog! But it is really cool seeing how the kids progress over the years. Although obviously not as proficient as if they had had a full time course, it's really nice to see them improving, and that the material really does work! The main thing though is the kids attitude, they were so into learning and being genki.

So then a meeting with the teachers about the curriculum. It seems the problem now is teachers being bombarded with too much stuff about elementary school English, most of it written by people who've obviously never set foot in a real elementary school! Then back to my hotel where I'm going to grab some food and a nap. Then if it's anything like last night, without the interruptions of the phone or email I might get a lot of work done, I certainly did last night. Maybe rather than being in the city, I should just rent somewhere out in the middle of nowhere!






October 4th 2005 - In the middle of a forest

Some days I may complain, and some I'm really happy, but one thing's for sure, my job isn't your usual office job. After spending however long in shorts and a t-shirt, working on the beach or down by the river, today I find myself in the middle of a forest in a ski resort! And it feels cold enough to be one as well.

This is where tomorrow's schools have put me up, and as soon as my head gets used to being here, it'll be pretty cool, nice trees and lots of fresh air.

I came to this town 2 years ago, and they've invited me back. The thing is that with all the teachers moving around so much, even if you've been to a place once, it doesn't mean everyone is up to speed. On the way up the teacher in charge was talking about how they've been made a study town for English education and the problems he was having. We had plenty of time during the drive, so I just got him to take a step back and go through things one at a time. When you do that, it all seems so obvious and fits into place, it was nice seeing the expression on his face and the worry drain away! I should have recorded the conversation, it would have made a great podcast.

So I think for tomorrow I'll just do a set of demo lessons rather than shows, the kids have seen the show already, and the numbers are small enough to do normal lessons.

And for now I've got lots of time free with no Starbucks, no internet, no phone and no TV. So I guess I'll get some work done!





September 29th 2005 - Genki English on iTunes! Please help!

I've got a favour to ask! Most teachers already know about GenkiEnglish, but in order to keep things going I really need the average person on the street to know about it. The idea being as we'll sell more CDs, the prices will come down, everyone will speak great English and I can get back to making you lots of new materials rather than spending my time promoting the site.

So how can you help? Well, the Apple iTunes store today added the Genki English adults songs to its free podcast list! If enough people subscribe to it ( it's free after all), then hopefully it will get to the top of the podcast download list and get lots of attention! So please tell your friends and older students to have a look, and be part of something very exciting! Please.

To find the podcast, go to the Music Store section of iTunes, then do a search for GenkiEnglish (without the space), and select podcast. You'll then be able to download it for free. I've also included Japanese explanations of each song, so it is actually a really good resource. Students can also find it by searching for "pbh ( eikaiwa). So please have a listen and try and download it! If you don't have the iTunes software, you can download it for free from the Apple website at http://www.itunes.com

I try not to ask too much of the Genki English readers, but I'd really appreciate the help on this one. Thanks!

NEW: if you have iTunes installed you can now simply click on this link:
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=81273681&s=143462&i=1048985






September 27th 2005 - New B&W Minicards Book!

ESL CardsI'm very happy today that I can announce a new Genki English book! There's always a delay between finishing a project and actually getting it out there, and sometimes the shine wears off in the meantime. So today I went and had another look at the real printed Black & White Minicards book, and it's like Christmas morning again! I love this book!

Last year when we reprinted the CD4 worksheet book the printers came up with the most amazing glossy paper for it. Ever since, I've been wanting to produce something to go in the Superpack that would give it a visual boost, as you can't really hear the CDs in a bookstore. The thing is that colour was out as it was too expensive, and trials of the kids workbooks failed as teachers were paying too much attention to them at the expense of the kids actually talking, and it took till this Summer for the penny to drop and think of doing the mini cards as a real life black and white book! So now it's really easy ( and cheap!) for you to do copies for all your kids to play with.

It took a lot of time over Summer putting it together as I basically had to re-do a lot of the artwork in order to make it into an outline form, rather than greyscale, so that kids can easily colour it in. One advantage of this though is that I also redid the A4 cards which you can download from the site. They are all now funkied up, especially the weather cards! And as Genki English is distributed in lots of different ways these days, I also couldn't mention the new book on the website until everyone's stocks were updated. So if you bought a Superpack or 5 CD Set this month you probably got this book for free anyway! For everyone else, you can purchase it online or get it for free with the Superpack ( remember to ask your school to pay!) or 5 CD Set. The larger Maruzen bookstores should also be carrying it, so you can get it without post and packing ( but you might have to order it!).

And the other thing I can announce is that we are now shipping even funkier new Superpack cases, with a groovy carrying handle to make it easy to carry around, and the inside has been redesigned to make it easier to get to the CDs and books. With all the stuff in there now it really does feel like a SUPERpack, and is worth every penny of the 24,000 yen.

Right, so it's back now to making the next set of surprise materials!





September 22nd 2005 - Crash, Crash, Crash

Whatever I've done for the last few days the computers just keep crashing. I haven't had this for ages. Today not just Cubase, but even Flash crashed! I can't get anything done! I tell you what though there is so much work that goes into the Genki English software, I keep wondering when other people are going to come out with a similar thing, but I don't think anyone would be mad enough to sit through cutting up so many audio files, not to mention the coding work, which is driving me mad with all these crashes.

And no beach to destress on this week. : (




September 20th 2005 - Back in Japan

Back in Japan now, and for the life in me I can't think why on Earth I'm back here - it is soooo expensive. After living in Thailand for a couple of weeks, Just things like water and coffee just seem crazy! Plus the weather is so muggy, you can't even sit out to eat. Oh well, never mind.

It was cool being in Thailand and getting back into the music side of things, so that's helping out with this new project. I also picked up a couple of copies of Future Music magazine, and they are so cool in that they now have hour long videos on the DVD showing producers at work. Brilliant stuff! Video certainly is the way to learn!


September 15th 2005 - In the Jungle



My brother and his girlfriend are also over here in Thailand having a holiday, so it's cool to be able to show them round in my time off. And we decided to head off to the jungle of Kao Sok national park, which is pretty cool to say the least! The only problem is I can't record here, the animals make a lot of noise! But that's cool.






September 11th 2005- The Magic of Wi-Fi


I'm on Ko Samui, sat by the beach updating my blog via Wi-Fi. The World is changing!

It's great being back in Thailand, just being in Bangkok having meetings and chatting over dinner, everything is about "possibilities" and groovy things that can be done, instead of the Japanese idea of "hmmm, tsshh, oooo, it's too difficult!". With all the great people here, there's so much potential for doing lots of cool things!

And I've only been in Samui a day and have had some great new ideas for the new project I'm working on while I'm here. For the first time in ages computer work is actually going to be fun!


September 5th, 6th 2005 - Preparing for Thailand!

I got a very interesting email from the British Council in Thailand the other week. It's still a bit hush-hush, but could be very exciting! So I'm popping over there to have a chat, and to do my computer work down by the beach for a few days, it certainly beats being in the middle of a Japanese typhoon!

I also got the new newsletter done, and put up some veggie cards, plus finally managed to get up to date with my emails!



September 4th Sunday - Volunteering at an orphanage

I know it sounds cheesy, but that's really what I did today! The Lions Club in Fukuoka have got together a great bunch of teachers to go and teach at one of the local orphanages every week. They asked me to help out, and as I was in town, I popped along today to do the first lesson.

The kids were actually really great, and rather than split them up we just put them all together ( from toddlers to high school!), and did Rock, Paper, Scissors, How are you? and Chris Hunt's "One Step Forward" game, where the kids say "How are you?" and move one step forward, unless the teacher answers "I'm hungry!" in which case they have to run back to their safe wall! It's an adaptation of What time is it, Mr Wolf?

Anyway they loved it. I finished a bit early ( better to finish on a high than to tire them out!), and they were asking to play the game again and again. Then when I got called away to a meeting they were still playing the game themselves, in English! Now that is the sign of a good game!

The funny point of the day; the Lions Club members turning up to the orphanage in a fleet of Mercedes and Porches!



Sept 2nd, 3rd 2005 - Fukuoka - Teacher Talk

Back to Fukuoka and time to catch up with a few teachers in the city. Over the last few months I've been really focussed on what Japanese elementary school teachers are needing, so it was good to get another perspective, some very nice free coffee and food and another set of additions to my "to do" list!


Aug 31st - Sept 1st - in Busan, Korea

I've been invited back to do another set of workshops at the KOTESOL Young Learners conference in November ( details on the site when I get them!), so popped over to Busan to check out a few things. 2 hours 55 minutes on the ferry, it's easier to get to than most of Japan!



August 30th 2005 - Tuesday - Fukuoka - The last day of Summer

Today was also a funny school. I was back in Fukuoka where the Board of Education basically decided to do English, but leaves it up to each school. So in today's school the Headteacher decided she wanted to do it, but needed some help with getting the teachers willing and able to do it! So anyway I started off with the Warm Up game and got them to go one-by-one saying a command to the group. And they did miles better than most schools, with hardly a hint of hesitation! Nice. I thought about jumping to the English is easy part, but noting the mistake I made yesterday I did my self intro first. Then when we got into the questions part they were deadly silent! Japanese workshops are usually like this, but I have an arsenal or techniques to get them out of it, but they didn't work today! Later I found out that they didn't really have any questions as they couldn't see the point in teaching English. Aha. Unfortunately that's at the very end of my workshop! Maybe I should find a way to bring it to the front!

Getting to realise English is easy took a while, they were really terrified, and I guess that was because a lot of them were older. But I did work out one new line, saying that English isn't a big mountain like Fuji san, it's just a hill, and thanks to all the foreign words in Japanese, you're already half way up it! That tied in with the swimming skits ( i.e. you don't just chuck a kid in the deep end, you start off shallow and work your way to the ocean) seemed to work, but took a while!

With the workshops I'm always wanting to teach the "whys" of what I recommend ( because if it's just games they have fun time but don't learn anything), but I'm wondering if I should change the workshop so instead of going for the paradigm shift of showing them a different way to see the problem, I actually let them walk through it and find out for themselves. The only problem with that is it has to happen in real time, which can take a lot of hours!!

Well, that's the end of the Summer Workshops in Japan. I've taught a few thousand teachers all over the country, most of them with an exceptionally great response. So I guess I could start looking at developing a new style workshop, even if it's just to keep myself on my toes!!

But for now I'm off to Korea, I'll see you when I get back...


August 29th 2005 - Monday - Aichi - Otsukare sama

Today was an interesting school in that when I was looking through their curriculum, I wasn't cringing every two minutes, there weren't any mistakes ( a very rare thing!), and there were actually some funky things in there, such as a nice reply to "I want to be a (job name)..", "Why?" "Because it's cool".

However I made a bit of a mess of the workshop. Seeing what they had prepared, I went straight in to the "English is Easy" skit, thinking I could get it out of the way before my self intro ( which takes a while!), but.... they were just looking at me like "who on Earth are you telling us this?". So I guess I have to keep the self intro first!! Once that was done they were cool, but just seemed very tired! I also think they tend to leave things up to the ALTs a bit much and are in a bit of a cocoon, thinking they don't have to do anything themselves. But I eventually found their niche with the card game and mini card games!! It seems like they could play those all day! Which they did, until the male teachers got called out because there was a weird guy walking round the school grounds with a knife!! Nice and safe Japan, eh!!

But anyway, it seems the guy had disappeared ( or may not have been there anyway), and the teachers had learnt all the important stuff in the morning so I stayed with the girls and finished off with things like "When is your birthday?". The full write up of everything we did is on the site here. One of the cool things were the teachers' questions, for example "What to do for homework?" ( let the kids take home the mini cards to play with!) what to do with Special Needs kids ( most of the games actually work just as well with Special Needs kids) and how to get good at English themselves. To which the Headteacher promised to make the Wednesday teachers meeting in English - great!

The teacher here is again a really genki guy who does a lot of work for English education, so the school should do well.

Then to catch a flight back to Fukuoka for tomorrow's workshop, and I'm flying from the new Chubu airport, which seems cool but a little badly planned!



August 28th 2005 - Sunday - Day off!

Wow a day off! Which roughly translated means I spent till 2 PM catching up on my emails, then took the Shinkansen down to Aichi for a meeting with the teacher from tomorrow's school. Then got hassled at the hotel for not having my passport on me, there are still some racist nutters out there, where's the "Welcome to Aichi"?



August 27th 2005 - Paid for workshop in Tokyo

Today was a bit of an experiment! Instead of a free one hour workshop at the bookstore, today was a 6 hour workshop charged at 10,000 yen per person. The idea being that people who are serious about improving their teaching techniques would attend, and I wouldn't have to spend half the time doing the "English really isn't that difficult" type skits! The prices balanced out as people then got 25% off the GE products, including the Superpack, Picture Card Packs and Student Packs. Which means if you bought one the workshop was free, and if you bought a few things you actually saved quite a bit of money!

And it looks like it worked, all the teachers were very serious and although a couple of them were at the beginning levels, they were as keen as anything. I did half the content with lots of Genki games and songs, and Mayuka Habbick did half about how it all fits in with child development and things like the Springboard readers ( have a look at the free teaching guides, there is so much valuable info there!)

Then in the evening it was another nomikai ( "drinking party" ) and I just had water, and felt great for it! So a really good day!



August 26th 2005 - Back to Okayama + 1,000 miles

OK, that was one too many beers last night! Today I traveled over a thousand miles, from Oita in Kyushu, to Okayama then to Tokyo, and I must admit I didn't enjoy one minute of the ride!!! But for the actual workshops themselves I flicked the switch, became genki and really enjoyed them. It's my 3rd year doing this workshop for the Okayama Education Center and the teachers are great here. So this time we got the group split in to two, one group of teachers who were new to Genki English ( hence it was the same workshop as yesterday) and another group who had seen the GE workshops before, including a few teachers from Tuesday and Wednesday. That was such a great experience, being able right from the start to do new games and ideas with having everyone fully confident, up on the aims of the subject and and on the same page! We did some cool new games, and some of the higher level themes, plus things like the card game, which they really enjoyed! We finished on the "Under the Sea" theme, and instead of the usual "Wow, I never saw things like that before" type ending it was a "Cool, that's some nice new ideas I've learnt", which was really nice and people were asking lots of cool questions, which is always good!

Then the rest of the train journey North!


August 25th 2005 - Oita - the Plague??

When I do the shows or workshops, as a trick to get the teachers, and kids, to speak louder I always say things like "Oh, but in Okayama yesterday they were so much louder" and it works like magic. And people always ask where the best places are. To be honest the best kids have been in Nagasaki and Niigata, and worst response from kids I've ever had was in Oita! So it was great to be able to come down here and give the teachers a workshop to try and bring things up to speed a bit!

I only had 2 hours in the morning with 60 teachers, so it was very much a "basics" workshop that involved lots of jokes, skits and tricks to change the teachers' perceptions of English education and get them in the right frame of mind to make English work in their schools. And they were actually really, really good.

Then in the afternoon things didn't go quite so well! A big part of my workshop is about curriculum development and if you only have one hour a week or month, you have to make it count, and what's the point of teaching something the kids will never use? Teach them things they can actually use when the ALT comes to visit ( which is the only chance most of them will have to speak English) But in the afternoon workshop, which was done by teachers of the local schools, along with "Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?" ( which is OK) and "The Hokey Pokey/Cokey" ( again a nice song to do), they were doing the most abstract stuff like "Pease pudding hot" and "Ring-a-Ring-O'-Roses". I mean, what is the point of doing those songs? Once in a while maybe, but not if it takes up a tenth or more of the year's lessons. The teachers say it is to have fun. But that's what the playground and playtime are for! In the lesson it has to be fun, but it also has to teach something useful. The kids can't use English about the Black Death, and half the ALTs there don't know what "Pease pudding" is! It's like learning learning Japanese and studying a weird character like "kurage" or "anko" without being able to say "konnichiwa". But as that's what most of the lessons are spent on, it's no wonder the 6th graders have been doing English for 4 years and can't speak it. They were also teaching mistaken English like " I like red dog", which really is inexcusable when there are correct, proof read curricula out there. As one of the teachers said "There is no one correct way of teaching English", to which my reply was, "Yes, there are many. But there are also many ways that are just wrong!"

The sad thing is that the teacher in charge today is a really, really nice lady who tries 110%, but I always get the feeling that schools like this are trying too hard to re-invent the wheel, rather than learning from the experience of other schools. And it's a tricky balance for me, on one hand giving them confidence to try things in their schools, but on the other having to say that some things just don't work.

So tonight's beer fest was really important as it's over beer where you can be really honest with people, and in the morning they'll either forget it, or take it on board, but either way there are usually no hard feelings! Some of the teachers were really keen on the stuff I was saying though, especially the reasons for doing this and the whole meaning of International Understanding Education. And the lady in charge here is mega genki, so hopefully we can get a curriculum in place that will get the kids able to communicate in English!

Then a few more beers, and a few more, and a few more and I think I finished drinking with a couple of the JETs at 2 AM! But I really felt I'd earned it!




August 24th 2005 - Okayama Day Two - Interactive

The plan was to do a full day yesterday then today get the teachers to actually do some teaching. The idea being they'd have a nice safety net and I could give them lots of feedback now they were in the "it's OK to make mistakes" frame of mind. I always knew this was going to be a bit tricky as lots of teachers from other schools had applied to attend, so with 80 people the logistics were a bit crazy. It was made even more difficult as there were more new teachers today who hadn't had all the basics from yesterday.

But we went through it, and with the help of the other teachers we managed to bring the new teachers up to speed, sort of, and went though a load more stuff. The sessions where the teachers teach themselves went well ( e.g. they came up with some great warm up ideas), but as it took so much time I changed things and just got a couple of teachers to come to the front and use the CDs to teach a lesson. That worked really well, especially choosing teachers who didn't like computers, and with a touch of practise I don't think there'd be any problems. In fact the trickiest thing the teachers reported was figuring out how to use the mouse! Actually at yesterday's school they were telling me how they use the new interactive white boards, so instead of moving over words to hear the words, the teacher simply points to the picture on the board and it speaks! That is such a great use of the GE software, I can't wait to try it myself!

There were so many people today though that we couldn't fit in the air conditioned room. So when we played the balloon game, the fans blew the balloons out the window!! : )

But the teachers here were great, it's going to be so cool to see how they get on!

Then off to get the 3 hour Shinkansen down to Oita in Kyushu!



August 23rd 2005 - Okayama Full Day One

Now this is what it's all about! Instead of just a one or two hour introduction, this is a full on two day set of workshops where I can spend half a day going through the basics and confidence building, then spend the rest of the time showing new techniques and actually letting the teachers try out teaching themselves. This school has several really, really good teachers who do all sorts to develop their own English teaching skills, and even their own language skills ( by learning in the car everyday!). And the lady in charge has made a huge difference to the education in Okayama. So today's brief was to get the rest of the school up to speed, along with the next door school who feed into the same Junior High, hence they need to be on the same page.

And everything worked out very well, with lots of questions in the morning, and by the afternoon everyone was totally out of the Junior High School way of thinking about language, they were full of confidence, were totally into the idea that making mistakes is good and had a great time. A couple of the ideas tanked ( e.g. the Drinks worksheet game!), but they were really into other things like the drinks song ( apparently they used this for an official demo lesson last year with people from the Ministry in attendance, heaven knows what they thought of the song - they used the heavy metal version!), and a killer run through the When is your birthday? song to finish on a high note. Cool! I wrote up everything that we did here.

So then a quick shower and out for a very nice dinner and a couple of beers!

This school have been using GE for a while, but the one next door has an interesting system where the first year music classes are taught in a semi-English immersion scheme. Research in other places shows that immersion classes for science and maths don't tend to produce good results, i.e. the language ability improves but the maths or science doesn't improve as much as if it was taught in the kids' native language. So it will be interesting to see how they get on with teaching music in English.

In the evening we were talking about what the next step is with elementary schools. For example teaching using picture cards is easier than just using actions, then using games helps even more, then using songs gets over the problem of the kids forgetting everything. So what's the next step??? One of the teachers was asking about plays, and that's maybe something to have a look at. It's certainly perfectly suited to the internet, where the kids could see their scripts and click on them to hear them read aloud, to either practice at home or in the school's computer room. The trick is finding the right plays, the right script, then the right schools to try things out in!




August 22 2005 - Monday - Prep + Printable Plan

This coming week is a very big week with lots of workshops, starting with a 2 day one in Okayama. So there was a ton of prep work to do, to make sure I had all the materials with me to do any of the themes if asked.

Also, after talking to the teachers last week and seeing how the Curriculum runs to about 9 pages when printed out, I redid it in a more formal Japanese Elementary School style. It's on the site as a 2 page pdf so should hopefully help Japanese teachers to see exactly what there is and not have to copy curricula full of silly mistakes and boring English!.

Then to sleep at 4 AM.


August 20th 2005 - Fukuoka Maruzen - Favourite Flop, the rest was good

Bookstore gigs in Fukuoka are always good, with a great bunch of teachers who all know each other and happily I know quite a few of them now as well. Today was the follow up to the CD5 preview gig I did in March. So to start off was When, When, When which they really got into, then "Where is Mr Monkey?" which they loved! The bit where he gets eaten is so cool, and everyone's face was a picture! We had a quick go of the assault course game and had everyone shouting out the instructions to one of the teachers who couldn't see which order I'd put the cards on the board. Then a very quick go through "How do you say ... in English?" which was cool.

I figured I'd try and genki things up before the bugs song so did the "What's your favourite?" song. And what a flop!!! The other week in Tokyo it went down really well ( the non-Japanese teachers were well in to the funky basslines!), and the kids like it, but here it just bombed big time!!! I started off with "What's your favourite movie?" and for the actions they have to mime their favourite movie, to which they all replied they don't watch movies! OK, so the next one is sport, but no one played any sports! Cartoon? Nope! And as expected no one was into video games! It seemed like nobody had a pet either, so it wasn't till "favourite food" that anyone had anything to say! We eventually got to do the song, but they were like "Nah, forget that one, we'll still buy the CD for the other songs, but that one's rubbish!" Any other place and I'd have been a bit put back, but they were all cool about it, and I just joined in the laughing! I guess you can't win 'em all!

Luckily "I can do it" brought them back round and the did a great job for a big happy finish!

Mind you I was shattered by the end of it, I was almost falling asleep! Doing computer work should be banned, after just four days it zapped all my genki power!! Which wasn't too much fun as I had to do all the product explanations to people who wanted to buy them, and part way through I kept thinking "I'm sure I've said this before?" but luckily people were cool with it and Genki English ended up outselling the other publishers so that was OK!

Then, some sleep!



August 19th 2005 - 2 schools, Favourite Flavour

I got a call at 8:30 this morning asking if I could do a workshop at a school today. A little short notice but I know the head teacher so was cool. But he wanted it in the afternoon and I was already booked, which I explained, so he said "That's OK, you can do it after the other school. I'll pick you up".

So off to the first school and they were a genki bunch of teachers. The workshop was in the big posh community center and after 2 minutes a guy came in and said we were too noisy!! Errr.... this is just me talking! The teachers hadn't even begun to play the games ( where they get really noisy!). But we moved and it was OK. The funny thing was that after all the warm ups and intros and stuff, I got round to the "right, so what problems do you have?" part where usually the teachers pour out their problems about teaching English and we solve them one by one. But today they said "Oh, none, we haven't started yet.". "Oh OK, so you're looking for ideas for when you do start?" I said, . "No, we just heard you did a really good workshop". Well, OK, fair enough I suppose! So by the end of it they went from not even thinking about to English to actually being quite genki about it.

Then off to the next school. Here they'd been having a session from 1:30 where they'd been designing this year's curriculum. I just popped along for the last hour to help them out a bit. Things started off really well, they were asking for fun ideas for the themes they'd chosen. The fun thing was that you could do every single one of them just with TPR!! "Sports" - say the sport and mime it out, "Colours" - touch something that colour. Very simple and they all looked very relieved! Then I had a quick look and noticed that they were teaching things like "Fine thank you. And you?" and things like "I like dog", which are tricky to explain why they are wrong ( unless you make a joke out of them). So I asked where they got their ideas from, and they said they'd just copied other schools! Ah... that explains it, the designated study schools often make silly curriculums like this as they feel they have to do everything from scratch themselves, so end up with lots of strange English which then gets copied around the city. But I went through things with the teachers and they were quite cool.

They still didn't get the "I like dog" vs. "I like dogs" point, which is fair enough as it's a silly rule of English. Recently I've been using the new food theme and telling schools to just use the words marked there. But that does call on them to take things on trust, rather than really understanding things. So on the way back home I wrote a really groovy song called "What's your favourite flavour?" which has "I like apple, I like orange" etc. so show how dropping the "s" usually means you like the flavour. Which is great for explaining why "I like dog" doesn't mean "Inu ga suki"!

I tried recording it to put up on the site, but couldn't get a funky enough backing going, but as soon as I do it'll be up in the CD Owners Club!




August 18th 2005 - Thursday - MTV!

Right, it's still Summer so I want to do some fun work! So today CNN was banned, and it was MTV over breakfast. Then the rest of the day was spent recording and remixing songs for the new adults CD. And I've decided to try something a bit radical with this CD...

People have been asking for songs for adults, basically with just more complex English. But whenever I try the songs out it seems the average adult gets a lot more out of the normal Genki English songs! So I'm wondering what level to pitch it at. And who better to ask than the people who'll be using it. And what better way to get people to help than to give the songs away for free! I haven't signed any contracts with the publisher yet, so the copyrights are all still mine, so I'm making all the new songs free to download from the website. All I ask in return is a little feedback ( good and bad!), to try and figure out just exactly what people want!

Not all the songs are finished, but they should be very usable in their current form, and you can find them all here on the Free Songs Page! If you have any thoughts I'd be very grateful to hear them!



August 16/17th - Need more caffeine

Doing workshops everyday really leaves you on a high, helping people out plus doing the actual songs and games is just fun!! So it was down to Earth with a bang today having to sit behind a computer! The fun bit is answering people's emails, from all over the World, which is great. The boring bit is all the businessy and admin stuff! But however much coffee I drink, my eyes won't stay awake!




August 15th 2005 - A Weekend in Guam

After 3 weeks on the road, and a good deal of production work done before that, here's my Summer Holiday! Yeah!! Only two days, as that's all the holiday my girlfriend gets, but it was great to go jet skiing, paragliding, snorkeling and just relax and do nothing!

Guam's a cool place, but I should have read a bit more before I went. I was figuring it'd be very American, like a mini-LA, but it's not, it's totally Micronesian. In fact I found it easier to communicate with most people in Japanese, rather than English!

The water and air quality are just fantastic though, I have never seen sea that is so clear, it's not blue, it's totally transparent!!

I like Europe, I like the comfiness of the US and the culture of Asia, but I think I want to live in the Pacific!! How do I buy a house in Tahiti???



August 11th 2005 - Thursday - "Super Dynamite" in Kagawa

I don't know what it is, but there always seemed to be a funny feeling about today's workshop. I got there a touch early, and they put me away in a room until 15 minutes before the workshop, where I then had to rush a bit to prepare in time. And it also turns out they had workshops this morning and yesterday. I really wish they would have let me attend as I would have been able to watch, find out what the teachers strengths and weaknesses were and then do a workshop that helped them out.

So anyway we start off, and after the Warm Up I did the "What's your name?" song. And I was getting a really strange vibe. Not the usual "Oh this is too difficult" vibe, but something else. So I asked what the problem was and they said that the guy who gave them a lecture yesterday told them never to teach "What's your name?". "Err... so why's that then?" I asked. They replied that the guy had said it was too impolite, "Ah, I see. But that's cool you simply put "Excuse me" in front of it!" I said, and they replied that he had told them they had to teach "Would you mind telling me your name please?". Eh? Oh my goodness, as if any child would ever say that! But this guy was a university guy so his word is gospel!

For the record, I teach "What's your name?" because it's the first question an ALT will ask a kid, and they need to be able to respond to it, I highly doubt they'll get very far if they wait for "Would you mind telling me your name please?".

Anyway, when I asked who it was it all made sense, he's one of these so called "experts" who've never taught a kids lesson in their life, but he's a university lecturer, so tours the country and everyone has to listen to what he says. We have met before, when NHK were making the Genki English documentary, he was on next at one of the conferences, and NHK were told they had to pretend to be filming him so "not to hurt his feelings"!!

It does get me annoyed though that people like this get away with what they do, going confusing everyone with daft stuff and undoing all the good work everyone else does ( I wonder if the CIA pays his salary????). And a lot of the rest of the workshop today was fixing things that they'd been told by him yesterday ( e.g. they were told not to worry about pronunciation. Which is good, they shouldn't worry. But they were told it doesn't matter if the pronunciation is bad, as long as the gusto is there! Oh dear.).

But the teachers were into what I was talking about, and they seemed reassured about more things after I'd finished. Part way through they were getting a bit tired, so I did the "Why do we do this?" speech and that really perked them up so at the end I could go through all of their questions. There were also some higher level teachers here, and it would have been great to go through more games and ideas, but without all the background and reasons then it'd be just fun & games without a purpose. So maybe next time I can come and help out more.

So I thought it was an OK workshop, but it could have been better. Even to have started with a blank canvas, rather than having to undo stuff. But the teachers seemed to enjoy it, calling it a "Super Dynamite" workshop, so I guess I can't complain. And it was the first time to be officially in the prefecture, so I guess it's a good start! There are 2 new 4th year JETs here who seem pretty cool, and the teachers seemed very good, so Kagawa should do well.

This week I've also really felt the big difference between what's out there material wise and what teachers actually need. Talking to publishers about what they want to sell, and to teachers listening to their needs, there really is only Genki English that is actually designed to help elementary school teachers. And with making new materials as well, elementary school presents a whole new set of challenges, and there's so many more things that I want to make!

But I really need to get the Genki English name out more. It's all about empowering the teachers, giving them the tools and confidence to do good for their kids, not giving them daft silly phrases to teach. So that's what I need to work on next, making sure everyone knows about GE so they can listen to the different view points and make up their own minds.

But for now I'm on the train back to Kyushu. It's been a long 3 weeks on the road, but lots of crazy fun with lots of crazy different people and hopefully I've made a small difference in a few places. And from tomorrow I've got 4 days holiday, so I'm jetting off to do some watersports and then lay on a beach all day. So I'll see you all next week!







August 10th 2005 - Wednesday - Takamatsu's nice. + getting the word out

The teacher who invited me yesterday very kindly gave me a lift to the station this morning. She also showed me a new book she'd bought, similar to my Classroom English CD. I'm always on the look out for good stuff ( such as the Apricot picture books or the Springboard readers) so I can recommend them to teachers and I don't have to make them myself! And this book looked quite good, until it started giving "Fine thank you. And you?" as the recommended answer to "How are you?". Oh well.


Then it was off into the Shikoku countryside to change trains at one of the most out of the way stations you could imagine. It was like going off into a Western or something, right in the middle of nowhere. But then I got the Express Train ( all 2 carriages of it) up to Takamatsu. And very impressive it is too! I've been to Kagawa quite a few times ( I lived next door for 3 years), but it's my first time in the city, and they've really made a great job of things. The station is all brand new with a great plaza out front ( with no overhead wires), that leads out onto promenades overlooking the sea, round some cool new buildings and fitting in perfectly with the castle ruins ( see the picture ) round the corner. Very nicely done. All of Japan should be designed as well as this, and it's certainly a great place for a day visit.

So after grabbing a Tully's Cappuccino and Chili Sandwich I sat out watching all the yachts in the inland sea. What a nice spot to have lunch!

I also didn't have a hotel planned for today. Me being a Yorkshireman I usually just go for the cheapest hotel there is ( if there's a bed and a power point then I don't really need much else), but when I do bookstore tours all the other presenters insist on first class hotels. But the cool thing about places like Takamatsu is you can stay at really nice places for Yorkshireman prices!

I also got a call from the lady who's organising tomorrow's workshop. Usually when I do workshops people are asking me to go out for dinner the night before, or to come in early to help with something or to chat with someone. The lady today just said "OK, come along 30 minutes beforehand". I was actually booked to come here by her predecessor, and in April when everyone's jobs changed round she became responsible for the training. And I've got a feeling she has no idea what I'm going there for tomorrow!

This is the big problem I have at the moment, getting the word out! I make the website which not everyone sees, I make PR videos which people never have time to watch, and even make colour print outs and have people personally talk through how GE can help them, but it's not until people see an actual workshop that they go "Ah! I see!" and then "We should have invited everyone to this workshop!", which by then it's too late! Even yesterday where I'd been before and everyone was talking and talking about it, one of the computer teachers was saying "Oh yeah, that is really good, I never got it before!". There must be an easier way to get the word out to people!!!




August 9th 2005 - Tuesday - In Tokushima + Awaodori

Over the last few weeks all of the workshops have been in places where the teachers are actually having to teach English right now, so are in the "help, we need teaching ideas quick!" mode. Whereas today I was invited by the Educational Research office ( who are very much into things), but the actual teachers and many of the high-ups in the city, are still very much in the "why on Earth do we need to learn about the World and other peoples?" frame of mind. So the majority of today's workshop was addressing that.

As usual I have a rough idea of what I'm going to do, but then take questions and go on the audiences responses to figure out what to do next. And they weren't getting it!! At one point I was talking about the current fad the media have of seeing people as groups of "winners" ( the kachigumi who have great jobs and buy all the Gucci bags), and the "losers" ( the "makegumi" who don't want to do anything, live at home and work as "freetars") to try and get the teachers a bit genki. So I asked "Are your kids winners or losers?". And one of the teachers said "They're losers!". Oh my goodness!! How am I supposed to counter that? So as things happened I ended up doing the War Speech part way through, and that actually get them sorted out. And even the hard nosed Head Teachers at the back started paying attention and realising what this is all about. So then in the final hour we could play some games, and finish off on a high (ish) note with the Thank you song. ( I wrote up what we did for on the site as well.)

When you see places like this, where the head of the education board saying things like "we're not really serious about international understanding education, let the kids just play a bit" it really does make you see how people could believe the CIA link! But luckily, and there usually is a silver lining, the Board of Education has some really cool people. Last year when I was here ( I did a show and workshop at one of the schools hence how I got invited back), they were talking about how they'd like more ALTs, but couldn't afford one. So I went through the funding with them ( i.e. they don't pay, ALTs money comes from Tokyo), so they phoned up and sure enough they got another ALT for free this year! And all three of them are really top people.

So even though the high ups won't report what's going on the schools, with such good ALTs, good people in the BOE and now hopefully more teachers who see what can be done, they'll have a great effect on the kids here. We've certainly got to give all the kids a chance to be the "winners".

Then in the evening it was a very nice dinner and then out to see the Awaodori (see right), one of the most famous dance festivals in Japan. That was really cool!
I love Summer, I wish it could be like this all year round, with great festivals and such a cool party atmosphere. Brilliant!


August 8th 2005 - Monday - Back to Japan

One of the other great tips I got from the American Forces Network TV ( other than "Breakfast. Just eat it."), was where to sit on public transport. They have an advert saying you should sit near the window on a plane ( as terrorists pick on people in aisle seats!!), and in aisle seats on busses ( as attacks come from outside). So where am I sat as I write this? On the top deck of a 747 on the aisle seat right outside the pilot's door. Fills you with confidence doesn't it....

(in Osaka)
But it was OK! Now I'm in Osaka waiting for a bus to Tokushima. The first thing you notice here, compared with Okinawa, is the air quality, it's like inhaling candy floss that's been marinated in engine oil for 6 weeks.

(in Shikoku)
Ah, but luckily Shikoku is much better! It also seems very, very green. Right, now I'm off out for some food with the teachers from tomorrow.


August 7th 2005 - Sunday - Okinawa - Music, Music

Now this is what Okinawa's all about, glorious sunshine! It was a fantastic morning so I got all my work done as quickly as possible ( it's funny being on the phone to Hokkaido when I'm down here!), then hopped on the bus to today's hotel. And very nice it is too, with a great sea view (see left). I popped down to the beach for lunch, nice white sands and translucent waters. Then a bit of work, then I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool. This is the life!

Then at 6:30 one of the guys from our Okinawa distributors came to pick me up for dinner, after all in Japan the work isn't done in the day, it's all done over beers on a night. But it was so cool.
First we popped off to see the Kadena Air Force base, that is just massive! Everyone was taking photos, but I figured it's probably not such a good idea to be going through US customs next week with pictures of air force bases in my phone!

So then we went to a cafe where they have a display of Okinawan Shaminsen ( the 3 stringed guitar type instrument ) ,called SanShin. And as luck would have it ( although I think it might have been planned as the guy knew the owner!), they were having a gig. That was really cool, Sanshin, okoto and flute ( playing the shakuhachi part), brilliant stuff. They had full on genki dance style stuff, and some cool chilled out music, nice. That's something I really miss in Japan: music! Your average Japanese person has hardly any musical sense, even the GE songs present challenges for some people! Of course there's a reason for it, it's the the record companies who realise that if songs are tricky to sing, they won't make any money on karaoke! So over the decades the music awareness in Japan has really declined. But here in Okinawa there's still a scene that's alive and kicking, and it's great music!


Then after, we went for dinner and there was another live band! So in the space of 2 days I've seen more live music than I have all year. This time it was a girl group called Tink Tink, who have a brilliant set of Okinawa songs. They wear beautiful Okinawa outfits and sing songs that are modern, but still traditional. They've got a great image and great music, so I'm sure they're going to go far. It was good chatting to the girls afterwards, having the GE songs on TV really helps people open up and start chatting.

So a really, really great night. It's so cool to have something that's cultural but still real, and different. Plus the weather and beaches, Okinawa has turned out to be a really great place! I'm sure I'll be back.



August 6th 2005 - Saturday - Workshop in Okinawa & the CIA

So today was the main reason I'm down here in Okinawa, to attend a panel discussion and give a 2 hour workshop at the Okinawa JShine Conference. Things were very well organised and the people in charge certainly did a very good job and we ended up with 100 people there.

Things started off with a speech by one of the guys on the Education Ministry's panel who are looking into introducing elementary school English. It was good to get all the latest data, and as usual things have been bogged down in bureaucratic stuff, but things are moving, if very slowly!

It seems the biggest thing now is trying to decide who should teach the subject. Foreign teachers are expensive, people in the community usually can't teach large groups and their travel expenses are very expensive, so the easiest way is for homeroom teachers to teach it. Which is great for the Ministry as it wouldn't cost them anything more in wage bills! So the guy asked me how many schools I thought could actually do English if it was only taught by homeroom teachers. This is a tricky question as in an ideal world, languages would be taught be native speakers. Using computers and things we can get the language section sorted for anyone to teach ( for example the Genki English software takes care of the pronunciation problem), but 80-90% of communication is non-verbal, and this is something that only a fluent speaker has. But then again there's no way native speaking teachers could cover all of the schools in Japan. Hence the question about how much we could cover with just homeroom teachers is a very valid one. So leaving the non-verbal side of things alone, and accepting that non-native speakers will be doing it, I reckon there is at least one genki teacher in each school who could do a very good job. So provided the training is there, I think this could in an ideal situation lead to 100% coverage. But it turns out from the Ministry's own research that they think it could only be 50%! That tends to suggest to me they are still only concentrating on practical training, without the very important confidence training that has to come first, but it also means no final decision on the status of English is in sight.

Anyway, the panel discussion went on this way for quite a while, and I was really conscious that the audience were getting fidgety and bored. So the next question was "What do you think of the way things are going?" and I was basically saying, "Everyone in Tokyo is worrying too much and not doing enough!" and I popped in the story that many professors in Asia think it's all a Japanese government ploy. The theory being that Japan can do anything, so why are they so slow about adopting English? The answer, they say, is that if people could speak English they could get their information from anywhere. But if they only speak Japanese, the government controls what people hear and think via the media!! Now I know this isn't true, the reason things are bogged down is that there's just a crazily inefficient system of deciding things by people who've no experience on the ground. But one of the panelists said, "Yeah, I've heard that rumour before, but they say it's not the Japanese government, it's the CIA!".


That livened things up a bit. Then we moved on to talking about ALTs ( the general consensus being that they aren't very good and get paid too much. So I did my bit about that it's the weirdo ALTs who take all the limelight, but in reality the majority of ALTs are doing a great job and all the best schools in Japan are that way because of the good ALTs there), about why the percentage of kids who like English in elementary school is going down ( it's because of places like Kanazawa where they bring in Junior High English and it just turns the kids right off! And that most of the good lessons done aren't reported as the people in the Board of Educations can't see what a difference is being made), and about Reading / Writing ( conversation is the main aim, adding in basic phonics later is cool, but leave out writing as it takes up too much time, isn't the skill that's needed in the workplace, and it's best to keep it for JHS where the kids who can speak English will have a new challenge and won't get bored like they do in other countries!).

So the current target is to make Elementary School English a subject in 3 or 4 years time. Which is cool by me because it means teachers who care about their kids can start doing cool things now, and not have to worry about Tokyo imposing a horrible set of textbooks or curricula on them. It was also interesting to hear that Okinawa had an elementary school English curriculum planned, tested and ready to go in the 1970s! They only called it off when they reverted back to Japanese rule and hence had to mirror the Japanese system. But it does make you wonder why everyone feels they have to start again from the beginning, when in reality everything that's needed is already out there! ( What was that about the CIA again???)

So then it was on to my workshop. Now that was a lot of fun! Not only had people been sat down for 3 hours listening to stuff that really isn't that important for teachers, it was my first time here, which is always cool. Lately in other towns there's a mixture of people who know Genki English and newcomers. The fans want to see new stuff, but that tends to terrify newbies! But here nobody had any idea what to expect so I just went in there on full genkiness level and started from the very beginning with "What's your name?", "How are you?", "How old are you?", Mingle, "What are you doing?", Harry Potter and the balloon game. Needless to say they'd never seen anything like it and adding in all the help that's on the webpage, the three rules of Genki English and the war speech at the end, and everyone was totally hyped up, basically because it was what everyone had been talking about all day, but here it was all laid out for them, in easy to use form, ready to go tomorrow in class. I had no mic at the beginning, and everyone was getting tired, so it was hard work, but they were great. And it looks like Okinawa will be another one of those cool places like Fukuoka or Okayama, where the teachers are really keen!


Then in the evening it was out for dinner at an all you can eat, all you can drink restaurant with a live band! Which was cool. Unfortunately it was hard to chat ( my voice is going again!), but everyone was really great and I've got a feeling I'm going to be back in Okinawa! Talking to singers and business people and teachers was a nice mix of topics, and the Okinawan liquor goes down very well. The night finished at 2AM, and I was wondering why I was still so genki, I guess it's because I've been working till 3AM everyday this week. But for today it was a bit of TV and time to crash out for the night.




August 5th 2005 - Friday - Okinawa, well the food's nice!

Holiday over, back to work today. Things started off with a workshop for the sales people of our Okinawa distributor. Usually that's just a case of going through the needs teachers have, how Genki English meets them, and why it's so much better than anything out there ( hey, it's a sales workshop!) But the guy in charge had seen one of my workshops before so asked for an "otona demo dekiru" show type thing as well. And they were having a ball! We did the usual stuff plus the "When is your birthday?" song, which is always cool for adults. They all seemed pretty cool and now they've actually tried it themselves it should be easier for them to explain to the schools what Genki English is!

Then after an hour of phone calls, it was out to check out the set up for tomorrow, which looks cool and apparently there'll be 90 teachers there, which should be pretty good. Then out for dinner with the organisers, with some very nice Okinawa food! So now we've just got to wait for the weather to clear up and see if Okinawa really does live up to its promise!



August 4th 2005 - Thursday - Okinawa - Not impressed!

So there's a typhoon. But I still managed to get most of my work done before lunch so I figured I'd head out to the beach, and even if it was rainy I could find a coffee shop and get some more work done. So an hour on the bus to the Nibara beach. And I know it's raining and stormy and windy, but even so, I'm not very impressed! The beaches here are supposed to be golden and fluffy, but this one was just like the ones we have on Shikoku. Except here they have heaps and heaps of rubbish and the really ugly buildings lining the sea front. Wow, I guess I've been taken in by all the flashy PR shots!

So after nearly been blown over on the beach, I headed back to the hotel. Which was nice, but not quite the beach!

They also had the American Forces TV in the hotel, which was very funny. Instead of normal adverts between the programmes, they have special adverts for the military. But they are crazy stuff like an advert about not wearing headphones on your bike, or one that ended with the line "Breakfast. Just Eat it". Bin Laden must be shaking in his boots.



August 3rd 2005 - Wednesday - Off to Okinawa!!!!

Wahey - it's off to sunny Okinawa!! Except that after last night I wasn't really feeling in a "Wahey" mood! But the thought of spending all afternoon crashed out by the pool on the idyllic island of Okinawa kept me going through the Tokyo rush hour trains and the long (ish) flight.

And what happens? There's a typhoon!

So all that gorgeous beautiful sand, crystal waters and clear blue skies were all grey and murky. And my afternoon by the pool turned into half an hour before I got drenched with rain! So I went inside for a nap and didn't waken up till 9. Still, it was soooo nice to just crash out and not have to do any work!


August 2nd 2005 - Tuesday - Contrast, Contrast & Embassy Night Out

They say you should never go back to the scene of the crime. And after last week's perfect workshop I would have been quite happy to bow out on a high note. But I didn't record last week's workshop, and I was still booked for today.

So I started off and wow, what a difference. Last week everyone was totally hyper, into everything, killing themselves with laughter and just rolling with it. Today everyone was dead! They weren't bad at all ( I've had my share of moaning JETs at mid year conferences before!) they were just totally shattered and exhausted! Which made my life pretty tough, and I sort of quite felt sorry for them!! Last week I had a ton of backup stuff prepared in case things went belly up, but as everything worked well then, today I just planned a repeat performance ( i.e. a cutdown version of the Kobe workshop with a few new things). So that's a lesson learned, always have sure-fire things in reserve for back up! So it must be one of the most low key workshops I've ever done, and as there wasn't too much feedback, I was talking nearly the whole time so my voice nearly died!! ( One of the key things with lessons or presentations is to get the participants doing stuff as often as possible, to allow you a bit of a rest, bring in some change and let you prepare the next bit!). But people were still coming up to me and saying how good it was compared to the other workshops, so I guess that's something!

Then after a quick nap it was out to the British Embassy reception. That's always very nice! I had a few people to meet so I bought a shirt ( I didn't posses one until now as I always wear T-shirts!), and could meet all the people I wanted to see without being recognised. Then once that was over it was back to the GE t-shirt and everyone started coming over and asking questions and saying nice things about the workshop. So then a bunch of us went to first the Keio plaza bar, which was sillily expensive, so when we got thrown out I took 25 of them across to Watami, which was great; cheap big beers, and lots of cool Japanese food ( which everyone liked, especially the gyoza!). It only cost 200 quid for the lot of us, which was cool, and what was even better was that instead of the usual JET thing of people moaning that everyone else ate 10.43 yen more of food than them so they wouldn't pay, everyone chucked in a bit extra so we had a tenner to put in the charity box at the end and a tip for the waiter ( who seemed very puzzled by this!)


One thing you can really tell though is the difference between the different consulates and I guess it must be the level of training they get before they set off. Last week I was out with the Americans and most people were like deer caught in headlights, not knowing what on Earth was going. But the Brits tonight were completely relaxed, they all knew what was in store for them ( good and bad!), and pretty much everyone had a smattering of Japanese that they could actually use! I wonder if that has any affect the drop out/ success rates later on?



August 1st 2005 - Monday - AJET Info Fair

It seemed strange going "back" to Tokyo last night, Tokyo isn't quite the place you look forward to returning to!

But today was the AJET Info which is cool as I got to talk to a lot of new JETs, and as this day is a commercial event I could also show people the Genki English stuff. Joel also popped along in the afternoon, which was very welcome as there were sooo many people there!! ( Over 1,500 people attend the conference this week!). It was good to chat to people, but it seemed that people weren't quite as genki as last week, everyone seemed a lot more subdued. But at the end of the day we'd given away exactly the same amount of stuff as last week, so I'm not sure what it was. Maybe it was the elementary school workshop where the girl told them NOT to teach anything, but ONLY play games!! Oh my goodness, how do they choose these presenters? Have they never read the guidelines?




July 31st 2005 - Sunday - Maruzen Nagoya and making publishers Genki?

OK, how to motivate 70 teachers at 10 AM on a Sunday? A challenge. Especially when I find out there is no projector. And there are also a load of kids. But.... as luck would have it these were the kids who always turn up in Nagoya, and they were great, even better than the adults! They know the stuff so were quite cool when I was doing the explaining and motivation stuff for the adults, then everyone got really genki for the songs, cool! As usual with the CD5 workshops I started off with "When, when, when" then into "Under the Sea" ( which was after all a request from these teachers last month!) and "Where is Mr Monkey?" which again was really popular. I always thought prepositions were quite easy to teach, but apparently not!

The best bit of the day? Completely selling out of Superpacks, Card Games and Classroom English CDs! The strangest bit of the day? The presenters for one of the Japanese publishers, who claims to make things that are fun for elementary school, asking me how to make their new book and CD seem interesting!!! I know a lot of these presenters actually teach using Genki English rather than what they sell at workshops, but asking me how to make their books and songs fun is pushing things a bit far!!

It was a long, but good day, with many teachers asking really good questions ( which is the main thing ) and the kids who were great ( which is the fun bit). I really should start a school!

But I'm shattered, and tomorrow is all go again for round two of the JET Programme conferences!


July 30th 2005 - Saturday - Off to Nagoya

As the title says, computer work, shinkansen, a nice dinner in the Outback Steakhouse, bumped into a couple of JETs, checked out the music festival, and crashed in a capsule hotel because again all the other hotels were full! I am so going to appreciate my Okinawa hotel next week!



July 29th 2005 - Friday

Bed at 3 then out to brave the Tokyo subway system at 9, fun fun! But it was worth it as I popped in to see the British Council, mainly to chat about the exchange projects. We were going to have a chat the other week, but things got a bit too busy. Today though it seems like there's a million and one things we can help each other out with, so that could be really good.

Then afterwards I was feeling the effects of not having done any exercise for a week, so decided to walk back to my hotel via the Imperial Palace. Tokyo doesn't really have any "must see" attractions, but it was quite nice to get out of the smog and traffic and into the moats and woodlands. I popped over to see the Budokan ( well, if I'm talking about doing a gig there, I should check it out!), and also walked up to see Yasukuni Jinjya to see what all the fuss is about. ( It's the shrine where the war dead, including the war criminals are enshrined, and the Prime Minister still, unbelievably, visits on a regular basis).

Then a bit more work on the oyako eigo series ( there's a demo online - it's not finished nor checked though so don't tell anyone about it just yet!).



July 28th 2005 - Thursday - Get ready for a 6 hour Genki English / MLH workshop in Tokyo!

Recently I've really been feeling the big gap between bookstore gigs which last 50 minutes and have a broad range of teachers, and the real professional development workshops in which you really see a progression as the teachers improve. Financially as well, the free bookstore gigs attract good teachers, but also the ones who just want a free English lesson and never buy anything - and somebody has to pay for the room, the flights, the hotels etc!

So along with Maruzen in Nihonbashi and Macmillan Language House, today we've put together a full on 6 hour professional development programme for Saturday August 27th. There'll be a fee on the day of 12,000 yen which means there'll be no selling, and just ideas, techniques, tons and tons of games and basically improving your skills. It should be really, really good, and will be a great way to move up from the "English Teaching as a hobby", to real learning where the kids have oodles of fun, AND get good! The day's workshop will be in Japanese and I'll have more details on the site soon.


I chose MLH to join up with today because they have a lot of really good material that joins on nicely from Genki English, for example the Finding Out phonics series for when the kids have got a handle on the GE themes, and the new Springboard readers series. Which I think may become the new "officially recommended" readers series, basically because the amount of FREE SUPPORT material is just amazing! Have a look at the new page I've put on the site for "Making Reading Fun", there are not just mp3 files for all the books, but worksheets and teachers guides that have soooo many cool ideas, all for free ( I guess they'd appreciate it if you bought a few sets of books though!)

Then in the evening after a few beers I was up till 3 working on the new "Oyako Eigo" programme, which has cool phrases for parents to use with their kids ( written by my Mum!). It's a big request and if I can figure out the budgets correctly, I'm hoping to have it free on the website.





July 27th 2005 - Wednesday - While the iron is hot

Spent the morning running around changing hotels, then over to Shibuya to have a chat about organising an adults eikaiwa show using the Genki English songs and games. I might as well put the wheels in motion whilst the idea is still fresh! Shibuya is the Japanese city of fashion and has some pretty cool stuff, including funky Darth Vader adverts for mobile phones!


I also downloaded the very useful Konfabulator today, which is now free!





July 26th 2005 - Tuesday - Tokyo Orientation Day 2

Things just seem to be on a roll at the moment. Today's workshops were just brilliant. I had no idea how many people would turn up, and I wouldn't have thought that many of them even knew Genki English, but the the room was overflowing, with people standing at the back and taking up just about every piece of floor space there was. Content wise I just stripped down the Recontracting Conference presentation and put in as many of the hints and tips that I could remember that I wished I'd had when I started. I also did a quick tour of the website ( e.g. games, videos + katakana )and everybody was just lapping things up. The second session was just as good and I don't think I've had so fun a couple of hours in ages. Japan doesn't know what's hit it this year as these are the genkiest bunch of JETs I've ever seen!! I didn't bother to record the gig today as I wasn't even sure if it would work, but they were perfect. Let's hope next week is just as good!



July 25th 2005 - Monday - Tokyo Orientation Day 1

Today was the JET Programme Tokyo Orientation where 1,500 new JET teachers arrive for 3 days of being jet lagged, hungover and getting an onslaught of being thrown head first into Japan. It's also the first time I've attended ( well, except for the time when I first came myself, of course).

And today was the AJET Orientation where companies pay a load of money to have a table to give free stuff away to JETs. And as AJET has always been really good to Genki English, this year I decided to help out as I'm going to be up here for my workshop tomorrow anyway. Joel also popped along and it's just as well he did as there were hundreds of JETs!! Mind you most of the other companies were just throwing stuff at the JETs ( they had so many bags!), but it was cool that we actually got to chat to people and help them out with elementary school stuff. This year's JETs seem a really good bunch of people. And at the end one girl came up to me and said "We used the NHK documentary about you in college last year, we had to answer a worksheet with questions like "Where does Richard live?"". Well, that's not the usual sort of thing I hear everyday!

So quite a good day, and it will be interesting to see how the JETs go on knowing about Genki English from the very beginning. When I first started GE I was pushing it all the time, but over the last couple of years it seems that most people have just assumed that everyone knows about Genki English, so don't mention it. Hence I was getting quite a lot of emails from people this year saying they'd only found out about the site part way through the year.

And now I have to go and squash down my speech for tomorrow, and think of new jokes as the old ones only work on JETs who've been here a while!!


July 23rd 2005 - Saturday - Kagoshima

Kagoshima is one of the interesting cities in the World, where the people who were deciding where to build it must have said "Where shall we build our new city?" and someone said "Oh yes, right next to a live volcano!". As you do.

So today was a "mini conference" sponsored by JALT and the Jellybeans Bookstore ( a good place to get teaching stuff if you live in Kagoshima, tell them I sent you!). I had a teachers workshop in the afternoon, but they also managed to solve one of the big problems of workshops like this. Namely, that teachers very often want to attend but can't leave their kids at home. And if you're doing an actual teaching workshop then the kids get bored and start crying and stuff, which sort of messes things up a bit. So this time as there were so many presenters, we each also took an hour to do a kids "baby sitting" type thing. Which is fair enough, and it really did help with the teaching workshops, so I was pleased to help out.

The only thing was that I didn't know how many kids there'd be, nor their level! And the first four girls that walked in were 20 year olds. Younger kids also turned up! So I just prepared a few things and decided that rather than teach anything, to just do lots of fun stuff. So I started off and the kids were actually quite cool. And then what happens next? A couple of dozen teachers file in to watch!!! Ah. Well, I couldn't really change to do something like a proper lesson, so just continued on. But the funny thing was it got rave reviews from the teachers. Oh well, you never can tell what people are looking for!! The cool thing was that they joined in with the games, so along with How are you?, Rock, Paper, Scissors and What are you doing? we also went through Mingle and the ever popular Harry Potter! Then the Thank You song to finish ( which only took 1 minute to teach!)


I tell you what though the Japanese adults were just as much into the songs and games as the kids ( maybe even more so!). I should really think about doing adult eikaiwa shows, but just do the normal songs and games!

After lunch Chris Hunt did the kids gig, and I stayed around to see what he'd do. I never used to like Chris, mainly because the first time I met him he interrupted the very end of one of my big motivation talks and killed the atmosphere!! But once you leave the politics to one side he's a good bloke and has some really good ideas. One cool thing he did was to do a Warm Up and had a stopwatch. For 30 seconds the teacher told the kids what to do, then for 30 seconds the kids told the teacher what to do. That worked very well. He also had a very cool "How are you?" game based on What time is it, Mr Wolf? where the kids shout out to a monster ( the teacher!) across the room "How are you?" and the monster replies along with a number of steps the kids have to take. Then if the monster says "I'm hungry!" the kids all have to rush back to their start line without being tagged! In the beginning the kids could also choose whether the monster should be big or small, fast or slow. So there were lots of really good ideas there and it really should have been videod as it was a perfect kindergarten class and I'm sure many teachers would have got lots of great ideas from it.

Then it was time for my main gig of the day which was the teachers' workshop. As usual the room was packed, and it was pretty difficult to get people moving around! I also wasn't sure what language to do it in today, so I said "OK, let's start" and no-one moved, then on "hajimemasyou" everyone spun around and started listening - so Japanese it was! Now I have the "Basics" workshops online, I could go straight in to the newer stuff, with "When, when, when". As yesterday the month picture cards were a big hit with the teachers. Then we did Where is Mr Monkey? ( not that popular with the kids, but a big request from teachers), and I found I had to count in between the teacher's line and the kids' line to keep everyone in time. But it worked well, and as usual the dragon eating Mr Monkey completely changed the atmosphere. So then the food song ( and lots more motivation as teachers were complaining that "apples and bananas" was too difficult!!). Then the Balloon and menu games as per the rest of this week. Then I also tried the What did you say ...? game with the card game cards. That was good and the teachers could see how it was real communication and not just practice! Then to end on a high note, it was a go through the Under the Sea song!

So overall the 90 minutes was very good, but everyone was still really hungry for more! So I think I'm probably going to be back here for a full day, 6 hour workshop in the future!


Then out for some food, a fireworks display and a lot of beer!





July 22nd 2005 - Friday - The second time around

It's not that often that you get to go to work on a boat! And a pretty posh high speed one at that. Today started off with a quick hop across Hakata bay to a school I did a workshop for last year. This year they asked me back to do more games and songs and basically lots of activities to follow up on the basics we did last time. So I started off and went straight in to the next set of themes. The only thing I didn't take into consideration were the new teachers who'd just joined the school in April! Ah. So when I started doing things all the other teachers were going "cool, no problem", whereas the 3 or 4 new teachers were totally into their Junior High School mind set of "What? Eh? Panic!!" type of mode. Which really slowed things down so I basically had to go back and do a very high speed version of the intro workshop, which they didn't really get for quite a while!

But eventually they got all the basics ( "think you can do it, and you can!", "losing just means try again", and "don't analyse, just do!" ), so we could move on to some more themes, albeit at a slightly slower pace. I tell you, there is such a huge difference in teachers who've had a Genki English workshop, and the ones who haven't!

One other thing about today's school was that although they have some very genki teachers and have 6 superpacks, for some quite unknown reason their curriculum had lots of stuff that they'd just copied from other schools, and they hadn't a clue what all the games and songs were supposed to be! Hence why they wanted to see more of the Genki English stuff actually working, so they'd have the confidence to put more of them in the curriculum.

So we started off with What's your name? as a review, then Left & Right. Then into "How old are you?" and mingle as per the usual basic workshop. I also changed the break format today so instead of 90 minutes then a 30 minute break, I did 50 mins then a 10 minute break which worked well as they were asking lots of good questions in the break time! Then Rock, Paper, Scissors so that we could do Where are you from? and use the minicards for the game ( a modified Name Card Game). And another break, then How much? with the bargaining game and then request for "ordering at a restaurant" which went nicely into the food theme with the balloon game and menu worksheet game, which are my current favourites at the moment!


So overall we did get quite a bit done, and they asked me back in December. Mind you now with CD5 it probably takes 4 full days to go through the full Genki English curriculum!!

Then it was off to another school for a "from the beginning" workshop. I tried videoing this one again, but the first set of questions were about the teachers wanting to learn themselves and how to go about it. So I deviated off the normal path and did the "Otona ga jouzu naru kotu" ( a workshop and article for adults to get good at English, something similar to the one I have on the GenkiJapan site). That's was cool, so then into the usual questions of what to teach, what to do about pronunciation etc, which were all nicely answered by the Superpack they'd just bought ( the teaching guide videos were particularly well received!) Where are you going? was the theme I'd chosen to demonstrate the pronunciation software, and it never fails to get teachers genki even at 4PM on a long hot day! Then in the last hour, before going into the stuff about the 6th graders and my war speech, we did "When is your birthday?" along with the picture cards. It was the first time I've used the new cards for this theme, and it worked really well with all the descriptions. That would make a great 6th grade lesson!

So that was pretty cool and the teachers were very happy!

Then I had a bit of a rush to get ready and I'm now on the groovy new Shinkansen to Kagoshima, which actually isn't a shinkansen till we get to Yatsuhiro! Oh well, never mind it was a good day's work today!




July 21st 2005 - Thursday - Minoshima Elementary School - perfect!

Some schools are just perfect. And I think today was the easiest workshop I've ever done. The teachers were mega genki, up for learning new stuff and asking lots of great questions. If every school in Japan were like this they'd rule the World.

We started off with the warm up and they got into that. One question was "I can't understand when people speak fast. What should I do?". Good question, so I started off with "stand up", "sit down", etc. and then instead of going into the weird stuff like " eat a hot curry", I did more classroom stuff, adding in "Girls", then "Boys", then things like "open the window". Then ended up being able to say "Boys, stand up, go over there and open the windows", "Girls come here and close the doors" at full speed and they got it straight away. The point being that just by building things up slowly in layers you gradually get better and better, and for teachers the best way to do that is to listen to English on the way to school for 5 minutes a day.

After my self intro ( to get them relaxed enough to ask questions), the usual set of problems came up ( pronunciation, what to teach, what to aim for etc.) which are all pretty easy to solve. And as this school actually has to teach real lessons ( and with no ALT ) they were all over things like the software on the CDs, the lesson plans and the games. It's like the Anthony Robbins line, it's the "have tos", not the "shoulds" that make the difference, and these teachers have to teach every month, so were really into all the ideas.

One of the best things was in the second half a new teacher joined. I did a quick review of the first half, ending by saying "Right, so everyone is cool with the fact that English is quite easy", all the teachers went "Yes!" and the new teacher just looked shocked ( as she had always been taught that English was something only phds could do!) But it was cool as everyone was saying what I'd just taught them, that it's not brain surgery, it's something they can all do with a bit of practice!

So, brilliant really. I also tried videoing the workshop to put on the site ( like the English one I did the other week), but the teachers got so carried away in the Mingle game they sent my video camera flying across the room! I tell you, there's some of these people who say that kids English should be all "serious", but they have never set foot in a real school!

So today's teachers were really, really great! It was a real pleasure to help them, and I'm looking forward to working with them in the future.

But now I have to get ready for my 6 hours of workshops tomorrow, a shinkansen down to Kagoshima and the start of the 3 week Summer Tour!






July 16th 2005 Saturday - Okayama - All day bullet train, frogs & peaches


So after last night having one or two too many shandies, I wasn't feeling too genki this morning! But I had to get up early to get the Shinkansen down to Okayama. And they were all full! I'd forgotten it was a 3 day holiday. So I had to get a non-reserved ticket, and I did manage to get a seat, but there were so many people standing and hunting for seats that I had to stay sat down, feeling very ill, for 4 hours!!

But I made it to Okayama OK, and got myself over to the Maruzen bookstore. And when it came round to my presentation I flipped the switch and became genki ( you have to do it for the teachers!). In the "Genki English ranking of places in Japan" Okayama just about ties with Fukuoka for having the most keen teachers who are always looking to do more cool things. Today it was also a bookstore gig hence had to sell lots of things, so I thought I'd do the basic shogakkou workshop, but choose all the songs from CD5. That didn't quite work!! The "When, when, when" song done as a warm up (instead of a lesson), didn't really work ( as the teachers needed more time to understand the words ) and with the food song I thought I'd do the second version from n-z. But I'd only got as far as "noodles, olives, pizza" when the teachers were saying "it's too difficult!". Looks like I should have started with "apples, bananas and cheese!". I figured out what the problem was though, although the Genki English fans were cool and were really into things, the new teachers hadn't seen my workshop before so were very much in the Junior High School mode of "dissect, analyse", which doesn't work for this type of thing.

The frog story came in useful for this, "if you watch a frog, see how it moves, see what it does, you'll know how it works. But if you cut it open, dissect the organs and give them funny names, all you have is a dead frog". If I was just in this for the sales it would be so easy just to sell people things to make them happy, but it's the education that it's all about!

Anyway, it took a while to get through the food song, but they saw how things like "Ugli fruit" which really threw them the first time they heard it, became really natural and easy by the time they'd finished the song. Then like last week it was the balloon game and the Food Menu game, which were cool. But that only left time for one extra song, I can do it!

It was a bit different to do full lessons, with games as well as the songs, and everyone responded well, but of course it meant I didn't have time to showcase many songs. But as it happens most of the teachers already had the Superpack, which was cool. And surprisingly the card game was really popular, all I had to do was show a teacher how to play it and they bought a handful of packs!

So not too bad, and today was sort of a "bonus" for Okayama as I have a real 2 day workshop coming up here in August which should be really, really good. They've given me a list of topics they'd like to do and with 80 teachers it's a lot for a workshop style, but it should be great!

And I tell you, it's amazing just who uses Genki English in their lessons!

Then back on the Shinkansen to Fukuoka where I start the Summer Workshops this week. And it's peach season, so that's my Shinkansen snack sorted out, real peaches from Momotaro's home town of Okayama!




July 15th - Tokyo - EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges Video Clip Competition Award Ceremony and 2005 British Council Team-Teaching Lesson Plan Competition Award Ceremony

Now that's a long title! I got a call the other week asking me to attend the event tonight, to meet a lot of people and to offer my support to the competition. As this is just the sort of thing I'm wanting to help promote in schools it sounded like a nice evening. And it was!

The High School kids who won the video competition were good, with some cool ideas, it really is a motivating project. This project was a special one for this year only, and the winners got sent to the UK, Ireland and Germany for a week!

The second part was the Team Teaching Lesson Plan competition, where the ALT who won got a free Upper Class Virgin Airways ticket to London for herself and her JTE! Now that's pretty cool as well ( as a mate of mine always says, it's not the champagne that makes 1st class flights cool, it's the people. Just think of who you'd meet flying first class from Tokyo to London!!).

One of the winner's was an elementary school ALT who did a great lesson about not littering ( they all had to be themed about the environment this year). Usually I spend my time looking at these types of things going "hmmm" but this was really, really well done, very professional. After a quick warm up of practising numbers the ALT did a skit where was on a beach, eating food and stuff and then just throwing the litter around whilst saying "garbage". It was fun and the kids soon picked up the word. Then the Japanese teacher came along saying "Garbage! Clean up!". And they started saying the phrase whilst picking up all the garbage. The kids were really in to this, so next was a game where the ALT threw loads of pieces of paper as "garbage" around and shouted out a number. The kids had to pick up that number of pieces of garbage and put them in the garbage can. To end they made up a garbage song. So that was pretty much a perfect lesson with just the right amount of words, a good message and, apart from "garbage" being America-centric, a very useful piece of language ( apparently the kids go now round the school saying "Garbage! Clean up!").


Next up were the Junior and Senior High entries, and you could see the difference straight away!! I'm so glad I focus on elementary schools, in these videos it was like pulling teeth, eventhough the ALTs and JTEs had come up with some cool ideas, the kids were half asleep in the beginning! One thing the judges mentioned, and again it was really obvious, was that in the elementary school one, they managed to do it all in English ( due to a very skillfully produced lesson plan), but in the high school ones the JTEs were translating absolutely everything!! Even, "Chopsticks and you" and the JTE said "Ohashi to anata", oh my goodness!! So if there are any JTEs reading this DON'T TRANSLATE EVERYTHING THE ALT SAYS!! The lessons themselves were actually really good, and the kids did come around eventually, but it really shows how much more can be achieved in an elementary school classroom compared with older kids.


It was also really cool to meet a lot of very interesting new people. And in the evening it was great to chat over a few beers, about why JETs are so important, and why projects like this really are the key to getting the kids to understand and want to communicate with people everywhere. And certainly after last week that has become even more important than ever.






July 12th 2005 - It's Summer

After the rain ( very late, but still welcome, droughts are not fun in Japan!), it's now Summer. And it seems like the whole city is buzzing from the upcoming festivals ( I'm in Fukuoka at the moment). So here's a nice picture of one of the huge decorations they have dotted all over town, it's just outside the coffee shop where I'm working!




July 11th 2005 - busy, busy

I've been so busy making things I haven't had chance to update the blog! Have a look round the site, there's lots of new stuff e.g. online videos of my workshops, new kids pages, a cool way to send money home plus lots more coming soon! I've got to get everything finished before the big Summer Tour starts!


July 5th 2005 - Tuesday - Nagasaki - Back in the classroom

Today was the second time I've visited a school in such a short time ( I was here exactly a year ago), and it is so nice to see how the kids have progressed through the year. The ALT schedule has been a bit up and down, but the kids attitude and speed of learning is just fantastic.

First off was a "show", except that the teachers had requested a couple of higher level themes as it was the second time. So it wasn't quite a "show" as such, but more of a 160 kid very fast lesson. The topics chosen were Rock, Paper, Scissors, Where, Where, Where? and Can you do it?. But with the exception of Rock, Paper, Scissors (which is really easy) the other ones I'd never done in a show setting before so there was always the risk of everything falling apart, which is a good to keep me on my toes! For these themes I also need some visuals for running through the song acapella, so had a projector which worked really well. The second song was Where, Where, Where? and the kids, even the ichinensei were great. I must admit there was a bit of cheating as a couple of classes had done it before, but everyone else was also cool. One of the good things about this song is that you can teach "Where's the toilet?" ( so as to be understood everywhere, not just North America), and "Where's the phone?" and then move straight on to asking the kids "Where's the piano?", "Where's the TV?" etc. without having to teach them and they can answer with an "Over there" and point in the right direction the very first time they here it. And these kids were great with it.

By the time we got round to I can do it! the kids were pretty tired, it was a very hot and very muggy day! But they had the "I can do it!" attitude, and they all nailed how to say it in English really quickly, I was quite surprised. The first time through the song they were a little quiet as the CD player had been turned down, but I turned it back up and asked them if they could do it again, and they did, and they were even better. So I finished 5 minutes early and they were all very glad they had achieved their aim of doing 3 lessons in an hour! I was shattered, but quite happy it all worked out OK! But I tell you, doing these three in one hour is not to be recommended!

There were also a few teachers from the area who came to attend, and I think they were a bit shocked at how quickly the kids picked stuff up, especially the bits where they had to think and answer rather than just repeat.

Then it was a 6th grade class. As you probably know 6th graders are not my speciality, but they asked, so I thought I'd give it a try! I asked whether I should do something that I know works, or to try some new experimental stuff, and they were like "Experiment away!". So that was cool, it's one of the things I miss about my job at the moment, not getting the chance to try new stuff!

First off I started with the "Can you understand English?" line ( eigo wakarimasu ka?), to which a few of the kids, as expected said "No!". This is something you have to get sorted straight away before it turns into an epidemic in the games. And the way to do that is to use the vocab from the foods theme. So I just told them to translate into Japanese the words I say. I left out "Ugli Fruit" and everything else they got, and even the "no" kids were saying "well, maybe we do know quite a lot!". I also did the part about how every Japanese kid can understand around 200-300 English words, and the New York Times only usually has around 600 words in it!

For the next bit it was to try something new. What I thought of doing was a new theme that teaches the words used in the Card Game i.e. height, length, weight, top speed and age. The picture cards I used were the dragon for height, .the caterpillar for length, the hippo for weight, the mosquito for top speed and the cockroach for age. As expected the 6th grade girls like the cuteness of the pictures! They also got all the words really quickly and could recall them very well. So then I said I was thinking about writing a song for this theme, and would they help me choose some music. They were all very keen on this. So I loaded up some loops and stuff on my laptop and let them choose. Lots of English here as well, as I assigned each loop a number and they had to agree amongst themselves which was best. In the end they chose the Trance version.

So we did the song with a trance beat and they were cool. Then it was the game. I planned to do a new version of the "What did you say?" game. The only problem with the normal version of this game is that using things like "What's your name?" isn't really communicating anything as the kids already know each others names, and they can cheat! So what I did was to put them in 6 groups using Mingle, then paired up the groups, making sure the pairs of groups were well separated. Then I gave 9 card game cards to one group, and a sheet of paper with 9 card game cards with the numbers blanked out to their partner group. The idea is they choose a card, then shout across the room to their paired group who then write down the numbers. At first it looked like this would be a total flop, but we kept trying! Each group got to try their Height and Length, so they knew what to do. Then came the main bit where they had to finish off their card whilst all the groups were shouting at the same time. Once they figured that the first team to correctly fill in their card is the winner, they were well into it!! Doing one card at a time was just right as it took about two minutes. I was quite surprised they managed to do it well, with only one mistake - confusing a "15" with a "50", which is fine in my book. So a very good lesson and highly recommended!

Then it was lunch with the 6th grades, just chatting about music and stuff.

Then a first grade lesson ( the school certainly got their money's worth today - well at least they would if it wasn't a volunteer gig!). Anyway this first grade is a little special as there are quite a few special needs kids, all with distinct needs, hence why I asked to try and help. I wasn't really sure what to do, but my brief was to "do something where the shyest kids try and express themselves" so I thought I'd try the new "Under the sea" theme as it's very popular with younger kids. First off I warmed up with the Warm Up game, and already I could see I was losing a couple of the kids! So I very quickly went in to a review of Rock, Paper, Scissor, which apart from them being so loud, was great. They were totally on the ball with the "losing just means try again", which help a lot later on in the game. It is really difficult trying to help the most needy kids in a class of 30 though!

I started off teaching the first four sea animals, and as expected the quiet kids were very quiet. So I did the trick of asking the kids to come up with the gestures, and that was good as they were all trying at least something, and things like the "Sea horse" got most of the kids involved, so that was a minor success! It was a bit hard going, so instead of doing the Balloon Game I switched and did the Sticky Fingers game. The beauty of this game is that you can do one round, then add in another piece of vocab, then another round of the game, then another piece of vocab etc. etc. I makes sure the game doesn't get boring, and they are happy to see a new word. Again highly recommended. One kid looked slightly on the verge of crying (this is first grade!), when she lost, but everyone did the "Try again!" thing and she was quite happy. Then at the end I got all the kids together at the front and we did the new "Under the Sea" song. I don't know what it is, but there's something magical in this song, in the slow bits that surround the animal parts the kids all quieted down and were paying 100% attention, wow, pretty cool. So not my best lesson in the World, but not bad for a first try.

Next was a 30 minute break and the teachers' workshop. As it's term time they could only spare an hour, and it was an exact even split between teachers who'd seen last years' and who were new teachers, so I sort of had to start from the beginning with the "English is easy" type stuff. They got that, but I was surprised to see they had so much difficulty with the Food Song! I'd tried it on kids, and more recently on private teachers, but this was the first time for elementary school teachers. But it was good as it threw up 2 important points. One is that they were trying to read the lyrics instead of just say the words, and secondly they were singing in katakana, which doesn't fit the rhythm! Once they'd figure that out, it was a bit easier, but still very interesting! So then I moved on to the Balloon Game which they just loved! Elementary school teachers go mad for these types of game!!! And then the Food Worksheet game, which they thought was clever and useful, but they weren't as crazy as the balloons!

The usual questions came up again, pronunciation, curriculum, how to communicate with ALTs, and I showed them all the info I have on the site, but I think they are all looking for the "Pera Pera Pill", rather than reading up and learning the skills. I can quite sympathise with their time constraints, but I also know that if they took the time to just read up a bit it would save them a heck a lot of worry time! And that is far more stressful! But they are good teachers and the excellent attitude of the kids speaks for itself.


Wow, so that certainly was a day and a half!! But it was good to get back in school again, I'd love to be an ALT again! But I wouldn't want to be a Home Room Teacher, they make far too much work for themselves! It was so good to see the kids getting the English and being able to use it, unlike most kids they actually answered when I asked them things like "Where's my computer bag?" later on.

It will be very cool to see how these kids do.

And for me I'm now on the train back to Fukuoka, where I'm going to have a 2 days of business emails waiting for me. Fun. fun, fun!




July 4th - Monday - Off to Nagasaki

Day off? Not much chance of that! Spent this morning on the phone organising stuff and the rest of the day trying to do the new catalogue designs. This year I'll also be at the AJET Info Fair at the Tokyo orientations, and I'll need 3,000 of them in English! Which means they have to be at the printers, errrr. yesterday.

Then in the evening I headed off to Nagasaki for a nice dinner with a couple of ALTs and a couple of Japanese teachers one of whom had to be on some form of medication! He was Mr Genki, and never stopped talking!! I should have videod him to play to the new ALTs at orientation, "Some of you may have really boring teachers, and some of you may have this guy!". But it was cool, then off to my homestay and another hour or so of work once everyone had gone to bed!




July 3rd 2005 - Sunday - Fukuoka

I don't know what it is with July but today was also fully booked, with extra people turning up. At one point it looked like we might have to turn people away ( because of the fire regulations), but in the end it worked out just OK.

Today was a funny gig as it was sponsored by the ETJ group of teachers. Which meant I very much had to wear only my "Education Consultant" hat and anything commercial was banned. Which is cool, so I planned the basic ALT Elementary School workshop plus an extra hour of bonus content, rather than a "how to use the Genki English materials" type of workshop. Which was good, but there were private teachers and even junior high and senior high teachers as well! But people seemed well in to things and as usual for Fukuoka they took the ideas and ran with them, which was pretty cool! Thank you very much! It will be good on August 20th to complement today's workshop with a run down of the new games and songs at the Maruzen presentation.

If you'd like to see what we did today, here are the full workshop notes. I also videod the workshop and if it turns out OK I'll see if I can put it up on the site!




July 2nd 2005 - Saturday - Tokyo - Whatever...

Today was another gig for the bookstore Maruzen. Recently these bookstore events haven't been quite as good as they should, but the boss of the store is a cool guy so I offered to present, and as it happened it was completely booked up with people being turned away!

So I was expecting a top notch bunch of teachers who were confident in what they do and could handle some of the higher level games and songs. Unlike school workshops this is a sales presentation, where we have to sell things to pay for everything, so I decided to try out the "6 questions" sales approach. Basically this means you ask people 6 questions to which the answer is "yes", and then they always answer yes to the 7th question, which would be something like "You'll take the Superpack and Picture Card Pack?". And what happens, I didn't get past question 3!!! Which I wouldn't mind, but question 3 was "So you all want your students to get really good at English, yeah?" and half the teachers went "Well, not really, I'm not really bothered!". Woh!!! Just a minute! What job are you being paid to do????? So that was pretty much down hill from there! They did the songs and had a good time, but a lot of the "teachers" weren't that interested in improving their teaching, they just wanted a free "English lesson". I even had to do the "Your students can learn to speak English" skit as many of them seemed convinced they couldn't!

The sad thing was that there were some good teachers there, that Maruzen had gone to huge lengths to organise such a full schedule, and all the presenters put on really top workshops for really brilliant products. Robert and Mayuka were there from Macmillan (with the great Springboard readers), Alastair and Junko from ABAX ( they have great alphabet cards and a cool book of games to go with them), and Jason from Houghton Mifflin ( with an excellent series of American textbooks for higher level kids).

So I think that it's time to call an end to these free workshops. You get what you pay for and people who expect things for free can't be that serious about what they do. Having more time would mean I could do like I do in school workshops where I forget about selling and just do techniques and activities to help people out with things they are stuck with. I think that's going to be the future! Let's get serious and professional about this!

Mind you one thing that did work was letting people know that if you buy the 24,000 yen Superpack, you can download the 39,200 yen picture card pack for free!



June 30th 2005 - Thursday - Two Times

I seem to have spent a lot of this week not only producing new stuff ( look out for the new "Under the Sea" theme next week), but also sorting out Summer workshops. And one of the cool things is that many of them are the second time to visit and the teachers are wanting the next level of stuff. Which is really good! It means I can skip the intros, curriculum and the basic confidence stuff and go straight into more ideas and activities. Several of the schools are really serious about getting a good programme going for the next few years after having good success with the basic Genki English stuff. One school has also booked 2 full days of workshops, which should be pretty cool, it means I can take things a little more slowly and really cover all the ground!



June 25th 2005 - Saturday - Star Wars & Well Cool Lightsabers

I am really, really, really busy..... but if I have to take a break then for Star Wars I can make an exception! It was the 3rd time to see Episode III and it just keeps getting better and better! This time the cinema was with the new Dolby EX and wow, it sounds fantastic, what a massive difference it makes! It was a bit funny seeing the Japanese subtitles though!

I've also found out that Amazon Japan has inflatable light sabers for sale! Or if you want to see the most amazing Light Saber ever, check out the Force FX one - oh my goodness, I want one! ( Have a look at the video at the bottom of the page)



June 24th 2005 - Friday - Video is fun

Sometimes I don't know how I keep all this together, being a publisher and author plus touring is not an easy job! I guess the fact that I'm still working in a coffee shop at 11PM on a Friday night has something to do with it!

Got the newsletter sent out this week, and I've been working on the photos of the actions to the CD5 songs. But whilst I'd got all the green screen stuff set up I figured I might as well just go and video the whole teaching guide videos for CD5. I haven't a clue when I'll get time to edit them up, but at least they're now recorded! You know I'd love to do more video work, it's so much fun!

I also got asked to do the Tokyo JET Programme Orientations this Summer in Tokyo, which is cool! I've never done the national ones before, and it'll be a nice challenge and a good chance to fill the ALTs in on some of the survival techniques they're going to need! I also got a call from the ALT advisor at the Ministry of Education asking me to come along to the "EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges Video Clip Competition Award Ceremony" ( a bit of a mouthful that! ) to have a chat about exchange projects and to meet the EU ambassador! Can't be bad, and if you'd like to pop along it promises to be a very good event!

Whilst I was looking for the official Japanese for "Orientation", I happened to come across the document that shows that ALTs salaries and travel expenses are not paid by their town, but are in fact paid for by Tokyo. So if your town gives you any hassle about that, just show them this document!

And I also noticed that the girl who did the Recontracting Conference Elementary School workshop had once again basically just copied the entire Genki English website into her handouts. Now I don't mind helping ALTs in the slightest, but it's not on really when people don't even ask!! There's a lot of work gone in to building all that info and it's not nice to just have it stolen!

Ahhh... anyway, back to work, they're going to throw me out of the coffee shop in 15 minutes!!




June 19th 2005 - Sunday - a real blog...

I was thinking the other day that I should make this in to a real blog, talking about hot news and ideas. The thing is you look at the teaching scene and there isn't really much going off, except for Dr Krashen losing any sense of credibility on the ETJ list by insisting speaking isn't important in language classes. But then you look again at the" real" blogs and all they seem to do is to link to each other! ( Hey, look at Seth's blog about genki people, or Michael's blog about giving people 3 choices - might work in the classroom?)

So I might as well just write about what's new on the site!

First up is an American set of pronunciations for the Phonics Pages. For some strange reason Genki English pops up as number 4 on the American Yahoo for "phonics" and hence lots of schools are using it to teach their kids, and similarly lots of teachers are confused that the "u"s and "a"s don't sound like theirs. What I've found is that just about everyone pronounces the consonants the same way, but it's in the vowels that the regional differences come out. If it was just a case of UK vs. US it would be easy to explain, but it seems like every city on the planet has different ways of saying the sounds, even if they are in the same country! But to go just a little way to help ( I'm not going to record them all!) I asked Joel record a set with a Californian accent to nicely compliment my Yorkshire tones! : ) I guess that's a big beer I owe him, and from Monday morning lots of little Americans will be using his voice instead of mine, oh well!

I got the new New Zealand farmstay page up on the site, it looks very nice, I wouldn't mind going myself. And also the discount airline tickets page.

I've also been doing lots of music work done this week, and as usual nothing works, then all of a sudden when you least expect it a great song pops up and is finished in 5 minutes. If only they could all be like that! So expect a funky new Summer Sea Song to pop up on the CD Owners Club over the next few weeks. And I'm also going to be looking at making printable versions of the songs and games pages with each activity on one sheet of A4. I've been planning to do this for ages but haven't been able to decide which software to do it in. But I think it's time to bite the bullet and just get it done, even if it means using Microsoft Word!

Other news, the Summer is filling up pretty good, I did get the gig in Okinawa ( yeah!!!), and the gig in Tokyo on the second of July is fully booked, but they're going to to be looking at doing another run later in the Summer.

Right, tomorrow's my day off so I'm off to watch Batman and I'll see you all next week!





June 14th 2005 - Tuesday - Farmstays!

Had a meeting this afternoon with Gina Whittle from New Zealand Life Tours. They have some great exchange courses, including a great "Farm Stay" and even a "learn English whilst diving" holiday! They look really cool, and it'll be great to introduce them to teachers who are looking to take things a little bit further with their students' English lessons. They have also just started a discount air ticket service, so if you're looking for flights from Fukuoka it might be worthwhile getting in touch ( email flights@nzlifetours.com or phone/fax: 092-751-8670 )

After that I popped along to them gym and I tell you I should promote Genki English as a fitness programme, after spending the last 2 weeks travelling round and doing workshops I went to the gym today and all the weights seemed like toys! Mind you it may be something to with the fact I started going to the gym after doing nothing but sitting behind a keyboard for 3 months!

Now it's back to the Seattle's Best in Nakasu to try and catch up with my emails, I've nearly got it down to just one page full left!!




June 12th 2005 - Sunday - Genki in Kyoto

It was strange waking up in a Japanese room today, it felt like I was back in Ehime.

Anyway over breakfast I figured that things were probably going to be like yesterday ( not many people), so instead of a full on whiz through all the CD5 songs I'd just do a small group thing of two complete demo lessons, going through warm up / song / game. And what happens? The room was full!! So that was that idea out of the window! But the boss there, Sone san, had done a great job of getting so many genki teachers there, and it made a huge difference actually having it in the store. A lot of the teachers ( and parents ) were also the first time to a Genki English workshop, which is always good, especially when they are comparing other teaching materials!

I did try a couple of games, and they worked so-so well, but doing them with the kids was a bit tricky. I would have really liked to slow things down to the pace of a normal lesson as the kids had got the English, but just needed that little extra push to really get into the game. It really is all confidence teaching in the beginning. But I did have to move quite quickly in order to show off more of CD5 and also the card game which is apparently proving popular in the shops. The teachers seemed to understand though and the kids were quite happy to just play around at being bugs even if they didn't finish the game! The Dragon Version of Mr Monkey went down well as well, using chairs instead of desks is probably the way to go!

I also had 90 minutes which was a little long for the kids, but great to be able to explain all the points to the teachers. The idea of jumping straight to plurals with the Food Song got a lot of "aha"s!

Actually Kyoto is turning into a nice place, with a good group of teachers who seem very in to what they are doing. One lady was also asking about Elementary School teachers and the problems she has. Which are of course the problems everyone has, so hopefully things like the Classroom English CD should be able to help out.

Then it was time to hop on the Shinkansen, but it was full for the next two hours! I've never seen that before, I guess the Japanese economy must really be on the mend. So I'm now right on top of Kyoto Eki, I always wondered what was up here and seeing as it's just about the only station in Japan where I don't know where the Starbucks is I figured I'd explore a bit. It's like they built a massive Battlestar Galactica style mini city up here!

Anyway today was a great end to a very , very whirlwind tour of Japan, covering everything from football and ALT madness in Shinjuku to downtown Kyoto. Tomorrow I'll have a day off, then for the next couple of weeks I'll be getting some of the stuff I've been talking all week actually produced!


June 11th 2005 - Nagoya Maruzen and Culture Shock Kyoto

Up and early and out to Maruzen Bookstore. Today's workshop was again in a separate room ( apparently last time old people were complaining about the noise!), it was a smaller group ( 15-20) of people who already knew Genki English and as I have another workshop here next month I figured I'd just do something completely different and just ask people what they wanted presenting.

The first thing that came up was a Summer theme, so I thought "OK, let's let them choose what they want in it and I'll put it up on the members area of the site!". In the end though it turned into a "sea creatures" theme which I already have the plans for, let me see what I can do!

It's always good to ask people what they want, and for the few people who hadn't bought the Superpacks, it was a great incentive to get access to the members area. That was basically the main problem today, people were asking great questions and wanting to do activities and things for 6th graders and stuff. But today's workshop was paid for by the bookstore so it was difficult for me to do so many other things that weren't tied in to products as unless Maruzen sold a lot they wouldn't break even ( rooms, equipment and PR aren't cheap in locations like this!). Which got me really thinking again about just doing paid for workshops. If everyone paid to attend they could spend as long as they like, I could go through the games as well as the songs and there would be no need to tie anything in to a specific product. Of course I could then let people use the entry fee as a discount on the superpacks, which would mean everybody wins all round.

Up until now I've not been sure about putting info about prices etc. on the site as every time is a different situation. But I figured I'd bite the bullet and put up a standard price of 9,000 yen for a minimum of 12 people for a whole day workshop. That may mean I make a loss on some gigs, but if it means getting more of the Genki English ideas out there it's probably worth while. So have a look at the new Workshops Page.

Then it was off to Kyoto, and wow isn't this different!! After spending two weeks in Kobe, Fukuoka, Shinjuku and Sakae ( Nagoya) which are all just buzzing on a night, here I went for a wonder round at 9 o'clock and everywhere was dead! I often say that the inaka is better than the cites in Japan, but I can see why people from New York or London or wherever could get major culture shock!! I've also for some reason booked myself into a Ryokan ( Japanese style hotel ) - I guess I must have been tired when I did the reservation! Which feels very homely, and I crashed out for an hour this afternoon. But I don't really fancy going back to live in the countryside full time!



June 10th 2005 - in Nagoya

One minute you're waking up in the Keio Plaza, one of the poshest hotels in the country, and the next you're waking up in a capsule in Nagoya! Well it must have been comfortable as I didn't wake up till 10 AM. The only bad point is that you can't charge your computer while you sleep, so I only had a couple of hours power left.

So after a few emails ( maybe a gig in Okinawa!!!), I met up with Chris from Altia Central for lunch. It's always good to speak to Chris, as just like Joel last week, he's in to this for the right reasons; giving the kids the best education. Recently I've been asked more and more by Boards of Education where to find good ALTs ( as opposed to any old ALT), and so hopefully it'll be cool to start introducing Altia to them. Certainly over the last few years they've had some fantastic people apply through Genki English.

Then in the afternoon I popped in to see Maruzen about tomorrow. It seems like we might have the same thing as last week as it's in a different room on the 6th floor, but let's see what happens. Nagoya also has a nice music store, so I popped in there to check out some of the new keyboards.

Now I'm off out to Starbucks to try and find a power point and try and answer some more emails!




June 9th 2005 - Adults & a nice night

Spent the morning (trying) to catch up on all my emails. Then in the afternoon it was a meeting with my publisher about the adults series I'm ( supposed ) to be working on!! It just seems this week I've been wearing so many hats, with Monday and Tuesday speaking to publishers who want me to distribute their materials, whereas today I'm working with a publisher because I want them to distribute something I'm writing!

Anyway, it was good to make sure we're on the right page, and it looks like things will start moving for the end of the year. We also had a good chat about other ideas, which if I get the time would be really cool to put in to practise. Then we went off to the bookstore to check out their books and other stuff that's available. I tell you it's just crazy the amount of English learning books out at the moment! And I don't know why GE materials get put in the "foreign books" section, because I'm sure we'd quadruple the amount we sell if they were in the normal "eikaiwa" section.

Then it was the shinkansen down to Nagoya. Where, due to the World Expo, every single hotel room in the city is booked!!! So I'm staying in a capsule hotel. But it's not too bad, as the location is pretty cool. And as it's Nagoya I popped into my favourite restaurant here, the Outback Steakhouse. That was really cool and the staff are so friendly. There were also some people from NASA in ( everyone seems to be from Texas this week!). After a while chatting to the waitress she was asking about what I do so I started talking about the book ideas I'd been throwing around today. So suddenly the waitress's friend pops over and starts chatting, which is fine, whatever. Then she says "So are you rich?" and I'm like, "Not yet", and she disappears!!! I've never had that happen before! So a very interesting night to say the least!.



June 8th 2005 - Wednesday - Tokyo Recontracting Conference - Sponsored by CLAIR and the Japanese Ministry of Education

First off were two of the biggest workshops of the year in the Keio Plaza hotel for re-contracting members of the Japan Exchange & Teaching Porgramme.

I don't know what it was today, whether it was the fact that I was taking things a bit more slowly ( after listening to a recording of last weeks'), or because I was explaining more about why rather than what I do, or whether it was just because I'd been chatting to so many JETs this week, but today's workshops seem to have been the best and most friendly ever.

Basically everything I was talking about everyone was totally supportive, taking the ideas and running with them and really getting all the psychology and stuff beneath. In both groups they were a really top bunch of people, and even the high school JETs were coming at the end and saying how much they got out of the workshop. Eventhough there were several hundred people in each one, it felt that I was talking to a room full of best mates, which is pretty cool.

Then in the afternoon I popped in to the publishers of my Kids English series. I've been so busy with Genki English that I haven't really done much with Kids English recently, but it was good to catch up with people. And it was also really good to hear all the customers' feedback. I never usually have much direct contact, but it's amazing to see how much the parents appreciate the series, sending in photos of their kids and pages and pages of stories about their kids using the English. That is really nice to hear and it makes my monthly newsletter into something I really want to work at, rather than just being something sent to people I don't know.

Then for the first time in quite a few days I had a quiet night in and read some of the left of Time magazines from Monday.



June 7th 2005 - Tuesday - Solving the 6th grade problem!

Recently I've been very impressed by the Macmillan Language House stuff, they got a great new readers series ( Springboard) that gets rave reviews, so I finally got the chance today to pop across to their office and see what they have.

Now usually I don't really recommend reading activities, because it takes so long, isn't in the official guidelines and you really have to get the kids speaking first; if they can read but can't speak it's not that useful! But there is a huge boom at the moment in getting kids to do extensive reading, where they just read and read loads of books. So any boom that does get kids wanting to read has to be a cool thing.

Anyway, I was chatting away and the thing with these books is that they sell the books but the audio is given away free as mp3 files. Now that makes a huge difference, basically you can download the mp3s and play them in the class. You make the audio the central part ( and it is fun!). But of course the kid will get bored with just audio, so they need something visual to look at. But as these readers don't have have CDs attached, you could feasibly buy a class set, one for each kid ( or even one between two) and just do it for a 5 minute "break" in a normal lesson. The kids listen and can follow through with the cool pictures, or the ones who want to can indeed follow the words. That is a cool way to get the kids extra exposure, but it's short enough to leave plenty of time for talking work. As I was thinking about this, it hit me that these could be a brilliant thing to do with the ungenki 5th and 6th graders. Why? Because these readers aren't just stories but are linked in with other subjects, like the environment etc. etc. now this is just what we are supposed to promote in 5th and 6th grade. So you hit all the targets, you include English listening, other subjects and as it's not too genki even the quietest 6th grade class should get something out of it. Cool, right, let's get this tried out!



Then out again for a few, but not too many, beers!




June 6th 2005 - Monday - Tokyo - Info fair, books & Partying

It's the first day of the Tokyo JET re-contracting conference at the very posh Keio Plaza hotel. I have a workshop on Wednesday where I'll have on my "education consultant" head on, but today it was the info fair where it's blatant commercialism to raise funds for AJET. It's also cool for JETs to learn about companies that have useful products for them. Mind you the numbers weren't exactly brilliant, again we weren't in a very good room so only got a fraction of the 1,100 people in there. It was good to chat to everyone, but I felt for the other companies who were expecting more people to have passed through. But it's always good to help AJET as they were so supportive when I first started. I also had a chat about selling the Team Taught Pizza on the site as lots of Japanese Junior High Teachers keep asking for a book like that.


Then after a load of phone calls it was off to meet a publisher who was wanting to introduce their books on Genki English. I get this type of contact all the time, but most of the stuff people want to sell if just rubbish, and there's no way I'm going to all the hard work of building up Genki English in order to recommend stuff that isn't any good. But today I had some time so popped along and started working through the thousands of titles in their catalogue. Most of them it was a case of just of "next" ( to the shock of the people showing me them, but hey, I'm not going to waste their and my time by not being totally up front), but some of them were actually really good, with cool, easy to teach language, but they just didn't have the spark, you read them and go "ahhh, eh??" where's the twist at the end? The funny punchline? The thing that makes you want to read it again? Etc. etc.!! But after quite a while I did come across a very nice series that has a great CDROM support, which is just what I've been looking for to help out Japanese parents. Cool.

Then it was out partying. I figured that to avoid being too hung over on Wednesday, it's probably better to go out tonight so tomorrow I won't feel like drinking! So it was off to Mexican and then a couple of rounds at the Irish bar. That was pretty cool with a great bunch of people and then in the bar there were some really cool JETs. So a good finish to the day!




June 5th 2005 - Population zero & Back to the roots

I caught up with Joel Bacha ( the Teacher & Kids author ) this afternoon. We haven't seen each other for a while and it was good to catch up. Joel has just finished his MA in development, and has spent the last year in Bangladesh, Thailand and Bolivia. Which is of course all tied up with one of the main aims of Genki English; to provide free materials via the internet to teachers in developing countries who would never be able to afford such materials.

I've been wanting to make the website in Thai for ages now, so that the teaches who attend my workshops can get all the info for free, but it's always been tricky to set up things like links and navigation as I can't read Thai! But today we came up with the idea of having a simple pdf downloadable book. That would be easy to set up on the site, and although teachers wouldn't be able to print them themselves ( in the areas I'm talking about they don't have computers never mind internet), the prefectural training people could, and then teachers could copy these during workshops. Joel also suggested doing them in Spanish, for the South American market. Right, I need to get to work on that!

It is good being able to zoom out and get to the big picture again, rather than worrying about CD sales or workshop attendance figures. Those things are of course necessary, the "how" of what I do, but it's the "why" that's important, and that's trying to make a difference in the World's schools. Because these ideas really do work, we just need to get them out there!

There was also a really good NHK special on today about Japan's population problem. First of all they had a load of kids figuring out what happens when population growth rates are either above 2 or below 2. The kids were shocked to find out that if it is 1.5 then eventually the population becomes zero. So then they were asked "So what do you think Japan's growth rate is?" and they were again shocked to find it was only 1.29! So that by the year 3300 the Japan population would cease to exist! The cool bit was then they started talking about why, showing that in Denmark fathers help out around the house, but in Japan fathers only do 3% of household chores ( the rest of the time sleeping, drinking or doing karaoke - wow NHK admitting that!), so that women feel they can't have more kids as it's too much work to do alone! Plus that in Japan one child costs around 80,000 yen per month to educate, which over 12 years is 1000 man yen, a number that the kids couldn't even visualise! So they started saying that for the Japanese race to survive fathers have to spend less time working and more time at home. Now that is something you would have never heard 5 years ago! No mention of why America doesn't have the same problem ( because they accept immigrants), but this is one huge step for Japan to officially admit!





June 4th 2005 - Live in Tokyo!

I was getting a bit worried this morning! I usually do the Tokyo Bookstore shows in the store itself. But it tends to draw such a big crowd that people from the other departments start complaining! So this time the event was in a different building. And as what probably should have been expected a lot of people couldn't find where it was!! So the morning group was a little small to say the least! But they were mostly Genki English fans so it was cool to try some new stuff. First off was Rock, Paper, Scissors, then "When, When, When" ( my current favourite!), then a bit slower with "Creepy Crawlies" , the new Food Song and a big "Where are you going?" to finish on a high note! The tiny little kids really got into Creepy Crawlies, even the really shy ones!

Maruzen also changed the format for these events. Usually I don't really like doing presentations for kids, they're fun but not really worth travelling to Tokyo to do. But if I say it's just for teachers or parents then the kids get really bored and start distracting their parents! So this time the store decided to do 3 sets, two for kids with a load of songs ( or for those teachers who just want a free eikaiwa lesson - cheeky!), and then a serious professional development workshop at the end, with no activities but just hard core information and Q&A style problem solving. And I must say it worked very well! We should have done this ages ago!

So first off in the afternoon a lot more people turned up ( including one very genki guy at the back who knew all the words and gestures and turned out to be Hazelrah from the discussion board!), and the room was pretty full. I also got requests, which is good! The CD5 songs are a little tricky to teach in 10 minutes, so I threw in some older songs to liven things up first. We started with Rocket Launch, then Doctor, Doctor, then as everyone was so pumped up I went straight into "I can do it!" and the kids nailed it straight away - very impressive and a testament to the power of started with something easy! I was feeling quite genki by this time so took a gamble and had a go at the slightly more tricky "Under, on, in" song. The kids got the hang of using their chairs well, and the adults were great role models! By this time my voice was also getting a bit tired, so I basically did all that theme just using the software and didn't speak at all! The animated mini lessons make it so easy. And once we had a go through the song, I tried it again with the dragon remix. But the kids just had the most shocked faces when Mr Monkey got eaten!!! So as we had a projector, I got all the kids to the front and got them to play the computer game where they have to save Mr Monkey back from the Dragon's stomach by playing a computer karuta style game. Now that was really good as well as the kids were hopeless!! All the teachers were trying to cheat and translate the answers for the kids, and I was like "no way!! Be quiet! Let them learn for themselves!". The teachers were horrified and almost scolding the kids for getting things wrong, but the whole point of those games is that they make mistakes and learn that way. If they can answer all the questions straight away, they don't need to play! And as it's a game they can play it for ages without getting bored. Although I do have to admit it took quite a while! But I was quite happy as the teachers could really see that the kids were getting better and better the more they played, as they slowly figured out what all the phrases meant. A very worthwhile use of 20 minutes!

So then finally I decided to close on the "When, When, When" song again as I quite like it and it's a genki ending!

After a quick break it was the time for the workshop and all the kids were happy and tired so sat very happily at the back! And very luckily most of the teachers were elementary school teachers, some of them having travelled a very long way to get there. So I was very happy to be able to do an elementary school workshop, because after all that's what I support most, giving all the kids a chance not just the ones who can afford private lessons. And the teachers lapped it up, asking loads of great questions and leaving with considerably more confidence than when they started. And after 4 years of trying to persuade the bookstores that I really want to do teacher only workshops, they saw how it all fits together, and there truly is a lot supporting all the Genkiness. And I got invited back to do more next month!

So a fantastic day all round, the kids enjoyed a mega show, I got to test the songs in a show format, and the teachers came away with a lot of their problems seeming a lot less serious. Cool!

So then the after gig party and just like last night, far too much beer! But who cares, it's Sunday tomorrow!





June 3rd 2005 - Off to Tokyo

It's that time of year again where teachers start fighting over dates in August. Luckily things are working out quite well, and today I was invited to some great workshops that I'm very much looking forward to. Shogakkou teachers are some of the genkiest people you could possible imagine and it's great to be able to help people out who are so in to what they do! Today it's also nice to be over the jet lag so could get cracking with answering emails, and sorting schedules as well as some nice updates to the site.

Now it's off to Tokyo where tomorrow I'll try the new CD5 songs in a "show" format. So far I've only tried them as they are supposed to be taught, with 1 theme per 45 minute lesson, but tomorrow I have to try and cram in as many as I can in the each hour's show! So that's a little bit scary to say the least, but you've gotta try something new to keep moving on!



June 1st 2005 - Kobe Conference

The Kobe JET re-contracting conference is always a high point of the year and this year was no exception. Although I was only there one day this year, the two presentations I did worked really well, and everyone was very genki. This year I had a projector so had all the main points on the computer, which meant I managed to remember nearly all the important bits, and also figured out a few new jokes ( it's always amazing how some things get a laugh every time). I've put the details of the activities I did on the website, so have a look!

Lots of people were asking about visits afterwards, which was cool. Last year I felt I was spending too much time with Japanese teachers, so this year it would be great to get back to helping more JETs out.

Right, now off to Fukuoka.



May 31st 2005 - The High Life

Flying business class to Tokyo then being put up in one of the best hotels in Kobe. Not bad, and a bit of a contrast to the last few weeks sat around working from home! The flight across was free with the miles I've accumulated, and as it was full they upgraded me to business class! It's the first time that's happened and it's really strange having a bed on a plane, and a steak for dinner!

Then I arrived in Kobe for the JET Conference tomorrow ( sponsored by the Ministry of Education & the Council for Local Authorities for International Relations ) and no sooner had I set foot in the hotel then I was bumping in to people I know. It's strange how this conference has changed over the years, from attending it as a JET, to taking the overnight ferry and having to crash in people's rooms, to now having an official workshop and being put up for the night. Shame I missed all the parties, let's hope I can actually do a JET workshop without a hang over - I think it will be the first time!




May 27th 2005 - Movies, Extras & TPR

Today is a funny day, it was supposed to be packed with family arriving from the States. But their plane got cancelled, and I now have a whole free day! Which is bad, but means I have a whole day free - ooo.

Been updating lots on the site this week, all the themes now have the worksheets and minicards accessible from the theme's page, which should be easier to use. There are a couple of new ideas on the readers games page and I've started a monthly Mini-Lesson on the Kids Page It's always a bit of challenge trying to balance out what to give away free with the site, and what to charge for, but hopefully everyone should be happy with a changing monthly lesson!

I've also had some really good emails this week, and they're all like buses, one person writes and then I get similar questions several times in a row! One popular one is about using Movies in the classroom ( I wonder if Star Wars has anything to do with it??), and I've had some great emails about using TPR. I think I should push this a bit more on the website, as it really is a great way to teach - have a look at the TPR Warm Up game for starters.

After moving onto another server last week, I had another go at trying the discussion board. But getting it to work securely just didn't work.

OK, now back to work on my secret new projects - stay tuned, they're gonna be cool!



May 23rd 2005 - What's cool in Japan

Without the discussion board I've no where to put up cool links that I find, so I'll put them up here!

This is a great site run by the Japanese Government for kids abroad to learn about Japan. One of the best sections is one on "What's cool in Japan?" which has recent additions on Mushi King and Kaiketsu Zorori. Great, I've been wanted to do something on pop culture for a while, so it's great that someone else has done it. Have a look at Kids Web Japan.



May 20th 2005 - Episode III

Yes it is a good as all the hype! Can't wait to see it again. And now I want to get back to Japan to play the Star Wars game!!! I think I'll try it out in Tokyo.

May 18th - Flying Lessons!

A couple of years ago I was half joking that with all the flights I pay for within Japan it would be cheaper to buy my own plane! ( Actually some months it probably would be true).

But anyway today was my day off and my Mum and brother wanted a day out before I head off back to Asia next week. So we we're driving along and my brother said he wanted to have a look how much flying lessons were. We popped in to have a look and they'd bought me one as a surprise birthday present! A little late ( 3 months - hence the surprise!) but pretty cool!!

So I got up in the air, started flying around ( I can't believe how green England is!), and controlling it myself was great. Then some news started coming in over the radio that a commercial plane had crashed on the runway and we couldn't land!! Nobody was injured, so it was OK, but it meant we had to fly off to another airport! So instead of just looping round and popping back to Leeds ( probably a bit boring), we really had to go somewhere. So the instructor was like "OK, I'll have a look at the map, you just keep flying down the A1!". Just like Grand Theft Auto!!

We landed at a grass runway airstrip a fair way away, had a coffee and a chat, then after a while got a call ( thank goodness for mobile phones), and could finally head back to the mini-runway at Leeds. So I got another flight, and again rather than just going round in circles I actually had to fly somewhere. Brilliant. So that was a pretty good day out to say the least!!

Now if only I could get more gigs up and down Japan, imagine if I really could justify getting my own plane!! : )




May 17th 2005 - Star Wars

I do need to get back on the road! Seeing all the VE day celebrations and stuff really brought back the importance of what we do here, education is the cure to most of the World's problems and it has to be fun and relevant for kids. The thing is that that's not always that easy to see doing the "nuts & bolts" work behind the scenes! But it is important and there's still a lot more people to be genkified!!

I've been giving the website it's yearly overhaul, and the site is also on another new server, last month was the most popular yet with nearly 5,000 people a day, and I've also introduce secure forms for the normal orders and the CD Owners Club membership.

The main part of being here is to record a new set of materials for Japanese adults. I'm not sure how this will work, but I'll get as much recorded as I can over here and then actually make the product ( either a CD or webpage) when I get back to Japan.

Some great new games have been sent in and I've got a whole load more of my own games to go up once I get the Japanese proofread. Mind you I have a feeling the top game this month will be Star Wars! I wish I could have got down to the premiere in London yesterday, but all the tickets were sold out in 5 minutes! Still only 2 days to go for the rest of us! Now can you tell while I scheduled my trip to the UK this month?

And something I read the other day, What's the best translation of "Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu"? The answer? "May the force be with you!"



May 10th 2005 - Ready for another tour

I hope you had a nice Golden Week ( the big Japanese holiday of the year). Seeing as I was in Milan I popped across to Venice for a few days which was nice.

Now it's all back to work and it looks like I'm going to be spending the rest of this year on the road! In June I've got workshops set up in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya and Okayama, plus the JET Conferences ( sponsored by the Ministry of Education and CLAIR), so if I'm near where you are make sure you pop along!

Aside from organising all the events I'm now in the UK ( My flight over here was 99 cents - can you believe it!), doing pre-production on the new Phonics CD and some new materials for adults to learn English. Whilst I was over in Italy it really hit home that even adults can get good results if they have the right materials, it's just a shame that everything in Japan is so rubbish!! So that's the next challenge, to make adults English genki!!

I'm also working on some new stuff for the website and have teamed up with RIC Publications to bring you a new Translation service, which should prove very popular.

Right, now I'm off out to the gym - got to get back in shape before I hit the road!!




April 27th 2005 - I want to live in Italy!

Like the past couple of days, work started at 7AM today, which thanks to jet lag isn't too bad! Then everything was finished by lunchtime. Now if this was Japan it would be "oh, finished your work? Do some more!", but here it's "got all your work done? Right, that's it for the day!". I tell you it's good to get out of the Japanese mind set once in a while and not feel guilty about it!!

So in the afternoon I went along to the park and did some Italian. That is just fantastic, sitting there in the sunshine ( but no humidity!), with a cappuccino that only cost 1 euro, and having all the people roaming around. Perfect. You just can't get that in Japan, and I'm loving it!! This is the sort of day I've been looking for for ages, I guess it must be a hang up from my student days of being in Grenoble but not being able to afford even the 1 Euro for a coffee! But it's great, highly recommended!

For the Italian I was going to use Pimsleur series like I did for Spanish in January, but I don't have the time to rush through the course in a week. So I went with the Living Language series, which I remembered I actually used when learning Japanese. The difference here is that unlike Pimsleur which really makes you think and adds in little bits at a time with lots of review, the Living Language gives you everything in 3 hours and you just keep repeating it till you've got it. I think Pimsleur is probably best, but since I did a year of Italian in uni then the Living Language one is working a treat.

I also had a look at the Rosetta Stone software package which allows you to work at your own pace, but mine is the version for learning Thai so only includes the demo version of the Italian one, so not much use!

It's always good for my job to keep learning myself, Japanese people must get so confused with all the advice people give them, mostly from people who can only speak one language! Once you have the right tools, it is really simple, and one thing I realised today is that now thanks to ipods, DVDs and the net, the difference between EFL ( studying at home) and ESL ( studying in the country ) is really getting quite small. It's easier than ever to learn English in Japan! The Daily Yomiuri also had a couple of articles today which were quite positive for a change! And taking the time out to brainstorm new ideas for Genki English is really working out, there are lots of cool things to do!!

So things are looking good, and one last cappuccino before I head off to my hotel!

Be genki,

Richard






April 26th 2005 - Buongiorno from Italy!

These last few weeks have been hectic to say the least! I've just spent the last few days in Ehime getting everything ready for the CD5 launch. The new worksheets look really good, we've just changed printers and they've done a cool job. And over the weekend it was packing up all the CD5 orders. It is actually quite exciting seeing all that activity going on, and they have a great system which they won't let me go anywhere near in case I mess something up!!

It was good being back in Ehime, I miss my old JET job! But it is certainly different from Fukuoka, and in the space of two days a I got all the cliche comments, kids running past shouting "gaijin da", the women in the post office asking me where in America I wanted to send money to and being offered a spoon instead of chopsticks in the Okonomiyaki shop! I'm glad this wasn't the part of town I used to teach in!


I also had to renew my drivers license, which was an ordeal in itself. They have to be renewed every three years, and as this was the first time to renew mine I had to talk a half day lecture course! That was the most boring thing ever.... I tell it's not just English education that needs updating! But it was cool to re-learn all the things not to do in a lesson!

Now that CD5 is done and out of the way, it was time to plan out the rest of the year. To be honest I have spent far too much time on CD5, to the neglect of the other activities! But a few phonecalls to let people know I'll be ready to do stuff from June and things are filling up nicely. And hopefully I should be able to keep a nice balance between promotional tours for the CDs and volunteer work in schools.

We've also extended the free post and packing offer on the CDs, basically because we had to do for the internal orders so it was easier to keep it on for the Japan orders as well! So the new finish date is May 6th.

Otherwise it was good to see Prime Minister Koizumi apologise in Jakarta, hopefully that should go some way to ease the tensions with China. But this sort of thing really makes your work more important, if the kids are actively chatting with kids in other countries then it doesn't matter what's in their textbooks as they can ask for themselves! So let's get them good enough to be able to do that!

And it was crazy to hear about the rail crash in Kobe the other day, just a day after I passed through there myself. But I'd still trust the Japanese trains more than any others in the World.

So now I'm in Milan for a couple of weeks. I'm going to take this week to have a look around and see what other projects need putting in place, and what else needs working on the site. And hopefully over golden week I'll be able to take a few days off - yeah!

It is nice being here, it just feels like Europe! I just wished we could keep in cleaner, there's so much good stuff here but it's all full of graffiti! But Milan is cool, I had a walk around yesterday and the Duomo and everything is great. So after putting some new games up on the site I'm off out for the my lunch now, to find some nice pasta and coffee and a couple of hours learning Italian - I wish I had done more before I came! Still it's nice to be here, and it's a lot cheaper than living in Japan!

Ciao!




Click here for my Diary July 2004 - Apr 2005

Click here for my Diary Jan - June 2004

Click here for my Diary June - December 2003

Click here for Richard's Diary Jan-May 2003

Click here for Richard's Diary 2002!




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