My guy Naoya appeared at Gotsu yesterday, one of two boys out of 33 entrants. He's a pretty shy kid, and during the practice sessions I kept trying to get him to loosen up, but I think it may require a little more work than speech practice after school for a month. I was very proud of the way he learned his piece (an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), and I felt his pronunciation was pretty amazing, especially after I saw the other kids. He didn't place in the contest, which is too bad. I think a lot of it was the way I coached, which was more toward perfection of pronunciation and tone than performance. But hey, I'd never done anything like this before!
However the contest itself kind of surprised me. When I really thought about it I came to realize how strange the whole thing was. It was clear to me that most of the kids had just memorized their pieces based on sound alone and had absolutely no clue what they were saying. While this highlights a theme of performance which I feel is very important for Japanese kids (who are notoriously bad at expressing themselves), it seemed to miss the mark in actually being an excercise in improving their English skills.
I had a wonderful time practicing for and attending the contest. I'm very happy for the winners (one of Rebecca's girls took second and their school won "Best School"), and I definitely hope to participate in this type of activity again. Maybe I'll be able to find the middle ground between actually improving my charge's English and training them for a killer performance.