Petition to limit class sizes in Japan at 35

In my experience, 20 is the maximum class size for a realistic and feasible conversation class. For writing classes 18 is a realistic maximum, and 20 for reading. In contrast, the Ministry of Finance wants to rule over the education ministry and tell them to up the class sizes to FORTY! Utterly ridiculous. As a child, the largest class I was in was 30, and that was the legal maximum. Japan is already the lowest ranked country for TOEIC in Asia, and the education in this country is quite poorly funded, and teachers have a terrible time professionally. The ministry of finance has belief it can dictate education policy. I say we should push against this, and use this opportunity to bring the class maximums down further to 30, and demand improved investment into the next generation of leaders and workers for this country. At least support this petition at Change.Org.

Support the Change.Org petition to limit class sizes in Japan.

Support the Change.Org petition to limit class sizes in Japan.

Blog action day

As apart of my support for WalkFree.Org, is today’s call to action. If you’re able to read this, then I can say that everyday we live our lives happily and comfortably. We wake up, have a nice breakfast, get dressed in nice clothes, take safe and nice public transport, and then go to a nice job or university to work or study. The people around us are nice, cooperative and respectful. However, that is true if you’re able to read this. You’re probably reading this on your smartphone or computer, two devices that are ubiquitous for rich people. Actually, according to WalkFree.Org, 28 million people globally are enslaved, about 80,000 people in Japan are enslaved. Most of these enslaved are probably factory workers under Prime Minister Abe’s foreign worker training programme, women brought to Japan as “entertainers”, and even Japanese women brought into via the hostess industry. These people lack the freedom to communicate to friends or family, and are forced to work, packing boxes, making clothes, packing food, many things that make your life nice and comfortable. They get little or no salary. These people work here in Japan, and in every country around the world.

Blog Action Day 2014.

Blog Action Day 2014.

Does this really affect you? Do you like to go shopping at Zara? Do you have a Nintendo? Zara sources its cotton from Uzbek slaves. Nintendo uses minerals to make its devices from slave labour mines. And remember, slaves that make some of your clothes, electronic devices, and other things, can be as young as 6 years old. Learn more here, WalkFree.Org.

People protesting against Zara.

People protesting against Zara.

Studying Vocabulary

I know I talk a lot about this, but really, it’s important. Vocabulary is the most central element of language. Some research suggests that university students graduate with less vocabulary than senior high school students. That means, university students probably get lazy, and forget vocabulary. Students need about 8-10,000 words in their head to understand 95% of language. How many English words do you have in your head? Do the vocabulary size V-Check here. So, how do you maintain and build your vocabulary? From 2015, some of my classes have been using WordEngine, and from 2017 all my classes are required to use it. Simply because it is the best vocabulary individualised learning management system available.

If you don’t use WordEngine, or are learning specific vocabulary, follow this method:

  1. Get a little notebook
  2. Put in words (or phrasal verbs or idioms) that are interesting or may be important to you
  3. Don’t chose boring or un-useful words; you’ll never learn them.
  4. English major students should be studying about 15 words a week.
  5. Make note of the meanings (there are usually three or more meanings per word
  6. Note down the pronunciation
  7. The Japanese translation
  8. Part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, etc)
  9. A sample sentence
  10. A note of where you originally discovered the word or phrasal verb.

And then,

  1. Study the vocabulary everyday
  2. Study for at least (minimum) 10 minutes each day
  3. Study anywhere (on the bus, on the train, in the bathtub, in bed, before classes in the morning, during your break at work, anywhere)
  4. Ask questions to a teacher or competent classmate or friend about words or phrases you have difficulty with.

Attached below are some samples of how to organise your vocabulary notebooks.

Here are some suggestions, Vocabulary Notebooks, and Vocabulary Notebooks II.

Girl studying on her phone. Photo: Lars Ploughmann, CC,

Girl studying on her phone. Photo: Lars Ploughmann, CC,

AILA 2014: Social Media

I’m presently at AILA, an international conference held once every four years. It’s a conference for language teachers and researchers. I’m not presenting this time, but I’m just hanging out. This morning, I saw a neat presentation on how student teachers were using social media as a means to learn in their classes. One tool that looks pretty good is Padlet. It’s a wall that can allow for collaboration and a Vygotskian collaborative learning and knowledge construction. Here’s my first attempt.

No welfare for Permanent Residents in Japan

This matter is so vitally important for so many reasons. Permanent Resident is an official visa status. Being a Permanent Resident allows a person to take out bank loans, have credit cards, live independently, seek work independently, and all the legal benefits of a Japanese citizens, but they are not allowed to vote. Even though Permanent Residents pay taxes, contribute to the welfare and benefit of Japan, Permanent Residents cannot choose who to democratically represent them. However, here is this court ruling that will have serious repercussions, I’m sure. The Japan Times reports that Permanent Residents are no eligible for welfare benefits, even if they are retired and poor, and paid a lifetime of taxes to this country, they are effectively discarded (Japan Times). The repercussions are that long-term experts will be discouraged from staying, which affects Japanese company’s abilities to recruit experts that are not locally available. It also means that people like me, education experts, should in fact be looking for permanent work in any other country but here. That means, only inexperienced young people will remain, but other countries will benefit from having experienced and highly knowledgeable experts. It also means that as Japan’s populations shrink, it will not be able to effectively recruit anyone who can stay in the country to take care of the elderly in nursing homes. Oh well. Japan is allowed to ruin it’s future if it wants. It sadly seems that the supreme court has not taken into consideration human rights issues, moral issues, nor a long term view and repercussions of its decision.

New ways of teaching listening at Nagoya JALT

I’ll be presenting New ways of teaching listening at Nagoya JALT ( on Sunday the 15th June at the Nagoya International Centre, from 1.30pm to 4pm. See my resource page on the day to get a copy of the slides for your own reference, Winjeel.Com/Research/Teaching_Listening.

Winjeel.Com ScreenShot

Winjeel.Com ScreenShot

Social networking ethics in CALL

This weekend the Japan Association of Language Teachers special interest group Computer Assisted Language Learning (JALTCALL) will be holding their annual conference in Nagoya at Sugiyama Jogakuen University (5min walk from Hoshigaoka Stn on the Higashiama (yellow) subway line). Details: I’ll be presenting my topic of Social networking ethics in CALL. As I’ve been doing additional research for this presentation I’ve come to realise that the main conceptualisation of this topic is about privacy, first and foremost. I’ve also realised how important the maintenance of privacy is for trust and bonds between friends and family, and by extension for classroom dynamics, too. Learn more at the conference, and I hope to see you there. The blurb:

This presentation is a follow up on the article published in ELT Journal by Blyth (2010). It calls for careful consideration in using social networking services (SNS) like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others. Whilst using SNS may facilitate more efficient language acquisition, there are certain risks that have not been discussed. Traditionally, classrooms are closed environments, where the outside world cannot see in, providing students with a private sphere to practice and experiment with their interlanguage. The use of SNS is effectively allowing the outside world to peek in and see students’ attempts at language use, not as a moment in a process, but as like a product. The effect can be negative, and potentially damaging to personal and professional reputations. Particular word choices or sentences may be misconstrued or misinterpreted, and may harm the students’ reputations now, or in the future. Especially when comments are published on long forgotten websites like the future equivalents of Friendster, Geocities, Tripod, or abandoned personal blogs. This presentation will conclude with a discussion, and key points may be published in the conference proceedings.

Currently the presentation is scheduled for room 502 at 3.40 to 4.20pm. I’ll eventually have PowerPoint slides uploaded so you can view them during and after the presentation at Winjeel.Com/research.htm. Hopefully I’ll remember to audio record the presentation so audio would be available via SoundCloud.

Students and work ethic

I’ve had a problem for many years, and it’s one that many university educators are similarly perplexed by, too. Why is it that our students are more willing to work part-time jobs until 1am in the morning, then come to our classes and believe that they can sleep? I tell my students to either be awake and be present, or be marked absent, even if they are physically in the room, though asleep.

The answer came to me in a podcast by Lauri Taylor a sociologist who presents the Thinking Allowed programme on BBC Radio 4. In one of his weekly programmes titled, “Baristas; People’s History” he interviews an American researcher, Yasemin Besen-Cassino, who wondered why on an exceptionally snowy day her class was empty, yet the local franchise café was very well staffed… by the university students. Her subsequent research seemed to explain everything, even though her research was limited to the north-east side of the US, it still seems to apply here in Japan, too.

Young staff in prestigious brand stores are often more loyal than to their uni classes

Young staff in prestigious brand stores are often more loyal than to their uni classes

Brands (or rather, companies), like Starbucks have an exceptional brand image which seems to be the main attraction. The staff are predominately middle-class or aspiring middle-class. Their physical appearance suggests an affluence both financial and cultural. They appear to enjoy their jobs, too. However, the salary is low, there are no benefits like medical, health, maternity leave, and such, the hours are long, and the work is hard (I’ve done this kind of work, and it’s really quite taxing on the body). And did I mention the low salary that these affluent middle-class kids would be getting. They apparently don’t actually need the money, but the company has a preference for such people, despite the lower and working class students actually needing these jobs. So the question remains, why do young affluent people who don’t need the money so much, do this hard work?

The answer is that that’s where their friends are. It’s a social atmosphere for them. They say that they are needed there, unlike in our classrooms. This morning it rang particularly true, when in one such franchise café the staff seemed genuinely happy about their lot in life. They didn’t give me an airline hostess type of smile, but a genuine one. They had energy, and they happily coordinated with each other. They seemed to enjoy their jobs. I’ve had a sense that I’ve been competing against part-time work in my classes, and I think I’ve started to find a winning formula, but I have never really understood why it would be a winning formula. I’ve learnt to make my classes a social atmosphere, and include more pair and group work. And in a Scott Thornbury way of thinking, value the students themselves and their personal contributions to the class. It’s actually quite simple. I get them to do just five minutes of small talk at the start of each lesson. I give them some prompts, some structure, and some ideas of answers and how to proceed with extended answers. I also have students to think about and engage with social issues that they, as future leaders of society, would need to be engaging with. So now, I have a much better idea of what’s happening, why, and so now I can fine tune my approach. What is needed though is specific research here in Japan with our students. However, I wonder if this affects everyone in Japan and other countries, too.

Weather: Sunny today!

It’s going to be Sunny in Nagoya today, with a high of 11°C and a low of 1°C, and it’s currently 7°C. Today’s humidity will be 76%, and the UV index will be 0.0, with Northwest wind at 48km/h. Sunrise on March 14, 2014 at 06:05AM and sunset will be at March 14, 2014 at 05:58PM. Enjoy your day.

This report was automatically generated at 6.45am (+9GMT) from IFTTT. For more information see the Japan Meteorlogical Agency website.

Experimenting with weather

I’m a busy person, and we all need information. This is an information venue, so let’s add a little automation. In the next few days I’ll try coupling this blog and twitter with daily weather reports that will be automatically generated. I’m sure it’s not going to go so well at first, so this will be an experiment. The results will be published here and on twitter, and the aim is to find what works best, where. So, it’ll seem like a sudden burst of weather info, but it’s just for a few days. I hope the end result will be useful especially for my students.

Meteorologists preparing to launch a weather balloon.

Meteorologists preparing to launch a weather balloon. Creative Commons licensed from