Friday, 27 July 2007

Photo competition

Calling all readers - which means all the shy Bloggernauts down the right-hand-side who have not posted yet...

Get a photo of yourself reading your English reader in the most unusual or "professional" place to be in with the chance to win 6 (yes, SIX!) more titles of your choice. Oh yes! Show off where you were doing you homework & win!

On the train to Tokyo? Maybe on a flight? Waiting for a meeting at Microsoft perhaps? Doing some overtime? Use your imagination, ask someone to take a shot of you looking very cool! Please send your entries as Looking good with a Reader" + name of the place (eg Rome) and write a short description of the photo moment (who took it etc).

Closing date for entries = December 21st. My decision is absolutely final. Remember, you can bribe me as creatively as you like!

Thursday, 26 July 2007


The last couple of months have been rather trying for everybody at Luna; we've been limping along without a full-time teacher since Dan left. Our students have been very understanding, accepting schedule changes or substitute teachers. Change in itself is not always a bad thing, but too much at one stroke can be tough to handle. I think all our kids especially have done really well adapting; I really need to thank Yuki for being so patient and careful in explaining our circumstances to parents, who in turn trust our intentions. Thank you too, teachers, for accepting it's not always possible to manage transition smoothly.

This week is certainly an historic one for Luna; we have no less than four new members of staff joining us this week, and are saying goodbye to two. In the course of this year, we will have an entirely new staff. I can't think of many companies that are capable of working through such a tumultuous turnaround in personnel. A large part of the reason we are able to do this is the degree of trust the school has established with our students & clients. I put this down to three things, in no particular order:
  • Yuki's awesome abilities to communicate complex messages to each & every student personably, personally, and utterly professionally.
  • The excellent track record our long-term teachers have built up over the years.
  • Our students' ability to 'function' beyond the personality cult of any one, particular teacher.
July 25th we managed to get most of our people in the same place to wish Michelle (and Adri) "adieu" (possibly "ciao"?). Michelle has been with us for the best part of two years, working busily part-time. We are indebted to her careful, conscientious, and considerate approach to her students and obligations at the school. It has been a pleasure to see her confidence & teaching arsenal develop, and we owe her a big thanks for her hard-work. I know her students are sad to see her leave ( and I am deeply sorry that one class we simply cannot find a sub for right now, God knows we're trying) and will join me in wishing her well...with a new house to organise in Kobe, Adri's new job, and a baby due in Feb., I think she's going to be busy. Future teachers would do well to spend as much of their own time attending workshops & prepping materials.

I will introduce our new recruits at a later date, as well as thanking mystery leaver number 2. I know, you want to know everything now, don't you? Be patient! This blogging thing is new! In the next couple of weeks I promise they'll introduce themselves, OK? Kind of homework for teachers...

For now I'd just like to thank everyone for being really patient with us; we've had to change teachers around & jiggle class schedules a bit. Hopefully, we're back to normal services; on yesterday's evidence I'm confident Luna's winning team is looking as good as ever.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Shaking, rattling, and rolling

If you live in Japan then this post will be boring! Skip this & do your homework!

In the last 24 hours we've been witness to Mother Nature's more belligerent personality. The last decent typhoon I remember in July washed out the first Fuji Rock Festival. To this date, I have still only ever seen the Red Hot Chilli Peppers perform one song live. At least the Foo Fighters were on before them :)

Anyway, it's been cats & dogs all weekend. We rarely feel the full brunt of any typhoons here in central Japan, but we certainly get the rain. Our local tax-wasting river-groomers moved out just in time - Friday afternoon I saw a couple of guys raking - yes, raking - the river bed. After 36 hours of constant rain, we can safely assume their endeavours were in vain.

So just to add flavour the long weekend ("Ocean Day" being a National Holiday on July 16th in Japan), a couple of earthquakes. Of course, if you live in Japan, you have to accept the wobbly ground with the raw fish, right? Fair point. Still, a tad worrying when you live in a knackered old building and your pregnant wife is downstairs. And a looong earthquake that was too - building was still swaying after I figured out it wasn't the washing machine.

Five hours later my staff were looking at me funny when I dodged under a door frame as a very strong aftershock rippled through the school. I'm not sure who looked sillier; me in the doorway or them not under their desks. Until Yuki trundled along the corridor, also heavily pregnant, asking if we were all OK?! Bless her.

So just another, other day in Japan really?!

Thursday, 5 July 2007


If any one innovation is going to help language learners more than any other, it’s the podcast. “Listening” has traditionally been limited to the classroom, controlled and graded, or hanging out with the teacher/conversation-friend. Works well, but limited chance to do this, really.

The purpose here is to encourage YOU to tell us about a podcast you have found, and tell us a bit about it – why you like it, where you listen to it, cool stuff you learned. Would you recommend it, and so on.

Can you improve your English skills with podcasts, then? Absolutely “Yes”. As with reading, the more you do, the more confident & able you become. But beware the misconception that ‘showering yourself in English’ alone will get you there. As well as listening for fun – topics you are interested in/know a lot about already for example – learners also need to develop listening skills/broaden their lexical exposure. Try something new – have a look at other student’s recommendations & have a listen yourself – were they right? Do you disagree? Let them know – post your own comment!

Ever read a ‘boring’ book, just because you’d bought it? Took forever?! Well, your investment with podcasts is practically zero; yes you do need a PC & internet connection, and a device to play the thing on…but in gadget heaven that is Japan, this is not going to be much of an issue for long! You do not have to ‘get your money’s worth’ because so much material out there is free.

I am not going to explain here what a podcast is, nor “How to”. If you really need help, email me or ask me to show you. I’ll be quite happy to do so. If you want to find a particular topic, google it, or go to iTunes & “search”. Teachers’ tip = change your location at the very bottom of the ‘home’ page to UK (or USA, or wherever) for local content – you are looking for English language material, right? You can subscribe to a majority of podcasts for free. If you don’t like one, delete it – but tell us why you didn’t like it too!

Personally, I like to listen to BBC radio programmes that I have always missed – sports quizzes or cricket commentary; Prime Minister’s Question Time & other political shows; Melvyn Bragg’s arts programmes etc. There are also a number of newspapers offering podcasts too, which offer interesting perspectives & unusual topics. My favourites? I won’t bore you here with a list. Check out the reviews that will accumulate here, and also “iLike” on iTunes.

Links to podcasts that Luna International recommends specifically for language learning can be found on our website under links.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Graded Readers

One of the ambitions for this blog is that students will gain confidence writing - not just a place for Jim to write about himself :)

One experience over the years has convinced us of the need to encourage students to read more; to read more in terms of quantity, but also variety. It is of course important to read the right kind of material. If it's too hard, of course you give up. If it's too boring, you fall asleep & never finish. If it's not your kind of subject, you don't pick it up. If it's too long, you are too scared to start it!

So we are in the process of encouraging more of our students to get into the habit of reading for fun. Which sounds a bit contradictory doesn't it?! Encourage to have fun? Well, it actually starts by carefully assessing the students' ability & then recommending a level for them to try - nothing too hard, but at the same time nothing too simple or irrelevant to their interests (or work). Involving students in selecting the books is always a good idea - maybe a movie they've seen or an attractive front cover? Whatever!

It's never too late to get into the reading habit - nor too early. Our younger learners also make great progress with readers, developing all kinds of skills (not just English, by the way). Predicting & describing, role playing & personalising...from a language point of view, vocabulary gets recycled & repeated, grammar develops logically & slowly. Spelling & phonics start to make sense, and unknown words don't 'shut down the story' - guessing from context or just not panicking & getting on with it.

Anyway, all good graded readers have a follow up stage, and that's where this blog comes in. Once we've gained a bit of confidence reading and into the habit of picking up another book, reviews/book reports will be the next step. Nothing Times Literary Review or anything - but still an attempt to write coherently & for an audience. Students should peer-review each other's work & post comments. As a class, all students will eventually read the same set of books & post reports on each one.

I look forward to reading some juicy book reports, and I hope you will too.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Frogs, a pig, and a pint

There's a lovely little street just down the road called "Frog Street". Today (and yesterday) was their 'festival'. It's a short street, and pedestrianised - one of the few bits of city planning Matsumoto has managed to get right.

(Time for a quick whinge? I think so: there's a total abomination of a building going up in the middle of this historic riverside street, where no other building manages more than two floors above street level. In fact, that was the old rule - nowt taller than the castle. Despite concerted local opposition, a block of flats is going up in the middle of Frog Street. Blend in it will not.)

Anyway, it's got lots of little shops (stalls really) - selling traditional snacks such as hot bean paste in fish-shaped dough-shells, knick-knacks, snacks, memorabilia, bread & cakes, and...lots of replica guns. You know, the realistic kind? The kind where people get shot by accident? Then again, in Japan the cops have their sidearms on lanyards; so it's a safe place really, right?

I always think so, and on a day when Britain is on 'critical' alerts because of bomb threats in London & Glasgow. But then again, I've never seen a pig, a big fat black pig, calmly grazing through rubbish bags before - in the middle of town. I'm glad Tim was with me, otherwise I wouldn't have believed my own eyes...just give me a few days to scan his pictures?!

But then something even rarer. Free beer. Not just any old beer either, Yona Yona Porter & Real Ale. From the cask. Fresh, real, ale. Tim & I were going to have a swift half & call it quits - I know, unlikely? But how do you turn down a round from the landlord when he comes over to chat about his favourite pub in Bronte country, Timmy Taylor's "Landlord" & Marston's "Pedigree". For a little while there, the both of us were drifting back to sultry summer evenings in English beer gardens, skylarks & cut grass...