Monday, November 20, 2017

Netflix is Your High Interest and Low Cost Authentic Language Learning Resource

By Huy Tran
Educational Technology Columnist

Bio: Huy Tran is a Global Education Designer who trains ALTs, JTEs, and teachers ESL learners how to harness the powerful tools of the 21st Century. He received his Bachelors of Science in Education from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. He was a math, science, and English JHS teacher for LAUSD for seven years. He then founded a private tutoring company online during the very early days of e-learning while testing out the potential with VOIP software as a teaching tool. After seven years, he realized he missed the living classroom and desired to see how an education system outside of the United States functions. Initially, a one year break from Los Angeles city life turned into eight years, a wife, a five year old, and his own private English school in the rural town of Yamaga. He has been introducing active learning, group project based learning, computer assisted learning, and other innovations into the Japanese education system of teaching English. First as an Assistant Language Teacher with Interac, then a direct hire by the local Board of Education to train and mentor new ALTs. He now devotes his time as an educational consultant to private schools, BOEs, and teachers on 21st Century, globalized, active learning strategies through workshops and presentations. He is an active member of JALT (the Japanese Association of Language Teachers) and conduct workshops, presentations and demos on the benefits of Skype in the Classroom, computer assisted learning, and autonomous learning. He has presented at conferences in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator, he has mentored, trained, collaborated and connected with over 30 teachers in over 14 countries in the past five years. He firmly believes that the next 20 years will see an educational transition in methodologies, and that 20th Century institutional learning will be completely transformed..

The Dream as Reality

              As an English teacher, it would be a dream if you could buy a book or set of flashcards from a publisher, use it for a month with all of your students and then return all of those resources free of charge if all of your students did not like them one bit. That dream exists in today’s 21st Century language learning classroom. Netflix has thousands of high-interest English speaking content that is easily delivered across computers, tablets, and smartphones. Depending on the title, authentic English entertainment can also be viewed with dubbed Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and French voices, as well as, a selection of foreign language subtitles.

The Content

              There are thousands of titles in all genres to fit the tastes and interests of any language learner. The separate Kid Category even breaks down content from pre-k to pre-teen. Some excellent high interest content at the kid level (or just kid at heart) are Curious George, The Magic School Bus, Camp Lakebottom, the now retro Full House and its descendant, the rebooted Fuller House. All of the aforementioned titles feature Japanese and English audio and some also have subtitles in both languages. Jim Henson’s Word Party takes basic reading and phonetic skills to an interactive level that works well with a touch screen device or high speed computer. The cute animal characters ask questions in a variety of languages and the student(s) must listen carefully to select the correct answer. This Netflix Original show is a particularly useful way to monitor students’ listening comprehension, and pronunciation skills.

The Language Learning Activities

              Once a high interest movie or TV series is chosen, the skill building can begin. Streaming content can be used as a pre-knowledge exercise, and in parallel with key language lessons and skills, or used to model speaking rhythm and natural intonation, and even as a reward for completion of reading, writing, or test taking skills. Here are just a few effective activities:
l  Read the classic children’s book, The Polar Express and then view the film.
l  Watch episodes of Full House, first in Japanese audio with Japanese subtitles and then re-watch with English audio and subtitles.   
l  Watch scenes of books adapted to film such as The Hunger Games, The Little Prince, and A Series of Unfortunate Events before reading each chapter.
l  Have students listen carefully to documentaries such as Cosmos, and then have them brainstorm and write questions about each episode, as well as, practice interviewing each other with student generated comprehension questions.
l  Have students take dictation to lines of dialogue and then have them check for accuracy by turning on the subtitles after writing.
l  Have students turn on the English subtitles, copy down their favorites scene and then have them      act out the scene. (read this article about a JTE that does this with success)
l  Have students sing along to the titles to musical films and live concert shows by turning on the English subtitles.

The Cost Breakdown

              A one month free trial and a cancel anytime policy makes Netflix an extremely cost effective way to bring real English language tools for less than the cost of a new instructional DVD, workbook, or evening of kaiten-zushi. All levels of monthly membership include basic services of “Unlimited movies and TV shows, Cancel anytime, and First month free”. The Basic Level of service of 650 yen per month limits your classroom to only one screen for viewing at a time, no access to HD or Ultra HD quality content.

The Caveat, and its Caveat

              The price point is definitely not the make it or break it aspect when it comes to using this almost limitless English learning resource. In fact, too much content may have a paralyzing effect on some teachers since it will be up to the teachers themselves to sift through, check for appropriate age level content and curate what their students will find most interesting after a viewing or two. Lastly, despite having a large amount of Japanese entertainment such as kid friendly shows, dramas, anime, and NHK programming, the majority of which is only available in Japanese and without English audio or subtitles. Just like computer literacy, cinema culture or movie literacy, depends strongly on the personal preferences and activities of each students’ particular family. Yet, if the teacher knows their students’ skills well and their personal interests even better, then it takes just a few simple clicks to find or switch content that the students will happily wish to focus on during every lesson.


              Did this blog post inspire you? Or are you still in need of ideas? Perhaps you don’t have a lot of time to prepare: post your comments, questions and lesson plans on this topic on the ALTTO Facebook group.

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email David Hayter at:  so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

ALT Privacy Perspectives in Japan by Nathaniel Simmons, Ph.D.

ALT Privacy Perspectives in Japan

BioDr. Nathaniel Simmons taught English in Japan for two and a half years in Japan’s Kansai region in Nara (2007-2009) and Osaka (2013).  Simmons is an American communication professor who studies privacy management within intercultural and health contexts.  His research is published within (USA) national and regional journals, as well as international journals.  Simmons recently authored Gaijin Private Parts: Maintaining Privacy at Work in Japan, which examines how privacy is managed between foreign English teachers and their Japanese co-workers.  Simmons co-authored Celebrity Health Narratives & the Public Health, which investigates how celebrity health disclosures influence public health perceptions, and Bitch Slap APA, which uses satire and humor to teach the American Psychological Association’s writing style.  Please see his website for his CV and further details:

Nathaniel Simmons, Ph.D.

As an ALT, your life will continue to include many things that you may or may not perceive as private information.  As a former ALT turned communication professor, I am interested in privacy and how we maintain it by what we say or don’t say.  This interest led me to interview nearly 80 participants about how they maintain privacy at work.  Half of my participants were ALTs and half were Japanese co-workers [JCWs], such as fellow teachers or supervisors.  I share their perspectives and a summation of this research below: 

ALT Perspectives

“There were no barriers. Every person in the village, every school, you know everyone in the Board of Education, the whole school knew that I broke my leg and what days I was going to the hospital, and medication I’ve been given. There’s no quiet, patient confidentiality.” -- Jamie

ALTs, like Jamie, felt that their privacy expectations about their (a) space and place, (b) bodies, (c) sexuality, and (d) romantic relationships were not upheld by their co-workers.  An ALTs’ space or place refers to areas where privacy is expected or an entitled right.  For example, Ren said, “I feel like a lot of my sense of privacy is violated when I come in [to work] and stuff is on my desk.”  ALTs also commented that their home wasn’t treated as privately as they wished.  Some ALTs were asked for their keys by their employers for repairs or inspections to be made.  Stephanie said for her “One of the more surprising things was when I would call in sick to work and somebody would stop by my apartment.”  Such “surprise” visits would limit one’s chances of taking a mental health day.  Information about an ALTs’ bodies was also perceived to be private information by ALTs.  This included health information.  Aarti explained after a medical visit, “…it was public knowledge to everyone about what I had gone in for, and if I was sick, like, if I was taking meds and, that, and I was like, this is really weird.”  Regardless of the ALTs’ sexuality, ALTs felt that their sexuality or sexual acts should be private and not discussed with co-workers. Tim, a heterosexual man, felt his privacy was invaded when a coworker asked him about his sexual life.  He said, “[my coworker] asked me once how many times I have sex with my wife. I just look at him and go, ‘Oh boy!  [That’s] Way off base!!’” Related one’s dating life was also perceived as private and ALTs felt invaded when JCWs questioned them about other foreigners they may have seen them with in town or, if they were dating someone. LGBTQ ALTs were put in a more precarious space when asked about their dating relationships due to an unawareness and concern for how JCWs would respond to them if they were to come out at LGBTQ. Gideon, a gay man, explained, “I didn’t really want to come out at work, so I told them [co-workers] the type of guy I liked but in female version. I change pronouns.” When ALTs were questioned about these areas, they felt invaded. 

How did ALTs manage their privacy?

To manage privacy, ALTs used: (a) withdrawal, (b) cognitive restructuring, (c) independent control, (d) lying, (e) omission, (f) avoidance, and (g) gaijin smashing to manage their privacy at work.

Withdrawal refers to retreating from relationships or conversations. In other words, ALTs would make conscious efforts to not get too close to co-workers. Cognitive restructuring refers to instances where ALTs changed their perspective, thoughts, or beliefs. ALTs changed their perspective by making conscious efforts to alter the way they perceived privacy violations.  Independent control refers to taking action into one’s own power rather than rely on someone else.  For example, if an ALT needed to go to the doctor, they would study up on their medical Japanese and brave the medical encounter by themselves. Lying refers to instances where one purposefully did not tell the truth. If an ALT was asked what they were doing for the weekend, but didn’t want to disclose, they responded by saying, “Just staying at home.” Omission refers to instances where information was left out of conversations or statements. Related to lying, ALTs would leave out details of their daily activities to obtain a sense of privacy. Avoidance refers to instances where ALTs stayed away from situations, conversations, or people that might have otherwise resulted in situations where one’s privacy was not easily maintained. Similar to withdrawal where ALTs would limit how personally close they became with someone to avoid questioning, they also would avoid people or situations entirely so as not to be asked questions that might be perceived as private. Gaijin smashing refers to instances where ALTs used their foreign identity as a way to play ignorant of Japanese cultural norms, thus putting them into a place to knowingly violate them to obtain their desired goal. Richard defined gaijin smashing as, “it’s where you use the fact that you are not Japanese to get out of social interactions of people that are Japanese, are usually beholding to.” Hypothetically Speaking, Richard described how he responded to moments where he felt his privacy was violated.  He said, “If someone asks me a question, the answer is on them, you know, like you asked for it - and deal with it, is a lot of my mentality.  I don’t mean it quite so aggressively, but that’s how I think about it. I don’t want to volunteer information, but if they asked me, I will answer it and they will answer in turn. And it’s a little - I don’t want to say manipulative, but it creates a situation where I have the upper hand.”

JCW Perspectives

“I just think the concept of privacy is kind of different from Japanese people and English people.  Not English people, foreign people.”  -- Sasaki

Like Sasaki, Japanese co-workers (JCWs) believed privacy was different for Japanese and foreigners. JCWs mentioned the following topics were considered private information: romantic, platonic, and family relationships; health (including age and weight); hobbies; and personal data such as finances/income, phone numbers, email addresses, as well as where one lives. JCWs also commented that privacy is different for foreigners in that it is perceived to encompass a larger scope of items that are considered private than Japanese. At the same time JCWs, mentioned that it is sometimes important to share ALTs’ private information with others because it helps them help ALTs. For example, if an ALT is sick and works at multiple schools, they need to let other schools know so that way they might prepare for a possible absence. Ono said, “In Japan, it’s normal, I guess, maybe if someone gets sick, you know, we [co-workers] talk about that, right?  But for foreigners maybe it’s strange, I guess.” Such actions weren’t made out of spite, but rather to help the ALTs and other schools. Taniguchi explained that it was her responsibility to contact other schools the ALT worked at, so that they might be prepared for a potential absence in the future, even if it was a few days off.  She described the situation: “One ALT has to be absent because, maybe he was sick in the morning, but Japanese, we, have to call to the principal [and tell him] that the ALT will be absent because of so and so. And, also, he will visit another school the next day, so maybe we should share those information with [them] because one of the ALTs [is sick]. But, also, because the, maybe the cause is, if an ALT can speak Japanese and contact them directly, but maybe we don’t do. We don’t need to do that, but maybe there’s a miscommunication and the next day the school will wait for him, but [he] does not come.  Before one [day], day-by-day they should know, so as my job I had to inform them, but maybe this is too much for ALTs. (Laughter).” 

How do JCWS manage their privacy?

Japanese co-workers reported using the following two strategies to manage their privacy boundaries: (a) drawing clear boundaries by not talking or changing contexts, and (b) being proactive by demarcating privacy boundaries early on within a relationship. 

JCWs said that they draw clear boundaries between their work and private life. Tosu said, “At work is work, private is private. I draw a line. It’s a different situation.” Matsuo echoed Tosu’s feelings.  She said “I’m very secretive.  So, I wouldn’t talk, especially with my co-workers. Like, my private and my work life is a totally different things. I try to draw line between these two.” So how did they do that? When I asked Kai how she keeps her privacy at work, she said: “I try to not talk too much. Silent is good.” Koga also believed the best management strategy is to not talk.  Koga explained “Basically, if I want to keep something secret, I just talk nothing about it… I don’t want to tell a lie, so I don’t make up stories. But, I just try to be honest or talk nothing about this, you know.” In fact, Japanese co-workers recommended ALTs not share too, if they want their privacy. Sasaki said, “If they don’t want the people to know, they shouldn’t say, they shouldn’t.” 

JCWs also stated that it is important to change physical contexts to maintain privacy. For example, Koga said that when co-workers started to share something private with her she told them “Okay, I want to listen to you. I want to hear you out, but we can’t do that at work.  So let’s change place, I don’t want to discuss my private life at work.” She clarified that, “A little bit may be okay, a starter, so like, for example, I want to talk about my boyfriend, I’m struggling with them. Oh, okay.  I have time tomorrow. Let’s go to grab something and hear you out.”

Overall, Japanese co-workers mentioned the importance of being proactive throughout our discussions.  Being “proactive” referred to taking initiative early on within the ALT-Japanese co-worker relationship to discuss what is considered private in order to avoid potential privacy violations. Maeda explained: “Private is different.  I feel ALT and Japanese teachers thinking about the private. So, if you know he says, ‘I have two children,’ or something like that, you think ‘Oh, you have two children.’ And, I don’t think this is very secret. So, if he or she don’t want anyone to know they have children, I want them to tell me, ‘Please, don’t tell anybody,’ or ‘This is secret.’  That kind of thing. I want them to mention about that. If he doesn’t say that, I don’t know that I have to keep that private.”

What’s the big picture?

ALTs and JCWs both perceive some topics as private. At the same time, JCWs and ALTs perceive each other differently. In my research, ALTs saw themselves as a “free space” where Japanese cultural norms did not apply and that JCWs could ask them anything. However, as an ALT, it is important to understand Japanese cultural perspectives. One’s perceptions of reality are often a bit more complex than we might initially think. JCWs revealed that when they share information about ALTs with others, it is because they care. For example, sharing an ALT’s illness with others allows them an opportunity to find the best resources to make their lives easier. At the same time, there are logistical considerations. If an ALT is sick one day and they work at multiple schools, the workplace that you miss, might call your other workplaces to give them a heads up that you’re ill and may not make it to work. This helps schools plan and have a “worst-case scenario” in mind in the event that an ALT’s class needs to be cancelled or postponed. 

JCWs revealed that it takes time to know someone. The typical ALT contract doesn’t help with this. JCWs need time to build trust and friendships. Once trust and friendships are constructed, only then is it deemed culturally appropriate to share private disclosures for JCWs. At the same time ALTs are often placed into relationships with their Japanese supervisors where they must trust them initially. This is a difficult situation for both ALTs and JCWs, which can lead to frustrations for all parties. However, understanding this cultural difference can be helpful in conceptualizing the intercultural dynamics at play. There are also steps that ALTs can take to protect their privacy. 

What should I do to maintain privacy in Japan?

1.      Be Proactive.

Take the JCWs’ advice that I spoke with and be proactive. If you share something at work that is private or that you want kept between you and whomever you told, tell them that.  Otherwise, they may not know your expectation. Also, don’t be afraid to say, “I’d love to speak with you about this, but can we go somewhere else?”  Choose a place that will be comfortable for you both. 

2.      Use Privacy Management Strategies from this Blog.

Try different strategies and see which work best for you. Communication is both an art and a science. There’s no wrong or right way. If you try one strategy and it goes well, then try it again. If it doesn’t go well, reconsider trying that strategy. The ALTs I spoke with offered some great tactics that did work for them (i.e., withdrawal, cognitive restructuring, independent control, lying, omission, avoidance, and gaijin smashing). As you decide which to use, ask yourself the following two questions: 1.) Will ____ be appropriate for this situation?  2.) Will ____ be effective for this situation?  For example, gaijin smashing, according to the ALTs I spoke with, always works, but is it the most appropriate? What are the consequences of gaijin smashing? What are your own personal ethics towards lying? Sure, lying and gaijin smashing may work, but ask yourself what unintended consequences might arise as a result of such a choice. 

3.      Use your Social Networks.

Ask fellow ALTs, gaijin, and/or Japanese friends questions. If you want to share something with someone else in person, then test the waters and see how a smaller disclosure may land before you share the entire topic for revelation. Don’t be afraid to blog it out (sometimes even anonymously).  Several gaijin I spoke with did this. Just remember to do so anonymously. Use pseudonyms and not actual names. Be descriptive, but not too descriptive as to give away your location. You wouldn’t want your employer to figure out it is you (and yes, some ALT organizations do monitor their employees’ social media). 

This blog post is based off the book, Gaijin Private Parts: Maintaining Privacy at Work in Japan by Dr. Nathaniel Simmons. Available on Amazon in paperback:

or electronic format:

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email David Hayter at:  so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Teaching Solo in Japanese Public Schools by Caleb Moon

BioCaleb Moon has been working in Japan as a junior high school English teacher since 2007. A graduate of Amherst College, his current duties include planning and implementing teacher training curricula. Moon hides his Japanese abilities from his students, and he is particularly interested in English-only classroom control and grammar presentations. In addition to teaching, Moon sings and plays classical guitar for the ambient folk act Lyons and Moon, and he works as a professional translator, specializing in the medical field.

1. Why do you solo teach?
Solo teaching by English-speaking natives at junior high schools in Fukuoka City began a few years ago (2009, if my memory serves me correctly) in response to the BoE's need to adhere more closely to the legal limitations of its contract with Interac. Gyomu-itaku contracts, unlike haken contracts, forbid the client to give instructions directly to the worker. An ALT is, by definition, someone working in a position which is required to take instruction from (indeed, to "assist") a JTE. The position's name was therefore changed to "NS," or "Native Speaker," an exceptionally disrespectful title in my opinion, since it includes zero acknowledgment of actual occupation, but hey, I didn't invent it.
2. What is your opinion of solo teaching? How is it better or worse than team-teaching with a JTE?
When the transition to solo teaching was first mandated, I was dead set against it. I had had the experience of working side-by-side with a number of skilled JTEs, and the back-and-forth we enjoyed, punctuating each other's points and explanations with examples of our own, making fun of each other (much to the students' delight), and utilizing each other to demonstrate real communication to the students all had me convinced that this was the ideal way to teach English. I remain convinced that it can be an extremely effective method for foreign language instruction, but after making the transition to solo teaching I nonetheless noticed that my average lesson quality had gone up. There are a few likely reasons for this:
A. Good team-teaching relies on three major variables (in addition to many minor variables, I acknowledge): a skilled ALT, a skilled JTE, and a strong relationship between the two. If all three conditions are met, lessons are fantastic. But it only takes one of the three to fail for the entire lesson to become much weaker and the learners’ educational quality suffer. Good solo teaching requires only one major variable: a skilled ALT. Therefore, a skilled ALT who exclusively teaches solo will naturally find a much higher proportion of their lessons to be successful.
B. Solo teaching affords a purer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the ALT, who is completely responsible for the QA of the lesson. If there is a problem with the plan or the execution, the ALT can act alone to make adjustments, so iteratively based improvements happen much more quickly. This reason highlights solo teaching as an effective activity for promoting professional growth (a well-known and studied aspect of teacher development), thereby allowing the ALT to become a stronger teacher even in team-teaching contexts.

C. Solo teaching by ALTs who avoid using Japanese in the classroom (and almost all good ALTs do avoid it) pushes students to comprehend English-only lessons. It also pushes students to cooperate and collaborate more to understand what is going on: developing communication strategies that they need (e.g. breakdown, repair, cooperation, listening skills). Finally, using English as the primary communicative tool raises students' confidence to a degree that is almost impossible to realize while using Japanese as a crutch.

I also noticed that my relationships with each of my fellow JTEs had, perhaps counterintuitively, improved. Perhaps this was because watching someone teach a solo lesson successfully encourages you to respect them more, but I think there was a little more behind this: JTEs rarely have an opportunity to watch English-only grammar presentations (see module 8, and two papers from Hino (1988) and Gorsuch (1998) on Yakudoku), and this is an ability they will need to acquire eventually, if MEXT has its way. Therefore I found that stronger JTEs in particular were deliberately asking me to teach grammar which students had not previously seen (i.e., not a review lesson), both to push the students in new ways and to see for themselves how such a grammar point might be effectively conveyed without the use of Japanese.
Solo teaching and team-teaching are both extremely effective, when done well. I am a fan of both. In practice, however, I have found the solo teaching to be more consistently effective than team-teaching.


Hino, N. (1988). Yakudoku: Japan's Dominant Tradition in Foreign Language Learning. JALT Journal, 10, 45-55. Retrieved from

Gorsuch, G. (1998). Yakudoku EFL Instruction in Two Japanese High School Classrooms: An Exploratory Study: JALT Journal, Retrieved from

- A note from ALT training online's Nathaniel:

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email: so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here: