Event report: Commercial Language Tests


Shinshu JALT was very fortunate to have Young-Mi Lim share her research and knowledge on the current state of commercial language tests.

Young-Mi started the presentation by referring to the site 4skills.jp – a very useful resource for any prospective students hoping to enter university in Japan and teachers guiding said students.

The presentation looked at the format and aim of eight of the most prominent English language proficiency tests in Japan. A short summary is as follows:

  • Cambridge English exam: Textbooks developed by the Oxford university press. 3 hours 29 minutes in total, focuses on all 4 skills.
  • Eiken: offered at 7 levels, scale linked to CEFR, recognized abroad in approximately 400 universities.
  • GTEC: developed by the Benesse corporation and gaining wide popularity – students can take practice tests now in approximately 77% of high schools, individual written feedback from examiners
  • IELTS: designed to assess the language ability of candidates who want to study or work using English, accepted in over 140 countries, recognized in over 140 countries.
  • TEAP: developed by Sophia University and Eiken.
  • TOEFL: delivered via the internet, measures comprehension at a university level, available in approximately 165 countries.
  • TOEIC: developed in the United States, focuses in business English.

Given the variety and nuances between each test, this may be daunting for any prospective examinee. To further complicate matters, the Center Exam used for admission into Japanese universities will be slowly phased out. The Common English test will be used from 2020 to 2023 and then universities will look at either commercial language tests such as above or individual tests developed by individual universities.


Overall, it would seem that students will suffer from the new system. There are however some benefits. Many commercial language tests place a large emphasis on English for communication. This should create enough external pressure on schools to reform the current methods of English teaching. Given the costs of some of these tests, the government is also looking to limit the number of times students can take tests – as well as provide subsidies for students from low income families looking to take a test. Young-Mi also referred to a student who unfortunately failed the Eiken but achieved a TOEIC score which a university considered equivalent to the Eiken score required for admission.

Young-Mi’s had some final advice for prospective examinees:

  • If your school is organizing a language test, seize the opportunity and take it.
  • Use online resources for sample tests or online eikaiwa.
  • Consider conversation schools to help improve your four skills since most schools still focus heavily on reading and writing.
  • Use English and understand English in English – many young learners feel overburdened translating English bit by bit.

Looking forward, let’s hope things become more reasonable for young learners to enter university. Do you have any advice for future test takers?


Commercial Language Tests

2018 September poster

We are proud to announce our upcoming October joint event with our Annual General Meeting and a presentation by Young-Mi Lim

Date: Sunday, October 21st
Time: AGM 10:15am-11:00am. Presentation 11:15-12:15
Place: Matsumoto M-Wing (map)
Admission: Free for JALT members, 1000円 for non-members

At our Annual General Meeting (AGM), we will report on the state of our chapter and hold an election for next year’s officers. For those members interested in running for office, details can be found on our website, or contact Mary Aruga at maryaruga@rs.sus.ac.jp

Presentation Title (日本語版下にあり)
Understanding Japan’s new university entrance exam system and private-sector English tests 

In Japan, the current National Center Test for University Admissions is planned to be replaced with a new university entrance exam system in the 2020 academic year. The government plans to introduce the use of privately run English tests as part of the new test system to evaluate the exam taker’s English skills in all four areas – reading, listening, speaking and writing.

This presentation will introduce characteristics of eight private English tests accepted for future university admission system. Second, it will address several issues associated with the new system such as the format and the aim of each test, testing fees, exam facilities and the measurement systems of four skills and certification standards for grading corresponding to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).  Third, the presentation discusses some issues related to English educators in Japan, especially focusing on the relationship between university entrance exams and high school education. Finally, the presentation provides some tips for high school students and university hopefuls in choosing an appropriate test and preparing for it.

YoungMi Lim is a language school owner and a part-time lecturer at Shinshu University and Matsumoto University. She has been teaching English and Korean for more than 20 years in Japan. She also teaches global marketing strategies in English at Shinshu University. YoungMi holds a master’s degree in marketing from the University of News South Wales. Her research interests involve multilingualism, language acquisition, and cross-cultural understanding.




Supporting Out-of Class Learning Through In-Class Activities and Supporting Students’ Learning Opportunities with Digital Technology

Last Sunday Shinshu JALT was very fortunate to host Louise Ohashi as she shared her presentation on Supporting Out-of Class Learning Through In-Class Activities and Supporting Students’ Learning Opportunities with Digital Technology.

Louise’s presentation started with a brief explanation on the target of one of the subjects she teaches – “Self Directed Learning”. The goal of this subject is to encourage students to be as per the namesake – more independent learners taking their own initiative. Students are first tasked with setting their goals for English and being more specific – “I want to speak good English” – well what does that mean? Students then refine their goals further in measureable terms and then start to plan how they can achieve both short-term and long-term goals. Louise shared what is called the SMART plan

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

Students are then asked to share both their plans and the levels of success they achieved or didn’t achieve. The end of term feedback indicated that most students were significantly encouraged from hearing about what their peers were doing and often similar activities were adopted and shared among students.


The second part of Louise’s presentation focused on the digital material available for both teachers and students and how they can be utilized. This ranged from the use of vocabulary building applications outside of class on the train, using LINE to communicate with classmates, using social networking to follow foreign celebrities and even Lyricstraining which lets studens listen to their favorite songs and fill in the lyrics. Louise also demonstrated the use of QuizletLIVE as a quick and easy way to enjoy quizes in class.


Louise also shared some survey information she gathered that indicated most students were very enthusiastic about using digital materials outside of class and thought it was beneficial to their studies.

One again ShinshuJALT would like to thank Louise for coming to Nagano to share her inspiring work and ideas. We hope you enjoyed your time here.

Upcoming Event: Supporting Out-of Class Learning Through In-Class Activities and Supporting Students’ Learning Opportunities with Digital Technology

Shinshu JALT is proud to announce our next event

Shinshu JALT - July 2018 event poster

Date: Jul 15th
Time: 10:30 am-12:30 pm
Place: Matsumoto Tourist Information Center / 松本市観光情報センター (map)
Admission: Free for JALT members, 1000円 for non-members

Louise’s two-hour session will be divided into two parts:

Supporting Out-of-Class Learning Through In-Class Activities
Language educators can play an integral role in equipping learners with the skills and motivation they need to take their learning into their own hands (Blidi, 2017; Lai, 2017). This presentation outlines ways in which teacher-led support of self-directed learning was offered in two different teaching contexts: as a small, additional component to required skill-based English courses and in a course dedicated to self-directed learning. Teacher support was given in the form of tasks that aimed to broaden students’ knowledge on effective learning resources and study methods, particularly through the use of digital technology, as well as tasks which aimed to enhance their ability to manage their autonomous, out-of-class language learning. Learning management activities included identifying goals, creating and carrying out learning plans, reflecting on their learning experiences, then continuing the cycle with new plans. Student feedback from questionnaires and interviews will be shared to show the impact of the support and participants will be invited to discuss ways in which tasks introduced in this session could be used or adapted to suit their own teaching contexts.  

Supporting Students’ Learning Opportunities with Digital Technology
This workshop will introduce a wide range of online tools that can be used in class or for homework/self-study. The session will include tools that can be used to help students work on the four base skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing), assist with receptive and productive vocabulary development, and boost motivation. Audience members will be invited to actively participate in demonstrations with many of the tools and discuss potential ways that they can be used to foster learning in both classroom and out-of-class settings. The session introduces activities that can be adapted to suit a wide range of teaching contexts and offers materials for all English proficiency levels. While it is possible to join this workshop without a web-capable device, those who bring a smart phone, tablet and/or a laptop will be able to participate more fully.

Presenter Bio
Associate Professor Louise Ohashi works full-time in the School of Global Japanese Studies at Meiji University and part-time in the Faculty of International Social Sciences at Gakushuin University. She holds a Master of Education (TESOL) and is in the final year of her doctoral studies at Charles Sturt University, Australia. Her main research areas centre around the use of digital technology in language learning (in-class and out-of-class use) and learner autonomy. She is Director of Program on JALT’s Board of Directors and Publicity Officer in JALTCALL.

Event report: Turning speaking tasks into assessment activities



On April 21, Shinshu JALT was happy to welcome Jerry Talandis, Jr. of the University of Toyama for a talk in the new campus building of Nagano Prefectural College. Surrounded by glass walls and local wood, he presented on the very practical topic “Turning Speaking Tasks into Assessment Activities.”

Jerry began by taking us back to J.D. Brown’s presentation from JALT 2016 during which he suggested that regular classroom tasks could also be assessment activities with the addition of a feedback loop. Simply stated, “Speaking Task + Feedback Loop = Assessment Activity.”

We have probably all complained at one time or another that the testing culture of schools in Japan does not help us promote English as communication. We know that it can have a negative washback effect. Rather than reject testing, though, Jerry projected images of Akido and recommended that we redirect the energy that students have for tests to use it to our advantage. He highlighted balancing reliability (fairness), validity (measuring what it is supposed to measure), and practicality (easy to make, administer, mark) in order to create well-designed tests that can produce positive washback.


Jerry ended his talk by summarizing choices that have to be made as teachers create their feedback loop: marking approach (holistic or analytic), evaluation criteria, and practical test details, including making a feedback sheet. His sample sheets provided examples of several different styles that allow for teachers to assess fairly and quickly and that give students clear feedback they can understand and use.

After a pleasant walk around the building and snacks in the cafeteria, we returned to the classroom for some free discussion about teaching with Jerry’s textbook Conversations in Class which several attendees are using this semester.

Thank you again to Jerry and Nagano Prefectural College for an informative and enjoyable afternoon.

  • reported by Colleen Dalton

Turning Speaking Tasks into Assessment Activities with Jerry Talandis Jr

Shinshu JALT is proud to present our next event.

Shinshu JALT April Event Japanese

Speakers: Jerry Talandis Jr.
Date: April 21st, Saturday
Time: 15:00 – 16:50
After the event, there will be a dinner with Jerry – all are welcome to attend.
Venue: University of Nagano C12, 長野県立大学(旧長野県短期大学のキャンパス)(Google Map)
Admission: Free for members, 1000¥ for non-members
Sign-up for the event on Facebook here

For transport assistance from Nagano station, please contact Cheryl Kirchoff: cheryl@nagano-kentan.ac.jp

One effective way to assess your students’ speaking skills is to turn regular language practice tasks into tests. To do that, all you really need is some sort of feedback loop that provides insight into performance. With such a loop, common practice activities can be turned into assessment activities (Brown, 2013). Such an approach to oral testing can potentially open up new ideas for assessment that help your students improve their speaking ability.  In this theory-light presentation, we’ll cover various strategies for creating such loops by looking at the pros and cons of typical holistic and analytic marking schemes. Guidance for creating effective feedback/marking rubrics will also be provided. Finally, practical issues regarding administration of in-class speaking tests will also be addressed.  No previous experience with conducting speaking tests is required; any teacher in learning how to implement oral testing in the classroom is encourage to attend.

The presentation will be followed by an informal discussion on the speaking textbook, “Conversations in Class, 3rd Edition” which the presenter co-authored. Anyone interested in learning more about this text is encouraged to take part.

Active Learning with Nobue Inoue and Brian Southwick

Shinshu JALT is proud to present our next event.


Speakers: Nobue Inoue and Brian R. Southwick
Date: March 3rd, Saturday
Time: 13:00-15:00
Venue: Level 3, Room 5, TOIGO CENTER, Nagano City, 長野市生涯学習センター3階第5教室 (map)
Admission: Free for members, 1000¥ for non-members

Sign up for the event via the Facebook event page here


The Japanese government has in recent years placed increasing emphasis on an active
model of learning, as distinct from the conventional passive paradigm, at the primary,
secondary, and tertiary level. In classrooms informed by active design, teachers are
facilitators rather than dispensers of knowledge, while students are discoverers or creators
of meaning as opposed to empty vessels. The active classroom incorporates presentations,
role-plays, discussions and debates and minimizes lectures. The rationale for the shift is
simple: students in the active classroom acquire a sense of ownership over their learning
and thus heightened levels of academic motivation. Our presentation will describe active
learning projects undertaken in English language classes in the Faculty of Tourism
Management at Niigata University of Management and discuss the feedback we have
received from students.



Both Nobue Inoue and Brian R. Southwick teach at Niigata University of Management (NUM) and help students majoring in tourism improve their English language skills.

Nobue Inoue is a Senior Lecturer at NUM. After working as a marketing communication
specialist and a Japanese-English/English-Japanese translator/interpreter for about four years, she decided to study abroad in Canada to broaden her horizons and acquire technical knowledge. Her study abroad experiences encouraged her to pursue an academic career; and she has been responsible for developing study abroad programs intended mainly for Japanese students for the past several years. She is interested in study abroad, student motivation and second language acquisition in general, and has presented at several JALT-related conferences for the past few years. She has a postgraduate certificate in Environmental Management and Assessment from Niagara College, and is currently enrolled in a master’s degree program (TESOL) at University of Portsmouth.

Brian R. Southwick is an Associate Professor at NUM. Upon being graduated from Louisiana State University in 1999 with an MA in pedagogy, emphasis secondary English Language Arts, he moved to Niigata and, from 2000-16, served as an Assistant Language Teacher with the Niigata City Board of Education. Currently in his second year at NUM, his interests include, in addition to active learning, English-language kamishibai, or Japanese picture-card storytelling, in the dual contexts of community revitalization and early English education.

2018 JALT National Conference

JALT2018 Logo

All the officers from Shinshu JALT would like to wish our readers and followers a happy new year and hope you’re enjoying the holidays. Have you made any new year’s resolutions? If one of your resolutions happens to be to further your professional development, why not consider presenting at the 44th JALT National Conference held in Shizuoka from November 23rd-26th?

JALT National is calling for presentation proposals. If you’re interested applications close on February 12th. Find more information about submitting a proposal here

Or maybe you’d just like to see what other professionals are currently doing in the field of education (or just find an excuse to visit beautiful Shizuoka). If so check here for preliminary information and save the date.


Myshare + AGM

JALT November

Speakers: Cheryl Kirchhoff, Mark Brierley, Heather Fukase, Miguel Mision
Date: November 5th, Sunday
Time: 10:00 am – 12:15 pm
Venue: Agata no Mori Bunka Kaikan, あがたの森文化会館 (Google Map / 地図)
Admission: Free
Our November event will include the following presentations from our local members:

Online Communication Exchange Activities, Cheryl Kirchhoff
The Internet offers the potential for Japanese students to communicate with people of other cultures, yet often yields only problems and disappointment. I will explain factors that draw my college students into meaningful onlineintercultural communication.

Online support for Extensive Reading, Mark Brierley
Over the past ten years, language teachers at Shinshu University have collaborated with the IT department of the Engineering Faculty to create an online system for keeping track of students’ reading, and the Extensive Reading Foundation’s online placement test, which has been used by the students of almost 100 teachers in over 15 countries. Our latest project is investigating the creation of an ER cloud to support Extensive Reading.
Exposure to World Englishes through online recordings, Heather Fukase & Miguel Mission
English is now widely accepted as the Lingua franca because of its widespread application in business, science and politics. Students have much to benefit from listening to not just the spoken English of their teachers but also the various World Englishes now emerging. Farrell, Martin (2009) and Matsuda (2003) have all published research on the benefits of exposing learners to a mixture of English speakers.

In this current age of smartphones, it is easier than ever to gather spoken recordings from people from all over the world for the purposes of English learning through listening tasks. This presentation will demonstrate how simple the process can be and hopes to encourage others to share their recordings to create a growing pool of resources for all teachers to use.

Upcoming Annual General Meeting

Right after our November 5th event, we will hold our Annual General Meeting, where we will report on the state of our chapter and hold an election for next year’s officers. We are pleased to announce that the following members have volunteered for the positions listed below. However, please do not let this deter you from putting your name forward. All the officers would welcome your contribution, either as an assistant or replacement. If it is the former, it is a great way to learn more about the inner workings of Shinshu JALT, and if the latter, the current officers would be more than willing to serve as your mentor when you assume one of these roles. Like any volunteer position, it is time-consuming, but I can guarantee that you will find the experience rewarding.

Important notice:
We are sad to announce that Greg Birch, our beloved program chair who has been the backbone of our chapter for the past four years, is stepping down. As stated above, he is happy to serve as a mentor for anyone who is willing to serve as our new program chair. Please do consider this fantastic chance for professional development!

Volunteers as of October 13th:

President: Mary Aruga
Treasurer: Cheryl Kirchhoff
Publicity: Damian Gowland
Membership: Heather Fukase

*The program chair finds speakers, communicates with them and supervises arrangements for our events. They also draw up announcements to be used for publicity as well as send in reports to the JALT program database. If you have any interest in becoming the Programme Chair, or any other positions, please contact us at:

  • Mary Aruga (president) maryaruga@rs.tus.ac.jp
  • Gregory Birch (current programme chair) gregorycbirch@gmail.com

Event report: MOOCs and Professional Development

On the 24th of September, Shinshu JALT was fortunate to have Nathaniel Reed as a guest speaker for an event on MOOCs and professional development.

The day started with Gregory Birch sharing the results of his published research on the role of JTEs and ALTs throughout various schools within Nagano and Toyama prefecture. Greg’s work highlighted the differences in workplace roles within different prefectures and also levels of education. While English education policies may be trying to align role structures, the reality in the workplace is very different.

Nathaniel’s one hour presentation spent a majority of the time going through the current state of the ALT program in Japan. This included the history of the ALT program, the original intention and how the nature of the job has changed over time. His presentation also gave context to the issues currently facing the position of an ALT, from the teachers themselves as well as from the teachers, schools and administrations they work with. These include things such as culture shock, language barriers, JTEs failing to utilise their ALTs and the high turnover rate which sees many ALTs leaving only once they become experienced and proficient at their jobs.

This context served to highlight the increasing need for ALTs to pursue their own professional development, which is why he founded the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) – ALTTraining online. Nathaniel has called upon the help from various language teachers with years of experience to help contribute in creating content available for anybody to access online for free. The MOOC is already live (alttrainingonline.com) with some content available, although he is predicting all the courses and services to be ready by April next year.

Nathaniel Reed is still looking for people who may be interested to help with the MOOC in contributing content, proofreading or any other ideas that may assist the site. If you are interested please visit his website and contact him directly.