N o v e m b E R 2 0 2 2

The Alma newsletter YouTube: Alma Publishing

8 Questions for a New Ibunka User

Bruno Vannieu’s Editorial

NEWS From Alma • We are greatly simplifying the pass word system for the digital resourc es that complement our textbooks. It is time to clean up a system that was created in a hurry at the begin ning of the Covid-19 pandemic. • Based on feedback from users, we have improved the Ibunka textbook website. It was a big step forward one year ago to create a site con taining all the textbook resources in one place (audio tracks, option al translations, digital textbook, ex ercise answers, teacher advice, and tutorials). Now this material will be accessible in an even more intuitive way. • The upcoming annual Autumn Workshop will take place online on November 27th. This will mark the 20th time we have held this event. You will find the program on page 8 of this newsletter.

Dear teachers, I hope this newsletter finds you well. It is largely in the form of dialogs. I hope you enjoy this way of presenting information. Here is what we have for you in this issue: • Nigel Randell, who teaches in Kyo to, shares his classroom experiences of using the Ibunka textbook and his thoughts on finding the right balance between structure and creativity. • Bruno Jactat explains what teach ers can learn from the upcoming Im mediate Method Certification Teacher Training Course. • Jerry Talandis and I discuss our upcom ing textbook project, which will target higher level students who are beyond Conversations in Class, 3rd Edition. The aim of this book is to help learn ers move beyond simple conversations and enter the realm of rich, friendly, and meaningful conversation.

Nigel Randell has been teaching English in Japan for over 25 years. He lives in Kyoto and teaches at several local universities. He tells us how using Ibunka in speaking classes has made his job eas ier in some important ways.

How did you come across Ibunka ?

NR: It came in the mail with the direct mail ing that I get every year from Alma Pub lishing. But I must say the textbook didn’t click with me at that time. Then I was asked to record the British ver sion of the audio tracks of the textbook — each and every track has been recorded in three different native English accents. It was during that recording session that I realized how interesting the content was. It consisted of topics I find myself discuss ing with friends or mentioning to students during class. I also realized at that moment that Ibunka was a language textbook, and not a speciality textbook. I decided to use it in three of my university classes, at Ryu koku University here in Kyoto, and at Shiga University. They are all speaking classes. It has been going very well.


8 Questions for a New Ibunka User Simon Serverin

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What Teachers Think about Ibunka

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9 Questions about the Upcoming Certification Teacher Training Course: Teaching Speaking Skills at Japanese

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Universities Bruno Jactat

Question 2: So you didn’t like it at first?

Beyond CIC3: What’s the Next Step? Jerry Talandis and Bruno Vannieu

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NR: Yeah, well, there were two reasons why I thought I couldn’t use it. The first reason was that I felt it was too focused on cul ture, which I thought, you know, for most of my classes was too narrow. And the oth

Program of the 20th Autumn Workshop Request a sample copy, register for a workshop

page 8


Praise for Ibunka

er reason was that it was very structured in the language that the students were ex pected to use. But then, as I was doing the recording, I noticed that the content was very inter esting. Firstly, from the point of view of the people who are being interviewed, be cause the responses you got to your sur vey were from people living in Japan just like me, and that have very similar prob lems. And the other thing is I thought, well, you know, this would be fascinating to stu dents because it’s something which they probably have never thought about. A lot of them want to live or travel abroad anyway, so of course they would be really interest ed in that. But those who don’t want to live abroad would still be interested in that be cause it just sort of makes them reflect on their own culture. And so that came from the recording. I de cided I will try to use it. I was a bit wor ried about using it, to be honest, because I thought, this is not my style, you know, this is a bit too structured and a bit too rig id. But I was very surprised when I used it, because it worked! The reason it worked is because the format helps slow things down. Students do the warm-up survey, and that works like a charm. The students just open the book and they know what to do with that. It’s obvious. But then after that, before going around the class interviewing classmates, they have to write out their answers. So they actually have to think about their answers. One of the challenges with Japanese stu dents is that they do need time to think

about things, they can’t just come out with an answer right off the bat. And so you find a lot of discussions just die. They just don’t take off. But because these students had time to write things down, then when they got into groups they could just read out their answers to each other. And then I tried to get them to respond to those, by either agreeing, disagreeing or whatever. And it was kind of like putting petrol on the fire, you know. It ignited it. The discussions kind of took off. It was enough of a founda tion, enough of a scaffold to keep it going, if you know what I mean. The result is that they will be able to put together some kind of discussion with that guidance. So with that, you know, it’s very, very easy to teach this book. And what about the second part, where there are lots of responses from people who have lived abroad? NR: Okay, so the way I use that part is that instead of having students read the con tent, I play the audio tracks and go from the listening. I find it more dynamic. And also more challenging because you know it’s much harder to listen. And they all get the information because they read it in the end, after listening to the audio tracks. NR: I would say that the best ones are at an intermediate level, and the worst ones are probably low-intermediate. But I don’t think it really matters so much. You could use that textbook with anybody. The rea son why anyone could do it is because, you know, the basic level of English they go through in school to get into universities is What’s the level of your students?

"Using culture as a theme to explore while learning English is unique and interesting for students. I like that the text takes a topic that is quite complex and simplifies it into an easy to teach and digestible course."

Matthew Potter, Hakuoh University

“Ibunka gives students an intuitive and interesting introduction to intercultural communication topics. I love how it makes use of authentic data - the voices of a very multicultural pool of respon dents. The material is designed to pro mote reflection and raise awareness of cultural differences in thinking and life style, while engaging students in commu nication and discussion. There is a nice balance of opportunities for speaking, lis tening, reading, and writing.”

Henry Foster, Bukkyo University

“Very well conceived, structured, executed, resourced, and received by students. Thank you!”

Frank Berberich, Tsukuba Expo Center English Training Program

“I think Ibunka is a very good textbook choice for students in the intermediate level, as my students were. They signed up for the class with the purpose of improving their English communication skills. Many of them said that speaking was their weakest skill, and they would like to develop this in preparation for study abroad and for interaction with English speakers. The format of the text book allowed them to practice different skills through repetitive training, and after several weeks, I noticed that the students demonstrated more ease and confidence in asking and responding to questions, and seemed much more comfortable in discussing their ideas and exchanging opinions with each other.”

Warm-up Survey

Preparing to interview classmates

Joy DeVera, Meiji University


Praise for Ibunka

“A very adaptable textbook. I can use it both for general English courses in which this textbook performs well for structured speak ing activities and provides stimulating con tent that keeps student interest, and also for a seminar where the focus is more on ana lyzing data for research purposes. The sec tion that works best across the board for me is the warm-up survey. For 18 to 20-year olds, it seems to work well to relate every thing to themselves. They do not get tired of talking about themselves, and it makes them want to understand the English so they can answer on the form. They also energetically participate in interviewing each other.”

want, which is important because I mean, if you’re going to use a book, you don’t want to work your head off. You want a book that’s going to have a lot of busy work for your students and that enables you to sit back.

pretty high. So they’re used to seeing rela tively high level material, even though they can’t understand it. University students, they’ve been studying for years and years and years. When they come into my class, I actually look at them and I think, wow, these guys do not want to study English, but I can understand why. One of the problems with Japanese people learning English is they spend years and years and years doing it and not getting very far. And that’s just demoralizing. They should not be studying “Jack and Jill go up the hill”. They should be doing something, you know, interesting. And a good way to do that is to give them some interesting content and guide them towards a serious discussion. If they can actually sit down and create something which is relatively high level, which they can be proud of, then they feel like they’ve done something right. So you can take really low level students and give them time, and give them the tools, and they can put it all together and practice it and show you something that’s really quite good. The book lends itself to that. It’s got the structure that they need to move towards that final discussion. At first glance you found the textbook too structured, but actually you discovered that the structure helped you. That’s in teresting. Can you elaborate a bit about the connection between structure and creativity? NR: Yeah. I mean it’s a structure that is not too controlling, I suppose. For exam ple, “write down your answers to the inter view”. You know, it’s like there is just space for it, and then because there is space in the book you take time in the class. And then that gives the students time to think a little bit quietly and write their ideas down before going to the speaking stage. It’s also easy for the teacher because there’s so much prep going on that you can sit around drinking your coffee if you

Absolutely! Amen to that!

NR: I look at some other books, and there’s so much stuff that you need to go through. They’re so complicated, and every page is different, and there’s all these things go ing on, and you could spend hours trying to work out how to use it.

Maria Lupas, Sophia University Junior College Division

“I love this book. It is different from every book I’ve used in the past. Every section pro vides a host of opportunities for discussion about the topics, but also gives specific pat terns of speech that are helpful for interme diate level students and good practice for more advanced students.”

Too much work for the teacher, and not enough work for the students?

NR: Yeah, the teacher is like running around like a headless chicken. And the students are just yapping away in Japa nese, thinking, What the hell’s going on? With this book, once you’ve done one unit, they know exactly what to do. I mean, I think a lot of people, when they write textbooks, they think, “Oh, well it’s got to have some variety.” But actually, it isn’t the structure of the book that should be varied. It’s the content. The content is the point, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a bit like looking at a normal book which has got words on every page and saying, “Well, surely that’s boring.” Having words on every page with a number at the bottom, you know. But it isn’t, because no one cares about that. It’s the content that counts.

Linda Gould, Hadano English Speaking Society

“I like the format of having a survey at the beginning of each unit to guide student thinking and discussion. My intermediate level students definitely benefit from the bilingual Japanese support. The cultural commentary in the Teacher’s Book was also very helpful.”

Jerry Miller, Yamagata University

“I love the fact that the course is based around genuine responses. This gives stu dents access to real English, but in a man ageable way. It also generates natural sounding English, which the course then integrates into its vocab lists. I like the way the first week culminates in a paragraph essay that allows students to reflect on what they have discussed. It is well scaffolded and gives them room for choice.”

Do you have a background in intercultural communication?

NR: No, I mean not more than anyone who has lived in this country for 30 years, re flected on personal experience, and read a few things here and there. But before each new lesson I read the “Cultural Commen tary” section of the teacher’s book. That is very helpful, both solid and down-to earth.

Tim Greer, Kobe Gaidai University


students to speak a second language in class. That was practically unheard of at the time.

any student is guaranteed to do well in, as long as they focus and spend a reasonable amount of energy during class. We make sure that the process of preparing for the tests is both enjoyable (they have inter actions with their classmates) and fruitful (they make some progress, and are aware of it). And we reward them with a mark, a fewpoints that go towards their final grade. We do this from the second class at the very beginning of their university year, so that this process gets ingrained from the outset and then happens during every sin gle class that follows. The students quickly get it. Before they know it, they have devel oped good habits about how to participate in class, the atmosphere is good and the class is just rolling. And later, you find that you no longer depend on conducting tests in class, because at some point the class just doesn’t need that incentive any more. BJ: Well, it does wonders. An important point here is that the tests we are talking about are radically different from tradi tional exams. They are fun, useful, and students are rewarded for their efforts: in short, there is a contract between the students and their teacher, and that con tract makes sense to them. Jerry Talandis Jr. has written a whole book on that top ic: Testing Speaking Skills in Japan . That book was an important step in the refine ment of the Immediate Method. It’s im Isn’t it sad to rely on tests to force stu dents to study?

9 Questions about the Upcoming Certification Teacher Training Course

There weren’t any nice teachers who had successful classes before? Really?

BJ: Of course, there were some teachers who had succeeded in getting various re sults in certain contexts. These teachers did their best to be friendly, create an at mosphere of openness, have students work in pairs, and keep the class as in teractive as possible. And it sometimes worked, especially when the groups were small, the students were not too unmoti vated for some reason, or there was the right gender ratio, situations like that. But as I said earlier, the tremendous power of inertia that Japanese groups seem to pos sess bogged down the class in the major ity of cases. Teachers would try, fail, and fall back to a tried-and-tested approach of a bit of grammar, a bit of this and a bit of that. The IM changed all that by making a few decisive, radical choices.

Bruno Jactat is a tenured professor at the Univer sity of Tsukuba. He was previously in charge of teacher training at the Kumamoto YMCA, and has subsequently given teacher training courses in a number of countries. His research is on the con nection between hearing and learning, embod ied teaching strategies and oral communication teaching techniques. He will lead the first Certi fication Teacher Training Course organized by Alma Publishing and the Labo-MI in February 2023: Teaching Speaking Skills at Japanese Uni versities Why do you think English teachers can benefit from getting trained in a teaching approach that emerged from the field of French teaching in Japan? BJ: Well, English teachers who have to deal with huge, unmotivated “oral communica tion 1”-type classes can have a hard time. But at least there’s a perception that En glish is somehow useful. Imagine that you have to teach a language that is vaguely attractive but serves no obvious practical purpose, like French or German. And you still have the 40+ uninspired students in front of you, ready to counter all your ef forts and goodwill with their formidable collective power of inertia. This is the con text in which the Immediate Method was born, in Japanese university classrooms 25 years ago. It instigated a mini-revolu tion in the world of French teaching in Ja pan. But instead of heads rolling off guillo tines, something else happened: teachers started having success in getting their

What’s the most important of those choices?

BJ: Testing! Grab students’ attention from the start with the magic word that wakes up the sleepiest students when you say it out loud in class: “TEST!” At the begin ning, this is all the traction we have with some classes, and we make full use of it from the get-go. We give short tests that

The Immediate Method: a framework born in the Japanese classroom.


(there are two levels of certification, de pending on whether participants choose or not to do the final assignment, which rep resents about 2 to 5 hours of extra work). But really, the big benefit is to learn and practice simple tips that will make their large, unmotivated classes more suc cessful. I think that is huge because most teachers want to do well, and the frustra tion of not getting results can really eat at you. I speak from experience—for me too there was a “before” and “after” discovering and applying those techniques. BJ: It is 100% practical. We go over simple classroom management techniques that can be used the following day in an actu al class. The only “theoretical” framework that we use over and over is actually some thing that crystallized from classroom practice. It was formulated by Jerry in his book Testing Speaking Skills in Japan. Ba sically, this model is a triangle of three cri teria to promote positive washback from class activities and tests. One of these criteria, practicality, is espe cially important to us. We believe teachers should always ask themselves, “Is this ac tivity (or test) worth my time and effort, and the students’ time and effort? Can I find a way to make it easier or shorter? Can I per haps not have any extra work at all outside of class time?” Trying to minimize your ef forts can sound lazy, but it’s actually the How practical is the training course?

portant to point out that despite the name, the IM is not a method per se, but rather a framework. It’s made up of a few guide lines that, when used together, do produce consistent and, dare I say amazing, re sults. Within that framework, a large range of teaching practices can be implement ed, depending on the context, the teacher’s style, and other factors. BJ: Absolutely. It emerged from the class room practice of a few creative teachers here, at Osaka University. It was then dis cussed and continuously improved on over the years, through events like the annual Autumn Workshop, the publication of nu merous articles and then books, like Jerry’s book, Bruno Vannieu’s Enseigner l’oral au Japon ( Teaching Oral Communication in Japan) in 2017 and Stephen Richmond’s Over the Wall of Silence - How to overcome cultural barriers when teaching communi cation in Japan in 2019. In contrast with theory-based approaches, this pedago gical approach slowly crystallized from the ground up, based on the cultural reality of the Japanese classroom. So, that approach comes from the ground up?

key to improving your teaching because any energy saved on something can be used on something else. And it’s critical in the long term to avoid burnout, because it gives you a momentum that naturally leads to varying your classroom practice, and al ways finding new ways to do things. I think that’s the key to a happy teaching life.

How much does it cost, and what is the time commitment?

BJ: It costs 20,000 yen for teachers who pay out of their pocket and 30,000 when it’s paid for from a budget such as a ken kyuhi or kakenhi. The time commitment is: (1) five 1.5-hour workshops in the morn ing, over one week, (2) about 30 minutes to one hour beforehand to read and watch some online materials, and (3) about 30 minutes after each workshop to do a sim ple task. The training course will take place in the second week of February 2023, from the 13th to the 17th. Attending the course leads to a Level 1 certificate. Teachers who choose to do so can also get the Level 2 certificate if they complete a final assign ment that consists of creating a portfo lio-like report, which should take between two and five hours to complete.

So, what will teachers get out of that training course?

This sounds great! How can I register?

BJ: You can access the registry using the QR code that is printed on page 8 of this newsletter. I look forward to seeing you at the course!

BJ: Well, first there’s a practical reward— they’ll receive a certificate that can repre sent one or two extra lines on their resume

Training Content You will learn to:

• Get all students talking in the classroom

• Easily manage pair work

• Motivate students by delegating responsibility • Assess your students continuously and smoothly • Lighten your workload with simple techniques

Getting a positive class dynamic rolling, even in difficult conditions.


as its history and various parts. May be they’ve studied how to ride one, but have never actually done so. With CIC3 , first they ride with training wheels, and then by the end of the textbook, they don’t need to use them. That moment, when they can ride down the street in front of their home without any extra support—it’s pure magic. So now, after CIC3 , we have students who can ride short distances, like around their home and immediate neighborhood. That’s a big step, but once you can do that, where do you go next? You can’t just keep riding around in the same circles all the time. They need to go places, to explore, to have new adventures. That sense of discovery and ability to go any where they want, without fear or feeling constrained—that’s what creates that spark at that point. Bruno: That’s exactly it. CIC3 helps peo ple go from 0 to 1. Once you’re there, you really want to go from 1 to 2, and beyond. I feel that one ability that can really help learners be more flexible in conversation is letting go of the need

who actually want to learn English, as opposed to those who are only taking my class to fulfill a requirement. Bruno: Well, you make a good point. Higher level learners have different needs. When you teach students who have completed CIC3 , or work with learners who have already achieved that leap to having basic conversations on their own, it’s another challenge. I guess if you try using the exact same approach as we have in CIC3 , where each unit is organized around everyday topics that feature carefully selected Q&A patterns, it just doesn’t work as well.There isn’t that spark that was there when they were at the stage of making the leap from not speaking at all to speaking a little. Over time we’ve realized there is a need for something more. So, Jerry, what’s the next step? What comes after CIC3 ? Jerry: I like that bicycle analogy. CIC3 can be likened to teaching stu dents how to ride a bicycle. Until then, they’ve learned about the bicycle, such

Beyond CiC3 : What’s the Next Step?

Conversations in Class (CIC) has been our key English language product now for nearly 16 years. The co-authors of the third edition, Jerry Talandis and Bru no Vannieu, have been discussing what could come after it, for students who have already made the leap to having real-time conversations. Here is a sum mary of the exchanges they had over the past year. Bruno: I really believe that the third edi tion of Conversations in Class helps lower-level students make that leap from having had no experience in real time conversation to being able to have simple yet authentic conversations, over the course of a semester or two. And that’s a huge leap for many stu dents. It’s like that favorite saying of mine, “The difference between zero and one is infinite.” Jerry: Yup! It’s no longer just a “dream” for use in some possible future mo ment. With CIC , students can bypass that state of perpetual preparation and get to meaningful interaction right away, even at a basic level. And in addition to helping students, CIC has helped me grow as a teacher. In fact, that’s one of the things I’ve been reflecting on, about how easy I now find it to help shy and reticent students speak out. That abso lutely was not the case before I started using this book, and then got involved in developing its third edition.

Bruno: That’s great to hear! I’ve heard similar sentiments from other teachers.

Jerry: The thing is, in using the book over the years, I’ve noticed that it works best for those lower-level students. I have found it more challenging to use with higher-level learners, like those

Conversations in Class, Third Edition is organized around carefully selected Q&A patterns to help students make the leap to real-time conversation.


how the place makes them feel. And they can broach on the topic of how the place has changed over time. Jerry: I agree. And if we can help prac tice that basic pattern in the context of a conversation that makes sense to them, like the place they live in now, then they will have acquired that skill, and they can apply it to other topics. Bruno: Right. What we want to avoid is the kind of scripted speech patterns Japanese students sometimes follow. That makes me cringe. “First, I am going to talk about where I live. Then, I will say how that place makes me feel. Finally, I am going to explain how that place has changed over the years”. Yuk. Jerry: Absolutely. But I believe we can use some strategies that come from our experience at the level below, the CIC3 level. We can avoid that pitfall. Combin ing structure and flexibility, that’s a diffi cult balance to achieve, but it’s possible. Bruno: Yes. They need to get out of that “I need the perfect word” frame of mind. Then they’ll become able to have richer, more lively conversations, and ultimate ly to sound more friendly. Jerry: Hopefully some adventurous souls will want to join us on that journey from April next year. We’ll have mater ial ready to be tested in class by then.

ple actually DO with language in the real world?

to have exactly the correct word all the time. That’s a very Japanese thing to want to have the precise word, but as you know, the conversation often stops when students don’t have it. Jerry: Yes, exactly. I’ve seen that hap pen a lot. But how can a textbook help teachers develop that ability in the classroom? Bruno: Well, instead of organizing the book around topics, which is typical, what if we centered it on things peo on their own, it’s another challenge. So, Jerry, what’s the next step? What comes after CiC3? Higher level learners have different needs. When you teach students who have completed CiC3, or work with learners who have already achieved that leap to having basic conversations

Jerry: You mean language functions, like the “Can-Do” statements speci fied in the CEFR? That’s a cool idea, but aren’t many language functions real ly narrow? I’m thinking of stuff like giv ing directions, ordering food, or buying a train ticket. I’ve tried teaching all that, and most of the time it ends up putting students to sleep! Again, students are stuck in that state of perpetual prac tice, preparing to use language for some moment that may or (most likely) may never arrive. It’s really demotivating. Bruno: Yeah, but while many func tions are quite narrow, a number of them are very broad and quite well suit ed for longer, richer conversations. For example, describing things , such as a place, a person, an object, or a process. That’s something you need to do a lot if you want to have meaningful, rich con versations. Jerry: Yes. Also, telling a story : that’s something a bit complicated, but again super useful in conversation. Bruno: Exactly! Most conversations tend to follow typical patterns. For ex ample, when describing a place, peo ple often start with some basic info, such as the location, and proximity to well-known landmarks. They talk about

To sound friendly when having a conversation in English…

... it’s a good idea to explore implicit questions!




Use this online form to request an examination copy of:

13:50 - 14:00 | Opening

• Conversations in Class, 3rd Edition • Ibunka! • Conversations in Class B1

This year is the 20th anniversary of the annual Autumn Workshop!

Click here to request a copy

14:00 - 14:50 |

Intercultural Communication Topics in EFL Classes

| Stephen RichmonD


In this experiential workshop, we’ll go over the flow of an EFL class revolving around a topic of everyday life - one taken from our textbook Ibunka . Participants will choose between two topics that should have a lot of relevance in their lives: the topic of Sleep and Rest , and the topic of Having Guests in Your Home . We will experience together a few key steps, and reflect on them.

Use this online form to:

Click here to register for the workshop

• Register for the Nov. 27th Autumn Workshop • Register for the February 2023 Certification Teacher Training Course: Teaching Speaking Skills at Japanese Universities

Click here to register for the training course

15:00 - 15:50 | The Power of Testing | Bruno Jactat

The Alma Teacher Support Club

How do you deal with a large, unmoti vated oral communication class in a sure fire manner? I will outline the basics of the Immediate Method, and share two practi cal teaching techniques that can be used online or in a face-to-face setting.

If you use any of our textbooks, you can register with us to: • Receive the password for your textbook twice a year instead of having to request it. • Obtain a fresh desk copy of your textbook when your current one wears out. • Get your free Alma mug.

16:00 - 16:50 | Beyond CiC | Jerry Talandis

Registering is free and only takes five minutes.

I will explain our current state of progress with developing a new English conversa tion textbook geared towards students who have “graduated” from Conversations in Class, 3rd Edition. Building on the principles of that textbook, this new book will show students how to talk at greater length and spontaneity in personally meaningful ways.


Use this online form to:

Click here to register for the ATSC

• Opt-in to the Alma Teacher Support Club (see above)

17:00 - 17:30 | Socializing

After a half-day of learning and discussion, 17:00 is not too early to wind down with drinks and informal chats!

Email: YouTube: Alma Publishing


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