Friday, March 20, 2020

End Of ALT Training Online? by Nathaniel Reed

by Nathaniel Reed

Bio: Nathaniel Reed started his ALT journey in 2014. He was mid writing a dissertation for an MA in Linguistics and it struck him that there was no training for this new job. Even low-level jobs have some kind of training to help you do the job effectively, and teachers are dealing with people’s lives.

These thoughts gave birth to ALT Training Online (ALTTO). 

Quickly realising that ALT pay is the same as when the current ALT system started in 1987, he knew that this training must be free. Thankfully there are a lot of helpful souls in the world, even the leading scholars on language education in Japan, so piece by piece it started to build - this blog will take you on the journey so we'll stop there for now.

With a house and two incredible children, every day is full of surprises and happiness for Nathaniel. We are all on a journey though, growing and evolving who we are on a daily basis.

Let today guide your thoughts in some way to be thankful. Who knows, you may even feel like joining the ALTTO team and improving the quality of what we’re doing. It would be great to hear from you.

Around 6 years have passed since the birth of ALT Training Online. After writing an MA dissertation on the roles of ALTs I couldn't help but let go of the burning question: why didn't I receive any teacher training (pre- or in-service?) when I got the ALT job?

With no coding or web development skills, but an ambition to provide high-quality, free training to thousands of ALTs, my mission began.
Alas, hundreds of dollars out of pocket and many aspects of the site needing an update I face a crossroads – redesign it completely or let the thousands of weekly users down. 
It's quite a size now, there’s a lot of content, so the work would take a while….
On an ALT's salary with a mortgage and two children, the decision should be quite simple, but I'm really struggling with the choice.

I’d hate my own children to go to school and get a low-quality education because the teacher wasn’t trained.

The emails ALTTO receives from individuals in need of help and all the positive comments we get have been on my mind for over a year…...
Unfortunately though, it's adios to ALTTO and ALTopedia….

Just kidding!
I've been learning to code and the ALTTO team is growing - so the site is getting a makeover!
New features are in place and we're launching two new modules: ‘Vocabulary’ by Dr David Coulson at Ritsumeikan University and ‘Speaking’ by Richard Graham from Genki English – but this is just the start.

David Hayter is as motivated as ever to keep the wide-ranging guest blogs coming – from Vietnam.

Jake (an established coder) is excelling on the ALTopedia resources site, keeping it maintained and arduously updating resources everyday.
We've new affiliations too, and are being advertised outside of Japan with our new partners, including JET (big thanks to all of them).
The big news……(drum roll)….. is the latest member of the ALTTO team, Nick. He's been working incredibly hard to prepare 'The Monthly Trainer'; an email newsletter that’s just the right length with content covering all areas of the ALT world: what's coming up in your schools, teaching tips, teaching English in English….. one of the major changes the Course of Studies schools are sent is requesting from April 2020 - the timing of The Monthly Trainer couldn't be more perfect.

We're working hard to launch the new site sometime in April – so check our Facebook group for the new link:

Sign up right now for The Weekly Trainer, (first edition end of March 2020):

Join us and make ALT lives better.
You’re still here - great. Read on...
You may know that online courses (in general) have a completion rate of around 10% according to most studies. You may have started one or a tonne of courses online yourself (I’m working my way through 4 at the moment). The ALTTO course/website is no different, although some modules are getting 100% completion rates, interest leaves some users with completion rates of around 20%.
We’ve listened to your feedback, re-reviewed the practice of learning online and have completely changed how the free ALT training course looks - how you the user can develop skills to use in the classroom, whatever your learning style.
It’s much more interactive now. Not just long texts to read with reflection questions - modules are made up of shorter units, a range of media is used, plus interactive features and various questions styles are used to make being an ALT much more enjoyable.

We’re updating the modules too. The three previous categories: Contextual, Teaching and Professional Development are being expanded!

We’re also taking away unpopular modules that didn’t seem to fit people’s interests. We’ve listened to and taken on board suggestions, and then searched far and wide for writers.
We know that the resulting new modules, and whole new course, will deliver exactly what you want and need to make not just make you more confident and better teachers, but also dramatically enhance the potential of your students. 
How would you make ALTTO and Altopedia better? Join the team and make it happen!

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

Never miss another blog again! Click here to sign-up for our newsletter, "The Monthly Trainer," to stay up to date with everything ALTTO has to offer.

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at so we can work together and spread your story.

Don't have any ideas? 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:

Monday, March 9, 2020

Using Technology To Teach English In Japan by Paul Raine

by Paul Raine

Bio: Paul Raine (MA TEFL/TESL, University of Birmingham 2012) is an award-winning teacher, presenter, author, and developer.

His books include the best-selling 50 Ways to Teach with Technology and the innovative multi-path graded reader Journey to Mars. He has also developed his own website for teachers and learners of EFL ( He has published numerous research articles on the teaching and learning of English as a second language, and is particularly interested in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). 

He currently teaches at two universities in the Tokyo area.

A nation of innovative technophiles or conservative technophobes?

Japan generally seeks to project a highly technologically advanced image on the international stage: bullet trains, capsule hotels, the giants of the video gaming industry, and electronic consumer goods for every conceivable need.

However, anyone who has visited Japan knows that there are two sides to the country: the innovative high-tech side, and the conservative traditionalist side. The latter seems to be especially prominent in the education sector.

The conservative Japanese education sector

As a case in point, when I was working as a dispatch agency teacher at a technology university in Kanagawa in 2008, the person in charge of infrastructure decided that it was a good idea to install blackboards in a brand new wing of the university. Not smartboards. Not whiteboards. Blackboards. As a reminder, blackboards are 19th century technology.

Another case in point. Anyone who has ever ridden on a train in Japan has almost certainly seen Japanese school children learning English vocabulary from books by holding a transparent piece of red plastic (shitajiki) over the page, which can be used to obscure or reveal text written in red ink, and facilitate rote-learning on-the-go.

The right tool for the right job

Now, you may be wondering exactly what is wrong with these techniques? What’s wrong with “chalk and talk”? What’s wrong with “drill and kill”?

There may well be nothing wrong with such traditional teaching and learning techniques used in moderation and in the appropriate circumstances.

And while I’m not going to go into a comprehensive literature review of the relative merits of the traditional versus the high-tech, the important point to be made here is to choose the right tool for the right job.

There are some things that tech-powered tools do better than traditional ones, and some things that can only be done with technology.
When is technology better?

Digital teaching and learning materials can be copied, edited, deleted, transmitted, backed-up, collaborated on, revised, commented on, duplicated, and converted into different formats much more efficiently and easily than traditional paper media.

Of course, some of these benefits also give rise to potential vulnerabilities and drawbacks, including issues of security, which many Japanese educational institutions are notoriously paranoid about.

But there are also many things that can only be done with the use of technology, most notably anything relating to audio or video.
The benefits of using video to teach English have been well documented, and where would the typical English teacher be without their trusty tape-deck / CD-player / MP3-player / audio streaming website?

Tech is the king of task automation

Then of course there is tracking student progress and grading student work.

“Yes! I get to grade fifty exam papers tonight!” said no English teacher ever.

Technology to the rescue. Multiple choice English tests can be easily administered and automatically graded online with Google Forms, and there are a vast plethora of Learner Management Systems (LMS) offering comprehensive solutions to the create, administer, submit, grade, feedback cycle that teachers love so much.

The chances are that your institution already has an LMS, although whether it actually gets used is a whole other matter.
Enabling the cutting edge

So far we have mainly discussed well-established uses of technology for language teaching and learning, but recent advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), have made a whole new range of cutting edge affordances possible.

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) systems have paved the way for online Computer Assisted Pronunciation Training (CAPT) solutions, such as EnglishCentral, and Text-To-Speech (TTS) has improved to the point where it is becoming impossible to distinguish computer generated voices from human ones.

Will advances in AI eventually result in ALTs being replaced by blue-eyed blonde-haired English speaking robots? 
Some schools in Japan are already experimenting with such solutions.
But robots still find it hard to interact with and inspire English learners on a truly human level.

So until the arrival of the singularity, why not adopt more tech-based teaching practices in your classroom? Of course, you will be limited by your institution’s infrastructure and its (often infuriating) technology policies, but there are usually workarounds for such issues.

For more information about how to use technology for teaching English, check out my book. 
You might also want to take a look at my list of over 185 English learning and teaching websites.
-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

Never miss another blog again! Click here to sign-up for our newsletter, "The Monthly Trainer," to stay up to date with everything ALTTO has to offer.

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at so we can work together and spread your story.

Don't have any ideas? 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: