Last Tuesday, I judged my first speech contest. The Koriyama Rotary Club sponsored a Junior High School speech contest at my school. Storm (the other ALT at my school) and I were designated judges for the contest in addition to a representative from the Nara Board of Education, and 2 Japanese Teachers of English (JTE). Storm and I were called into the Principal's office to meet the other judges and presumably to keep us from talking to the contestants. We sat silently as everyone babbled on in Japanese. I assume they were just introducing themselves and making small talk. I am always nervous around my principal. He is a very nice man, but always seems so unapproachable. The teachers are always SUPER polite to him including bowing and such.
***Cultural Interlude: The Japanese LOVE their ceremonies. They have a ceremony for everything. With ceremonies, come MC's. Even for the smallest of events, there is a ceremony and MC. For example, when the new prefectural ALTs signed contracts at the prefecture office, there was a ceremony. When the JTE's threw a small pizza party to welcome Storm and me, there was a ceremony. When N-Sensei farted in the office, there was a ceremony. Get the picture? All the ceremonies are also incredibly scripted. EVERYTHING is written down beforehand. This makes their ceremonies rather robotic, but efficient. The start and end times are adhered to strictly.***
After the opening ceremony, I took my seat at the back of the multipurpose room. I was given score sheets for each contestant and a pen. There were almost 20 speeches, roughly 5 minutes each. I had to judge each speech based on time, eye contact/hand gestures, pronunciation, intonation, etc on different numbered scales. At the bottom of the sheet was a place for comments. In the Japanese spirit of being non-confrontational, I only wrote positive comments: "Clear and Loud voice," "Wonderful topic," "Excellent eye contact," etc.
For Junior High students, it is really more of a recitation contest. The students open a book of speeches and pick the one they like most. Then they memorize the speech and practice with their English teachers until the day of the contest. This is how, at one point, I was forced to listen to the same speech twice. In high school, students write thier own speeches for these contests.
I listened to each speech, scored them, then gave the sheet to a student volunteer. The student delivers the score sheets to the Head of the English Department who then creates a spreadsheet of all the scores. Some of the speeches were excellent, some were boring. One student did a speech about getting rid of the remaining land mines in the world, super interesting. Others did speeches about Greek mythology and Japanese folk stories. The winner of the contest was a boy who acted out a scene from "Romeo and Juliet." He did both parts, Romeo AND Juliet, during their balcony scene. English is hard, but Shakespearean English? Forget it, he wins.
I was picked to read the winners at the end. The top 6 won certificates. The top three won trophies. It broke my heart to have to pick a winner. It really made me happy to see students enthusiastic for English language learning. I could tell all of them had practiced a million times for this contest, so I did feel bad there had to be a winner. On a positive note, I got to sign my name on a GIANT certificate for the winners. That was kind of cool.
Next Post: English Festival Day!!!