The UK space industry, vampire folklore, and the arcades of Japan as a meritocracy were among the many fascinating topics presented at the Finals Day of the 9th Japanese Speech Contest for University Students, which was held on March 1st at SOAS, University of London.
Co-organised by the British Association for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language (BATJ) and the Japan Foundation London, the main purpose of this annual contest is to improve the speaking and presentation skills of students studying Japanese as a foreign language. It also aims to promote Japanese language learning at higher education level in the UK and Ireland. There are approximately 60 universities in the UK and Ireland offering Japanese as either a degree or elective course, and all undergraduate students enrolled in a university Japanese course are eligible to take part.
This year’s contest saw a total of 117 students from 18 different universities apply for the contest, meaning that the competition for the 15 places in the finals was exceptionally high. Approximately 200 spectators attended the Finals Day, including representatives from companies sponsoring the contest.
The contest began with the new Individual Presentation Category, in which post-beginner learners of Japanese speak about their topic with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation. The winner of this category was Gen Nen Ho, a 3rd year student of Medicine at King's College London, for his very animated and intriguing presentation on The Mythical Cambridge. “Despite being a medical student, I spend much of my time learning Japanese,” said Gen Nen after the contest. “When the opportunity to take part in a speech contest came to me, I took it without hesitation. I believe it would be a great chance to test my proficiency in Japanese and of course, to meet people who share the same interest in Japanese.”
This was followed by the Speech Category, the most challenging category of the contest, in which finalists may not use PowerPoint. After much deliberation, the judges awarded the first prize to Giulia Surace, a 4th year student of Japanese and Politics at SOAS University of London, for demonstrating excellent Japanese language and presentation skills through her thought-provoking speech on Political Indifference in Japanese Youth. She won a return air ticket to Japan, a Japan Rail Pass and £700 for her outstanding performance. “Being able to take part in such a challenging competition was the greatest reward after studying Japanese for four years,” commented Giulia. “My Japanese teacher encouraged me to apply, as I had already taken part in the Group Presentation Category during my first year. I remember watching the Speech Category participants and thinking that it would be amazing to be able to do it someday.”
Elliot Harvey, a runner up in the Speech Category, also enjoyed the experience. "It was absolutely thrilling," he commented. "Meeting the other contestants was a really lovely opportunity and by the end of the day I felt as though I had made some new friends rather than entered the terrifying speech contest that I was expecting."
Special prizes were also given to four groups selected to perform in the Group Presentation Category, aimed at beginner level students of Japanese. Liisa Veerus, a finalist in the Group Presentation Category from Imperial College London who talked about her home country of Estonia, commented, “I really enjoyed talking in Japanese about Estonia. I was really glad to receive a lot of questions about Estonia afterwards.” Her team mate, Michael Florea, also commented, "At the finals, I could hear other people close to my age speak Japanese a lot better than I did, which really gave a very good understanding of the great level one can reach with work. This really become a strong motivator ever since, and unlike before, I am now certain I will pursue Japanese to a professional level."
We would like to thank all participants, their teachers and supporters, the judges, audience members and BATJ for making the contest such a success. In addition, special thanks must go to the generous sponsors: Baker & McKenzie LLP, Bloomberg L.P., Central Japan Railway Company, Gendai Travel Limited, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, Japan Airlines, Japan Centre, JP BOOKS, Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V., SOAS University of London, Ricoh UK Ltd, and Toshiba of Europe Ltd.
The 10th Japanese Speech Contest for University Students will take place in February 2015, and will be open for applications from autumn this year. We hope even more university students will apply!
Don't forget that applications are still being accepted for the Nihongo Cup, the Japanese Speech Contest for Secondary Students. The deadline to apply is March 31st - click here for more information and to apply!
You can download the full results of the contest below.