Sunday, September 23, 2007

The 41st Annual Lafcadio Hearn Speech Contest

Yuta, Sumie & Nagami sensei
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn was an Irish writer who lived in Shimane about 100 years ago and he became famous for his writings on Japan and his translations of traditional Japanese folk tales.

Every year in Matsue, the capital of Shimane, they hold a English recitation contest in his honor, where Japanese high school and Jr High school students have to memorize a short selection (about two pages) written by Hearn and recite it in front a small panel of judges.

This year 49 Jr High students took part, and as always, Taisha Jr High was represented well by two 3nen sei students.

This year, Yuta (on the left) and Sumie (in the middle) agreed to memorize the at-times very-dated English and add gestures and with the help of me, Nagami sensei (on the right) and Nariai sensei (see my other pics on Flickr), shape their recitations in cohesive presentations.

I've had very good luck over the years at the Hearn contest.

My first year, 2004, I took two 2nen sei students, and one, Hitoshi Yamane, won a top prize. Hitoshi had lived in America for a few years when he was a young boy, and his English is very good. His recitation of "A Living God" was excellent.

My next year, 2005, I took two 3nen sei girls to the contest, and again came away with one of the top prizes. Asuka Tezen won for her recitation of "Sayonara!"

Last year, 2006, I again took two 3nen sei girls, and again won one top prize. Mami Sato won for her rendition of "Butterflies" which at least one of my kids has chosen to recite every year I've been involved.

This year I knew would be a challenge, as Yuta and Sumie were both novice speech givers, whereas in years past I've taken kids that had already done one of the less difficult speech contests the year before they attempted Hearn.

Both gave excellent speeches yesterday, remembering all their lines and incorporating their gestures fluidly. But unfortunately neither walked away with a prize.

But this year I think I truly felt satisfaction at a job well done.
Yuta and Sumie are both great kids. They started rehearsing about 4 weeks ago and went from 0 to 100 in a very short time. I couldn't be more proud of their achievement and their hard work.

And I think they also felt good about their performances, despite not winning a prize. I know in the future they will face any English assignment with full confidence that they can do it. They know they were better than many of the kids at the contest, and even though they weren't judged to be among the best, they also know how much they've improved over the past month. So I think they are happy and satisfied that they did their best.

And we had such a fun day Saturday. With 49 5-minute speeches to get through, it was gonna be a long day.

But we got lucky in that both Sumie and Yuta were scheduled to present in the morning session, so from about 12:30 until the awards ceremony at 4pm, we were free to do what we wanted.

So we had lunch at McDonald's - only the 2nd time in her whole life that Sumie has eaten at McDonald's, which is a worthy topic for a whole 'nother post. Then we went to a local shopping complex called Saty and I got to buy some Dr. Pepper at an import shop. (I really LOVE Dr. Pepper!)
They have purikura (print club) photo booths, so the three of us took pics while the "adult" teachers (I'm older than both of them) drank coffee at a local cafe.
Then we still had time to kill, so I convinced the kids and teachers to go to karaoke for an hour before heading back to the contest.

So we had a great afternoon before the letdown of no prize.

The girl who won the top prize in the Jr High division gave the same speech as Yuta, but her English was flawless and had a hint of a British accent. So I asked the ALT (Bill) at her school if she had lived abroad in Hong Kong or England and sure enough, she had lived in London for two years. You could totally tell.
Unlike the big, prestige speech contest that takes place in Tokyo every year and is named in honor of a member of the Japanese royal family, there is no rule prohibiting students who have lived abroad from competing at this local contest.
As a coach, I can help my students be confident speakers who use a loud voice and effective gestures, but it's difficult for me to overcome long-inbedded pronunciation issues in just one month of practice.

Anyway - I took video of each kid giving their speech so I'll try to get that posted to my You Tube site soon.

Enjoy the pics!

And congrats to Yuta and Sumie for a job well done and how happy they made me watching them do their best.

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