Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Kagoshima Speech Contest, Prelim

As mentioned in the last few Small Adventures posts, I'd signed up for the 17th Annual Kagoshima City Foreigner's Speech Contest. The preliminary round was last Saturday. Leading up to the prelim, I'd been spending 3-4 hours a day practicing the Japanese speech and getting to the point where I had it mostly memorized. In the last few days prior, I was focused on speaking it out loud clearly, and getting the timing to within the 5-7 minute requirement. I'd wanted to get as many chances to practice in front of an audience as I could, but I had to teach a last minute English lesson on Wednesday morning, when the first class of the new Japanese speaking community course would start. This left me with having to go to the Thursday night class, where I could only give the speech once, but at least I got a little feedback and the assurance that I could read from the paper copy during the prelim if I needed to.

My prelim presentation group was at 10:30 AM, Jan. 14. I arrived early to get a little practice in with my Wednesday morning class teacher, and the only real change was the addition of a short sentence introducing myself, and another sentence to thank the crowd for listening to me. At 10:30, 6 of us (including one other person from my Wednesday class) were told the rules for the contest. We then had our photos taken (the 10 finalists would have their pictures in the brochure for the Jan. 21 round, and the top 4 speakers would be featured on the website and on the poster for next year's contest), and then we went up to the second floor of the International Exchange building to wait our turn. The third of my Wednesday class members that was participating was in the 9:30 AM round, and I got a chance to watch him. There's a bell that's rung at 5 minutes telling you that you've reached the minimum time, and a second at 7 minutes for "time over". The third person came in just under 5 minutes, costing him some points on the total scoring.

The first group wrapped up and it was our turn to get up on stage and sit in chairs in the corner. There were 5 judges in the main seating area of the auditorium, and 20-30 audience members - either other participants or their friends. When our round started, the MC introduced each of the judges (who were either university professors, or somehow connected to the Exchange center). I was number 2 in the group, and I knew I was in trouble because I was looking at an audience rather than at the back of my eyelids for remembering my lines. I messed up my introduction and had trouble with several places in the first paragraph. Halfway through I settled down and finished off with no further trouble at about 6 minutes. None of the others in my group gave mistake-free presentations either, but at least half of them seemed more polished than me, in that it was like watching an amateur actor delivering their lines. The one from Vietnam yelled his lines like an angry Japanese politician, and one Chinese woman was as cheerful and beaming as a Miss Universe contestant. At least two of them included specific references to the contest within their speech.

After we were done, one of the Exchange Center people gave us envelops as we walked off stage. The packets included fliers for 2 upcoming events (an introduction to a hospital that caters to foreigners, and a seminar for foreign and Japanese parents that want to exchange ideas about child rearing in Japan) and a gift cert. for 1000 yen ($12 USD) at a national bookstore chain. The three of us from the Wednesday class got together with our teacher, told each other that they had the better chance of winning, and then we went to lunch at a restaurant in Tenmonkan to release stress.

There were 24 people signed up for the prelim, and were all divided up into 4 groups. The first two groups presented in the morning, and the second two would be in the afternoon after a lunch break, to wrap up around 5 PM. We'd been told that the Exchange center would only call the 10 that made it to the finals and to expect the call between 7 PM and 9 PM. After 9, if there was no call, too bad. Regardless, everyone would receive letters with the results some time during the week. Everyone I talked to told me that of our 3-person group that I had the best chance of making the cut. However, from what I saw in my round, the judges were going to have a really tough time narrowing the list down to just 10 names. At 4 six-person groups, only 2 or 3 people from each would pass.

Update, Sunday: Still no phone call. I sent email to the other 2 from my class and they said they hadn't gotten selected either. The most depressing part about all this is that I spent at least 40 hours preparing for the contest, and there's absolutely no purpose to having written the speech. I can't use it anywhere else, and the majority of the vocabulary isn't used in regular conversation. There won't be another speech contest until next year, and I don't know if I'll be in Kagoshima then. So, my speech is kind of pointless at this stage. Oh well.

Update, Monday: Got the letter in snail mail. "Thank you for participating. We're sorry but you weren't selected. We hope you have good fortune in your future." I was really hoping for some kind of feedback, like being told that I was number 24 out of 24, or a brief explanation of what the judges had been grading on. Right now, I can't tell if it was a grammar problem, that I didn't bow deep enough, if my choice of topic was too frivolous, or that I stuttered too much. Hard to correct something if no one tells you what needs improvement.

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