The 39th Annual Ontario Japanese Speech Contest was held online for the first time on March 7, 2021. The event is usually held in the Medical Sciences Building at the University of Toronto, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, event organizers decided to live-stream the contest on Zoom this year, which presented a new and rewarding experience.
The contest was organized by the Organizing Committee for the Ontario Japanese Speech Contest, which consists of Japanese language teachers from the University of Toronto (Professor Ikuko Komuro-Lee, Professor Jotaro Arimori and Dr. Yukiko Yoshizumi), York University, University of Waterloo and the Toronto Japanese Language School. It was supported by the Consulate-General of Japan in Toronto and the Japan Foundation. Organizers were initially hesitant that sponsorship rates would drop due to the pandemic, but in fact, many sponsors recognized the need for coming together to support students and Japanese language education. As a result, 11 scholarships and prizes were made available to students.
The 27 contestants who participated in the speech competition are students learning Japanese at schools or programmes across Ontario. Some are currently living outside of the province due to the pandemic. From the University of Toronto, seven skillful students took part and two of them, Argent Park and Sixin Qin, received the second-place prize in the intermediate and advanced categories, respectively. Both students also won scholarships from Subaru Canada, Inc. and Japan Communication Inc. The first-place winners of the contest moved on to the national competition, which was held on March 28, 2021.
All seven U of T students worked very hard to prepare for the contest while juggling their regular, heavy coursework.
“[Pre-pandemic] our students received a lot of comments and feedback from the Japanese language teaching staff when they began preparing and polishing their speeches. They casually visited our offices and spent hours discussing their speeches. Once they started memorizing and practicing their speeches, they had many opportunities to work with us in our offices, in the classroom and in the EAS Lounge. However, those kinds of small, numerous meetings we used to have for weeks before the day of the contest became very challenging to coordinate this year; even a small meeting requires pre-arrangement to meet online. Some of our students are currently living in Asia and the time difference was also a big hurdle in arranging meetings. However, despite all of these challenges, all seven U of T students worked very hard and presented their best speeches ever on the day of the contest,” says contest organizer and EAS Professor Ikuko Komuro-Lee.
Argent Park, a first-year student at U of T, is currently taking EAS221: Modern Standard Japanese II for Students with Prior Background. She is a fluent speaker of Japanese but wanted to formally learn how to write and read in the language. The speech contest gave her the opportunity to expand her skill set in Japanese and learn more about herself. “It gave me the chance to think deeply about myself and what I want to say,” she comments. Of the second-place win in the intermediate category and what it means to her, she tells us, “I decided to accept it gratefully. I want to say thank you for the people who liked my speech. The desire for the first prize could lead me to the next speech contest. Thank you as well for the opportunity to learn more about Japan.”
Sixin Qin, a fourth-year student majoring in Book and Media Studies and Statistics, is currently taking EAS460H1: Modern Standard Japanese IVa. She has been taking Japanese language courses offered by the EAS Department since the beginning of her undergraduate studies. “Finishing all of the Japanese language courses and knowing all of the outstanding professors and peers here [at the EAS Department] is a collection of memories that makes up a very special part of my life in university!” she tells us. A love of Japanese pop culture, one that she has harboured since she was a child, inspired her to take the courses.
When asked about how it felt to win the second-place prize in the advanced category and a scholarship from Japan Communication Inc., she says, “I am very honoured to receive the second-place prize and the scholarship. I'd like to thank Japan Communication Inc. again for encouraging me to continue studying Japanese and supporting Japanese language learners in Ontario. It's my first time participating in a speech contest, which I couldn't even imagine doing before. Receiving the second-place prize is not only proof to myself of my abilities, but also means that Professor Komuro-Lee’s supervision, the support from other professors in the EAS Department, and my friends' help all worked to build my confidence on the ‘stage.’”
We applaud all the students who participated and the winners! The contest was viewed by many people from all over the world. Its popularity is proof that Japanese language education in Ontario as well as in Canada is active and successful. The recording of the contest will soon be available on the Ontario Japanese Speech Contest Facebook page.