York students win big at Japanese speech contest

York University students won almost half of the top prizes at the 17th Annual National Japanese Speech Contest held on campus on Sunday, April 2. The contest drew linguistic competitors from universities from across Canada. York students garnered four of the 10 top prizes at the nationals.

Right: York’s winning team includes Professor Norio Ota (left), John Baig (Schulich), Shinichi Kitano (East Asian Studies), Chungmin Lee (Linguistics) and Enrico Bianco (Computer Science)

John Baig, a first-year student in the Bachelor of Business Administration program at the Schulich School of Business, received the Grand Prize in the Beginners Category, a trip to Tokyo. Sin’ici Kitano, a fourth-year student in the East Asian Studies program, received First Prize in the Open Category. Enrico Bianco, a third-year computer science student, received Second Prize in the Intermediate Category. Chungmin Lee, a third-year linguistics student, received Second Prize in the Advanced Category. They beat out competitors from nine Canadian universities and received a variety of prizes.

The same four students had previously won top prizes at the provincial competition in March. Only non-native speakers can compete in the Japanese language contests. The contestants may be enrolled in one or many courses in Japanese studies and they compete in various categories based on different levels of ability.

Sadaaki Numata, Japan’s ambassador to Canada, served as chief judge of the language competition. York University alumnus David Tsubouchi, a former provincial cabinet minister and a current member of York’s Board of Governors, delivered a welcome speech to the contestants at the event in Vari Hall A. The competition was established in 1989 through the Japanese embassy in Ottawa in order to promote Japanese language education in Canada.

“We are thrilled to report that the York University students once again thrived in the Japanese language contest, winning a quadruple crown victory that includes the grand prize, a first prize, and two second prizes,” said Professor Norio Ota, coordinator of the Japanese Studies section, Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, and the event organizer. “We are always impressed with the amount of interest we receive in Japanese language, culture and society, and we believe that the skills these students develop will serve them well when they graduate and go on to positions that utilize their talents and abilities, whether in Canada or Japan.”

York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden made a surprise visit to the competition on Sunday. She said the results of the national and provincial contests demonstrate the strength of York University’s language studies.

“The relationship between Japan and Canada is very important, and this event gives each university and its students the chance to demonstrate their strength in Japanese-language studies,” said Marsden. “The success of the competitors from York University is a testament not only to the quality of our students, but also to the excellence of Japanese studies here at York.”

More than 300 students are enrolled in the Japanese Studies program at York, which includes language, culture and society, and translation classes. Interest in Japanese business and, increasingly, the appeal of Japanese pop culture attracts many young people to the program. They hope to gain language and public speaking skills as well as get an edge for jobs, either in Canada or Japan, that take advantage of their unique skill sets.

York University hosted the national event for the second consecutive year. Hosting usually rotates between York, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and Université de Montréal. The competition is sponsored by The Japan Foundation and supported by the Japanese Consulate, Mitsui & Co. (Canada) Ltd., Noritake Canada Ltd., Canon Canada Inc., Honda Canada Inc., MacKinnon Travel Ltd., NGK Spark Plugs Canada Ltd., Yamaha Canada Music Ltd., Canada Planners International Services, Hasting Park Foundation and York University. For more information on the competition, click here.