Five years in a row: York student takes grand prize in Japanese-language contest

York Faculty of Arts student Hyun Ji Kim won the grand prize, which included a trip to Japan, as well as first place in the intermediate category at the 19th Canadian National Japanese Language Speech Contest on March 29, while fellow York student Sujae Amy Lee of the Faculty of Fine Arts took second in the beginner category. This is the fifth consecutive year a York student has won the grand prize.

Evaluated on their speech and presentation skills, all contestants must be studying Japanese as a foreign language and must be a nationality other than Japanese. Kim and Lee had won first place in their categories at the 26th Annual Ontario Japanese Speech Contest held earlier in March, which allowed them to compete at the national level. There are three categories in each contest – beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Right: Masataka Tarahara, minister-counsellor of the Embassy of Japan in Ottawa (left) and Hyun Ji Kim

Another 18 contestants – all first-place winners of regional Japanese speech contests in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, Ottawa and the Atlantic provinces – also competed at the national Japanese speech contest held at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Kim, a JP2000 (Intermediate Modern Standard Japanese) student, and Lee, a JP1000 (Elementary Modern Standard Japanese) student, each had to deliver a speech in Japanese between three and five minutes in length. They were then evaluated on speech content, presentation, memorization and pronunciation.

"I was surrounded by people of all walks of life from all provinces who had their own special story to share about their engagement and relationship with the language and the culture," said Lee. "Meeting these people who take the study of languages seriously and appreciate what languages can offer to one’s insights into the world and different cultures was the best gift out of the whole experience." Both Kim and Lee commented that meeting the participants from other regions was the most intriguing aspect of competing at the national level.

Left: Masataka Tarahara and Sujae Amy Lee (fourth from left)

"We are very proud that York students have done a remarkable job at both the regional and national speech contests. Amazingly, this is the fifth consecutive year that a York student has won the grand prize at the national Japanese speech contest," said York Professor Kiyoko Toratani, Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics. "To win, the topic has to be unique, sophisticated and interesting. I think this can be glimpsed in York students’ grand-prize winning speech titles."

Kim’s speech at the national competition was titled "About Today’s Music". Previous York grand prize winners include Vivienne Lu Xue in the intermediate category who won in 2007 with her speech, titled "Would You Like Rakugo?"; John Baig in the beginner category who took the grand prize in 2006 with his speech, titled "Between Prejudice and Culture"; Elena Pak in the intermediate category in 2005 with, "Where Do Ainu People Come From?" and Qian Qian in the advanced category in 2004 with his speech, titled "Differences in Anti-Pollution Policies between Japan and Canada".

The National Japanese Speech Contest in Canada was established in 1989 under the auspices of the Japanese Embassy in Ottawa to promote Japanese language education.

For more information, visit the National Japanese Speech Contest Web site.