Awards, Events, Language

5 Tips for Japanese Speech Contest Participants

Last week, we mentioned in this post that applications are officially open for the 2016 Japanese Speech Contest. Well, today I’d like to give a few tips for participating in the speech contest! I hope this will inspire more people not only to participate, but will also help them give better speeches!

1. Give it a shot

This sounds obvious, but I think it’s such an important point that it needs to be stated and reiterated. You will never win the speech contest (or any contest for that matter) if you don’t actually give it a shot. This doesn’t just mean submitting your speech to the committee, but also following through and showing up on the day of the contest.

Personally, I seriously considered not going through with the contest. I had been quite busy and had barely had time to practise as much as I’d liked. It would have been a load off my shoulders to apologise to the committee, make up some excuse, and pull out of the competition. However, I’m really glad I showed up and actually performed the speech despite how nervous I was and how unprepared I felt.

2. Get help

There is absolutely no shame in seeking help, be it from your Nihongo sensei, a friend who’s really good at the language, or even a Japanese penpal. My Japanese lecturer Mr. Wairua proved to be an invaluable asset and I really couldn’t have won the contest without his help.

A word of warning though: you shouldn’t get anyone else to write your entire speech for you. First of all, your speech has to reflect the level of Japanese you are expected to know. It’ll be highly suspicious if you give a speech full of N1 vocabulary when you’re barely at N4 level. Keep it simple and use language that you have learnt in class or on your own. You should be able to understand everything you speak about. Secondly, it’s a bit rude to ask for help when you haven’t put in any effort yourself. The best strategy is to write a draft on your own. This draft needn’t be perfect; it should just reflect the general idea that you are trying to put across. Then, ask your trusted source to help you refine it to your final speech.

3. Practise, practise, practise

Another point that sounds obvious, but still needs emphasis. You’re not a native Japanese speaker, and chances are you wouldn’t feel comfortable holding a ten-minute conversation entirely in Japanese. That’s all the more reason why you should practise your speech over and over. Don’t just practise memorising the speech so that you don’t have to read it. Even though that’s important, there are things that are just as essential (if not more essential): your intonation and accent, your body language, your gestures and tone.

Because you aren’t Japanese, it will really impress the panel if you make an effort to sound authentic. For instance, that tricky “r” sound that’s not quite an “r” and not quite an “l”, but somewhere in the middle. Ask your trusted source how the words are pronounced, and their intonation in a sentence. Then, repeat after them and practise. You should also practise your tone and gestures. If you are talking about how surprised you were to discover something or another, for example, it’ll help if you can express this non-verbally as well.

The panel and a section of the audience at this year's speech contest.

The panel and a section of the audience at this year’s speech contest.

4. But don’t practise too much

This might be confusing, so I’ll explain. Don’t get lost trying to memorise all the intonations and gestures for each syllable in your speech. It’s not worth it, and will probably confuse you. Also, this is not a reading contest; you need not write your speech out in Japanese kanji and hiragana. If reading romaji or even hiragana alone (without the kanji) is easier for you, go for it. You are allowed to, and you should take every advantage you can get.

You may also not be able to memorise every single word of your speech. First of all, last I checked, you are allowed to carry your speech to the podium; it’s just really inadvisable to actually read your whole speech word for word from a piece of paper. Here’s a neat little hack: carry a small piece of paper. On it, write the first couple of sentences of each paragraph of your speech. You can glance down at your paper from time to time to cue you on what you’re supposed to say next.

5. Know what’ll actually happen

It helps to have some idea of the format of the speech contest to help you better prepare yourself and anticipate any possibilities. Please note however that this is based on my experience in this year’s contest, and a few things (or everything) may change in next year’s.

First of all, the speech contest committee will communicate closely with you via email. They will confirm receipt of your speech, ask you for a translation in English, and for a picture of yourself to display as you speak. They will also send you a program a few days before the contest, which will include the order of participants. Feel free to send them your questions via email as they are probably more knowledgeable than I am.

There are around 4 judges in the panel. After your speech, they will ask you a few questions pertaining to your speech. It’s a good idea to come up with about twenty possible questions and practise answering them. If your speech is about how much you want to visit Japan for example, they may ask where exactly in Japan you want to visit.

The winners are announced that same day, after a break for lunch. As for prizes, well, you probably already know that participants in the contest stand a chance of being shortlisted for the fully-funded study-tour program in Japan. That alone should be incentive enough. 😀 Besides that, all participants get a small gift as well as a certificate of participation, so nobody walks away empty-handed. The top three participants also receive additional gifts.

The prize table at this year's speech contest.

The prize table at this year’s speech contest.

Because I’m feeling particularly generous today, here’s a bonus tip: 😉

6. Relax – リラックスして!

It really isn’t as scary as you think it is. All of the participants are students and learners of the language, just like you. None of them are Japanese or have spent extensive periods of time in Japan. It also helps that each participant is required to state how long they’ve been learning the language, and the judges take this into consideration. Just the fact that you are courageous enough to stand in front of an audience to make a speech in a foreign language, is in and of itself a great feat. And just between the two of us, if you read  this post and follow its advice, that’s half the battle won. 😀

Sam Mwiti, who came in second, receiving his prize.

Sam Mwiti, who came in second, receiving his prize.

With those few words of advice, I urge you to go forth and give it your best shot! You just might be the next speech contest winner. 🙂

All pictures courtesy of the Japan Information and Cultural Centre (JICC) at the Japanese Embassy in Kenya. Like them on Facebook here.

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