Monday, April 30, 2007

Judging the Speech Contest

Selling me breakfast before the judging begins....

This year once again the Taichung county government called me in to act as a judge for the English speech contest. I always enjoy these occasions, meet new people, interact with enthusiastic children and their parents, see schools around the county....

The contest was held at Daya Elementary School in Daya Township, northwest of Taichung city. This is an old school dating back to the Japanese period (its age is indicated by the large old trees), currently providing more than 3,000 students with a primary education.

The grounds.

Wisdom of the ages at the corner entrance.

I came early to grab some photos.

Cherry tomatoes are a common Taiwan snack.

A vendor sets out the goods.

The school was enormous.

Volleyball practice in the early morn.

Photos of principals dating back to the Japanese period. The Japanese guys are all in uniform, all either policemen or soldiers. Both colonial regimes, the Japanese and the KMT, used policemen as educators in remote and rural areas.

Practicing the speech. All speeches were memorized, and the students were wildly overprepared.

A contestant practices alone..... avoid the crowds.

The timekeepers and secretaries.

The students were given these three topics. They developed a speech for each topic, which they committed to memory, and then one speech was randomly chosen for them to give. The result was massively overprepared students -- totaly memorized, meaning that the tiniest deviation resulted in disaster. One student blanked her speech completely and ran out crying. Broke my heart. But many students, with memorized speeches that required recalling, had no fallback in case they forgot.

Worse than that, each speech was exactly the same -- all of them said, for example, that if there were no policemen there would be anarchy. Nobody took the subversive position that a lack of policemen might be a good thing (because then I could steal my neighbor's Benz!) or the thoughtful one that might look at alternative modes of keeping the social order. The result was that the 26 contestants gave 26 identical speeches, with the same hand motions (like witnessing an endless loop of speech tai chi). Since they were all identically cute, identically good in English, of identical ages, and dressed in their school uniforms, choosing between them was fiendishly difficult.

I'd be curious to see some research on the effect of speech contests on English outcomes. My experience is that they don't have much educational use, since they reward students whose English is already good and do not create motivation for poorer speakers to perform.

Had a great time and met some great people, renewed old friendships and made new ones. If you get the chance to judge, go!


Anonymous said...

I have no idea what a photo of cherry tomatoes are doing in a 'Judging the English Speech Contest' post, but man do I love 'em. I particularly recommend the yellow ones. Very nice, flavor, kind of tart even. I like to mix and match yellow, red and orange.

Anonymous said...

There's a speech contest coming up in Changhua city that some of my students will be in. After reading your comments on the "sameness" of all the speeches, I wonder if I should encourage the students to try something different - or would being individual freak everyone out?

Michael Turton said...


What are the topics? Make sure they have something ready in case they forget. and make sure they smile. Move around a little.

I wouldn't recommend anything too subversive unless it is extremely funny -- and the kids don't have great comedic ability (youth + second language). But surely a thoughtful alternative take is possible. And get away from the hand motions to the side, like Egyptians. looks dull.