Baylor Winners in Japanese Speech Contest Qualify for State Competition

Feb. 18, 2011

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Public speaking is widely recognized as one of the worst human fears.

Four Baylor students decided to tackle that challenge - and not in English, but in Japanese, which is "considered one of the most difficult languages for Americans to learn," said senior Matt Wicker, one of the competitors.

The students were winners in the Dallas Regional Japanese Speech Contest on Saturday, Feb. 12. Junior Dee Guo, Wicker and sophomore Serena Walker took first, second and third place, respectively. Freshman Jonathan Tingle presented an exhibition speech, typically only given by native Japanese students.

Guo and Wicker will advance to the Houston State Japanese Speech Contest on Saturday, March 5. The participants have been invited to the Consulate-General of Japan's residence for a reception after the competition. The first-place winner is awarded a round-trip plane ticket to Japan.

Each participant wrote and memorized a two- to three-minute speech and recited it before a panel of judges, who judged the content, delivery and pronunciation. The panel was composed of Japanese language professors and representatives from organizations with Japanese ties.

Guo, a computer science major from Coppell, Texas, grew up speaking Japanese with her grandmother during visits to Taiwan. She taught herself for five years before beginning to learn it formally her junior year of high school. "It's a very poetic language," she said. "I took Japanese because it was most like Chinese, which I'm already fluent in, and it's relevant to my future career path."

Wicker, a triple major from Arlington, Texas, wrote his speech - "Forever a Guest" - about studying abroad at Hosei University in Tokyo, Japan. While the people were very friendly, he felt a barrier between himself and the Japanese people, he said.

"As an island nation, the Japanese are very tight-knit and have a very strong group identity," he said. "So, at times I felt very alienated from society. At the end of my speech, I express how I would love to be able to return to Tokyo to live, but that I feel that I may be always considered a guest of their society and never be considered a functioning part of it."

Wicker, a Business Fellows major who also is majoring in economics and finance, began taking Japanese classes his sophomore year at Baylor. "As a business major, Mandarin and Japanese appealed to me for their potential usefulness in the working world, but in the end I decided to take Japanese because I have always had a passion for Japanese culture," he said.

Tingle, a University Scholars major from Whitfield, Miss., spent his sophomore year of high school studying in Osaka, Japan. His speech focused on cultural differences during meal times.

"I love coming across ideas that can't be translated directly," he said. "Then I realize that I understand Japanese enough to begin to wrap my mind around the connotations of a concept or phrase."

Wicker and Tingle hope to incorporate their knowledge of the language into their careers. Wicker is pursuing private wealth management for companies that deal specifically with Japanese clients. He also is interested in working for an American company in Japan. Tingle has considered becoming an American ambassador to Japan.

All four students study with Yuko Prefume, a lecturer in Japanese at Baylor. She helped the competitors identify their topics, outline and revise their drafts and finalize their speeches.

"Each one of them practiced very hard despite of their busy schedules, and I really appreciate their effort and love of the language," Prefume said.

Dee Guo is a computer science major from Coppell, while Walker is an Asian studies major from Fayetteville, N.C.

The regional contest, held in Carrollton, Texas, was organized by the Dallas Japanese Association and the Dallas-region Japanese Teachers Association of Texas.

For more information regarding the contest, please visit http://www.jtat.org/22ndSpeechContest.htm or contact Yuko Prefume at Yuko_Prefume@baylor.edu.

by Susie Typher, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

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