My Experience Competing in a Japanese Speech Contest

“Enter our speech contest.” That’s what the volunteer lady who I met once a week at the local free international center in Chiba, Japan repeatedly told me. For weeks. Speech contest? What is this nonsense? A contest for speeches? You speak in Japanese about something and compete with others in an effort to achieve glory, recognition, and fame of the Chibians (people from Chiba)?

Should You Enter A Japanese Speech Contest

It was 2006. My Japanese was awesome…ly sucky. And I was still incredibly shy about talking in Japanese.

After my repeated but obviously negative “I’ll think about it” replies, she didn’t get it. So I finally gave in to volunteer teacher pressure. For the past few months, this woman had met with me and had to listen to my inane conversations, for no money. So it’s the least I could do.

The conversation one day went like this:

先生: They need someone from North America for our speech contest.

アダム: Oh my god, that’s me…

先生: And you can meet people.

アダム: I’ve met people before…

先生: And everyone will be happy.

アダム: Finnnnneee

I went through an intensive training montage.

Wait, no. I picked a topic, wrote up a speech, had it edited by my coach (her), read it out loud a hundred times. All while imagining a grand tournament of epic proportions.

When I arrived at the center, I learned very quickly an important truth.

Speech contest

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Sounds like it’ll be fun, but it is a boredom festival that tests your patience to stay awake. Or alive.

Here’s the formula for disaster.

Take people who:

Suck at Japanese
+
Are boringly serious
+
Don’t know how to do public speaking
+
Read speeches off of a piece of paper
+
All choose the same topic (like “what I like about Japan” or “what I think about Japan.”)

Ughh.

My hopes for a life-changing event crushed. In an effort to avoid perpetuating hell, my new goal was to have the least boring speech (note: this doesn’t mean interesting) amongst a bunch of sleep-inducing episodes.

So I spoke.

Should You Enter A Japanese Speech Contest 3

Now this is where you expect me to say I turned the entire speech contest around by wowing the competition with a freaking Japanese-language firework show.

Well….

I got a few laughs from some older members of the audience, and had people who were awake. So that was a victory for me. It was enough to win first place and get my name and picture in the Chibian newspaper with a readership of at least several… dozen (I don’t know) people.

Should You Enter A Japanese Speech Contest 4

Should You Enter A Japanese Speech Contest 5

Should You Enter A Japanese Speech Contest 7

I purposely saved this newspaper article because I knew in my heart that 10 years later I would totally use it for Japanese Level Up…

Now the purpose of this post is not to brag to you about minor and meaningless glory from so long ago (I’d rather brag about current glory). It’s to answer the question:

Should you enter a speech contest?

My answer is, surprisingly, yes.

Whattttttt? Where’s the positive?

It’s a unique experience that you will only get once when you are at an intermediate level. You get to talk in Japanese in front of a lot of people. It gives you a chance to really think in Japanese, practice writing a speech, work on your pronunciation and Japanese presentation. You can make some friends with an obvious shared interest. And you can look back on it in 10 years and write your own speech contest article (send me an email about it in 2025).

These contests are usually held in major cities around the world. In Japan, you will find them everywhere. And they have all kind of fancy titles that will make people think you partook in something legendary.

Go for the speech!

Anyone ever been involved in one? Interested in trying one? Or have I completely turned you off from the concept?

Unexpected Bonus

Wondering what my speech was like? How it captivated the hearts of a generation? Well I have it. I didn’t plan on uploading this going into writing this article, because it’s a quite embarrassing. But I figure there might be a few curious people out there who would enjoy seeing it.

Here’s a rare look at me speaking Japanese after about a year and a half of studying (before I actually hit a stride with the methods that started to finally work for me). It’s not pretty, and my speech was ridiculously silly, but here is a part of that history.

Presented in low-lighting, low quality VHS to digital conversion!



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

My Experience Competing in a Japanese Speech Contest — 16 Comments

  1. スピーチのビデオ結構面白かったよ!見せてくれて心と魂を込めてありがとうございます!

    (Bioのアップデートについて)
    でもおい!日本語王になる男は俺だぞ!!(笑)

  2. Holy cow your pronunciation has improved! Well, I guess that’s kind obvious, but wow, you really were a beginner once. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I feel like the whole Japanese self-depreciation thing has rubbed off on Adam.
    I’d consider that a good speech.
    Though I know that feeling. You train yourself for a competition thinking you’d find epic opponents that are gonna give you a hard time. You practice several times a day, think of what it would be like to speak there? Imagining a large crowd. But when you reach there… It’s nothing like you expected.

    • Haha, it definitely has rubbed off on me. Spend enough time with Japanese people and you get a major dose of “must be ultra-humble.”

      Now all we need is an actual tournament, which I may or may not be secretly developing behind the scenes…

  4. “I got a few laughs…” after watching the video I wouldn’t consider that “a few”. I laughed multiple times myself while watching, and not because of your lacking pronunciation skills (my listening skills are way too low to actually notice that if Kevin hadn’t commented on it :P).

  5. Your pronunciation was way better than most of the people in my Intermediate Japanese class. Nice speech, I guess it’s not a compliment in your eyes, but I see your humor there as quite similar to now.

    • Haha thanks. It is a compliment. My kind of self-insulting preface to the speech was really the result of the feeling you get when you look at an old video of yourself from a decade ago (it can be cringe worthy regardless of the content).

  6. Wow, thanks for sharing your experience. You had a really good speech. In my country, there´s a speech in November of this year and I´m kind of nervous. ¿How did you do to speak in front of people in Japanese without mumbling and hesitating?

    • A lot of practice! You are going to be nervous no matter what, but try to use that energy in a positive way. Best of luck!

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