“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)?
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.
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.
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.”)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!