Speech contest elicits eloquence, emotion

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Speech contest elicits eloquence, emotion

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Two students - Xiao Yao, above left, and Daniel Gundersen - test their Korean speech-making skills in the Foreign Nationals’ Korean Speaking Contest sponsored by Ewha Womans University Language Center. Provided by Ewha Womans University


On Friday morning, an auditorium at Ewha Womans University was filled with spectators of varying ages, hailing from different countries around the world, brought together by one event: a speech contest. However, it was not just any speech contest. It was a Korean speech contest in which the contestants were foreign nationals who were speaking Korean as a second, or oftentimes third language.

In anticipation of Hangul Day, which was Sunday, the Ewha Womans University Language Center hosted the 20th Annual Foreign Nationals’ Korean Speaking Contest on Friday at the Ewha-Samsung Education Culture Building. There were 10 participants, five in the beginner-intermediate division and five in the advanced division. The contestants, who were students of the Korean Language Center, came from a variety of countries including Norway, China, Thailand and Japan, and the path that had brought them to Korea was equally as diverse.

The winners were presented by Professor Lee Mi-hye, a Korean language instructor. She stated that this year, there was an emphasis on pronunciation and content in the judging process.

Xiao Yao won the grand prize with her speech, “Precious Memories from Sanho Island,” and received 500,000 won ($421). Second place went to Naoko Tokuda in the beginner-intermediate division and Shi Myonghyang in the advanced division, and they each received 300,000 won. Third place went to Shi Se Ting in the beginner-intermediate division and Fan Linlin in the advanced division, and each received 150,000 won.

Grand prize winner Xiao Yao not only was an eloquent and poised speaker, but her speech was beautifully rendered with metaphors and vivid language as she detailed her experience snorkeling off Sanho Island, or Mermaid Island, in Malaysia. She described snorkeling among the coral reefs and the multitude of colorful sea organisms she encountered as being “like the Disney movie ‘The Little Mermaid’” as a “mystical and fantastic scene unfolded in front of [her].” She had a very strong message that seemed geared toward environmentalists: appreciate nature.

Xiao said she spent over three weeks practicing, recording her voice and fine-tuning her pronunciation, and while she said memorizing the speech was the most difficult part of the process, she said she believes “my parents back in China won’t be surprised that I won,” because they know best how much effort she put into her speech.

Naoko Tokuda, a nutritionist from Japan and a contestant in the beginner-intermediate division, said in her speech that after learning about the nutritional value of Korean food, she started taking cooking lessons in Korean. She also described her experiences working as a nutritionist at a hospital, when she was once told, “The meal that you make may be the last meal of someone’s life.” Tokuda said her most precious memory was when an elderly man told her that the pudding she had made was delicious, saying “I want to eat it again.” The man died the next day, but from her experience Tokuda said she found purpose in her life.

Daniel Gundersen, a Norwegian contestant in the beginner-intermediate division, was every bit the professional. A natural public speaker, he was poised and confident as he spoke in clear, articulate Korean. He elicited a round of laughter with a rhetorical Q&A in which he asked what Koreans think of when they think of Norway (salmon or skiing) and what Norwegians know about Korea (taekwondo, Samsung, Hyundai and Kim Jong-il).

Gundersen said his first exposure to Korea was through an adoptee he met in Norway that once invited him over for Korean food. Since then, he says his favorite dish has been bulgogi (marinated beef). Then he described how, while studying in Japan in 2002, he and a group of Korean students would cook Korean food in his dorm. He later visited them in Korea. And he finished his speech with a story about the new girl who moved into his dormitory at Ewha in 2009, saying, “Even then, I knew she was going to become the most important person in my life.” His instincts proved right, for she is currently his fiancee. Then he entertained the audience with an impeccable impersonation of his soon to be mother-in-law’s Gyeongsang dialect.

Though the event was a contest in name, it was also a showcase for Korean language, music, culture and dance. During a break in the contest, Eri Sasaki’s dance group moved in rhythm to popular girl group Kara’s “Step.” After the first round of speeches, Shi Myonghyang, a Korean resident in Japan scheduled to speak in the advanced division, played the gayageum (12-stringed zither).

The Foreign Nationals’ Korean Speaking Contest was launched in 1991 and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.


By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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