Thursday, November 23, 2006

Speech Competition

Recently I was asked to judge another speaking competition. These have their benefit, but I would like to see a competition in which the students write their own speeches. Or at the very least, don't give the word-for-word same speech that was given 8 contestants previously. The rousing nationalism of "I Am Chinese" ('who can say we don't have nuclear weapons!!') was slightly less affecting second-time around, and its hallow anecdote about meeting an arrogant American tourist was more grating the second listen. Otherwise the speech contents got no more controversial than "you should love your parents". By far, the best moment came early on during a speech titled "If I Were a Boy Again", which used the word "boy" in the first person repeatedly and would have been forgettable, if it weren't for the fact that the student giving the speech was a female.

One of the foreign teachers, when told as were waiting there would be 26 speeches (there were 19 as it turned out) simply made a break for it, not to return. This led to a mildly awkward moment when he was asked to stand up and greet the crowd and he wasn't there. There was another moment at the end when a foreign teacher was called on to make a speech and it turned out he had stepped out into the hall. But I suppose that's bound to happen when you expect teachers to make impromptu speeches about learning English without giving us the slightest warning. For some reason I'm usually not asked; I suppose it pays to keep a low profile. Finally, there was a moment as we were waiting that dimmed mine and Andrew's already low level of enthusiasm for the evening. A student asked Andrew if he could read the Chinese characters being displayed, and he very easily read out the English translation, which was along the lines of "Hexi University Management Department Student Magazine's First English Speech Competition". An English teacher turned around and said "oh you can't read that! A student must have told you". Andrew's been here long enough to be cynical about these condescending attitudes and very sarcastically replied "yes, of course, because foreigners can't speak Chinese!", to which she just nodded and smiled. I've had Chinese conversations interrupted by passers-by shouting to the other person, "oh, he doesn't understand Chinese!" In China, it's easy to vent your irritation through sarcasm, because no one understands it.

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