It’s that time of year again. The China Daily English Speaking Competition .
In 八 (eight) hours, I break or make the day of over 150 六 (six) – 十二 (ttwelve)-year-olds, many whom are dressed to the 久s (nines), and have memorized speeches that they have no clue of what they are saying.
Take for instance, this princess who’s speech theme was “No Pain, No Gain”. She mispronounced it, “No Pants, No Gants”.
The competition is a bizarre hybrid of the Scripps Spelling Bee and an off-Broadway play, starring kids not being kids, but puppets of their parents. Their body language is stiff, their movements a beat too slow as their eyes gaze into space, trying to recall the next line of the speech that their English tutor wrote.
The topic for the six-year-olds was, “A Favorite Memory”. There wasn’t one birthday story, one kid recalling how they jumped off a roof and broke their arm, not one teary-eyed kid sharing how their puppy got hit by a car. Just lofty stories full of how they enjoy spending hours studying, using vocabulary from SAT test study lists.
Asking questions was a nightmare as students have no clue of what they just read. (Remember, it’s an English Speaking, not Comprehension contest). One student, who rambled about pandas had difficulty answering the question, “What is your favorite animal? “
“My favorite animal is vegetables and Jesus.”
One contestant, dressed head to toe in Nike, shared how he ran a marathon with his dad, punctuating his performance with a fist in the air while shouting, I will make “make our motherland proud.”
So I asked him, in language learner slo -mo and over pronunciation, “What is a marathon?”
His answer? “A marathon is a foreigner at a river.”
As the Master Dà bí zi 大鼻子, Big Nose Foreigner judge, I consulted with the Chinese judges, many who taught English at Chinese public schools. They told me what sentence structures to use to form my sentences. Forming a question such as, “What is your favorite candy?” would leave a contestant paralyzed. Instead, they advised, ask, “What candy do you like?”
Since my Chinese is limited to, yoga poses, prices for fruit and requests to taxi drivers not to drive in the bike lane, I gave them all four stars.