The Joys of Judging English Speaking Contests in China

You know it’s going to be a long day when the rules for the English Speaking Competition are written in Chinese.

English speaking–not comprehension– contests, are something I enjoy judging each year in Kunming, I say for the first fifteen minutes. After that, they become a mind numbing experience as each student has memorized the same speech they’ve downloaded from the internet about why they want a robot, and how owning one would make their Mother Country proud.

Mind you, these students are brilliant and are all worthy of the OSCAR featured on the promotional poster.

Each student deserves a medal for sitting for unbearable lengths of time. Oddly enough, students had more difficulty understanding me than the other two judges, who were Chinese nationals. I spoke English in language learner slow-mo, knocking out few modifiers and phrasing my questions in tried and true sentence frames. What fruit do you like?  instead of What is your favorite fruit?

Name list and schedule

While Chinese students fear a final “L” more than a B on their report card, other English sounds gave them difficulty, including vowels.

The ious ending was challenging for a few students. Serious was seerus. Words with vowels preceding an “r” were problematic : sport became spert, warm hearted became werm hearted, tired was teared.

Robot had five acceptable pronunciations: woobot, rubbit, wobert, robert and robot. One of the judges pronounced it rogurt which sounded more like yogurt than like something that can help with chores and homework.

The best part of the English competition was the talent component.

Some gave weather reports. Two competitors jump-roped—to whom I gave full points as it broke up the monotony.  A few sang, others danced, but several read captions to a scene of their favorite Disney movie. That didn’t seem like talent to me. Reciting a line from Harry Potter? Yes. Reading along with Simba? Sorry.

My favorite was a boy who sang the BINGO song, complete with the clapping, jumping, tapping motions.

So who won?

There were several winners, including one boy, who did not give the Robot speech, but why English was his favorite class.

When I asked him what English rule do you hate the most, he answered, sorry, I do not understand the question.

Final thoughts? Just a quote from an English Speaking Contest contestant:

Winning medals is not only an exercise of my courage, it makes me more colorful. Thank you.

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