English Speech contest justice

Four of our students were in a city-wide English speech contest today for Grade 6 and under. That’s not so exciting, except that it had a sort of Disney-style, underdog-cheering, Hollywood ending. We’re really proud of our students Chester, Claire, Thomas, and Cody!

Our kids are public school kids. The public schools don’t bother sending many students to the contest because they know they can’t compete with the elite private bilingual schools in English. The private schools prepare for months for this contest – winning has big marketing potential. Our kids? They started drawing idea webs two weeks ago and practiced speaking for a couple days. Jessica and I added zero content. We helped them organize their ideas into “beginning, middle, ending” and make idea webs so they’d have enough content to draw from. And we recorded mp3s of us reading their speeches for them to practice with (one girl slept with Jessica’s on repeat all night long). All the speeches were titled, “My School Life.”

One of our kids, Thomas, went first. He was tiny, 7 years old, petrified, and other than the customary bow didn’t move the whole time. After him, the prep school kids started going. They didn’t even bother with the microphone but just belted their speech/performance. Their teachers were giving them cues from the audience for their over-the-top, canned, choreographed gestures. It was painful, like watching cheesy commercials for their school, scripts that were so flowery and overwrought that it was obvious the kids didn’t write (or choreograph) them. One kid actually said that his school’s great program “helps me become self-actualized.” Self-actualized? Are you kidding me? He’s 10! And on top of all that, every single speech had the same super expressive, positive, “we LOVE school AND learning and our GREEEEAT TEACHERS!” where every possible word had a poses or gesture or prop. It was a total gong show.

But these kids were good. It was obvious that they’d given it their best effort for weeks. They had everything perfectly memorized, every facial expression, voice inflection, gesture, everything was there, and they showed no fear. Our kids were mostly too scared to remember everything, had no choreography and hadn’t thought of props, and Jessica and I had edited out the extra big words that their parents had put in the first drafts (no 7-year-old EFL kid is honestly using “correlated”). We weren’t expecting any of our kids to place in the top six as we waited for the judges to say their piece and give the final scores.

6th place was a three-way tie between the least fake-sounding of the private school kids. 5th was Chester! We could see that the teachers from the private schools were surprised… but so was Chester’s mom. 4th place was a private school girl who really did a good job. 3rd place was Thomas, the littlest of all – the crowd audibly gasped and the people around him cheered. And by now the private school teachers were visibly upset. 2nd place was Chester’s sister Claire! Their mom was floored. And first place was Cody! Cody, who didn’t even want to do it but his parents dragged him to PEI and sat there at the desk prodding him while I helped him with his idea-web. His whole speech started with, “I go to school every day because if I don’t, the police will cart me off the jail” and included a part about a kid puking (we opted to ‘let the kids express their own thoughts’ ;) ). We couldn’t believe it! The private school kids cried. Their teachers were furious and started discussing conspiracy theories. Our boss had us get out of their ASAP because he didn’t want any of their wrath directed at PEI… we’re a small start up and those schools are big players in the English learning scene. But he’s ecstatic that our kids won.

Apparently the judges appreciated the honesty. In their general feedback (before the marks) they compared the private school speeches to a particularly cheesy series of English buxiban commercials, among other criticisms. We were so glad to see that our kids’ honest efforts were rewarded.

The one bright spot among the 30 speeches was this one kid, about 11, who easily had the thickest accent in the contest. I guess he figured he had no chance of winning so he decided to have fun with it. He opened his speech with a rap, told a story about dressing up like a hula dancer (and did the dance for us with a pink scarf on), and then put on swim shorts over his pants and told a story about swimming to fast and his shorts came off (while pulling the shorts down) and his friend commenting on his bum. He didn’t win anything, but he had my vote.

UPDATE: I stole and edited Claire’s and Chester’s from their school’s website.

5 thoughts on “English Speech contest justice”

  1. I knew there was a reason I love those cheesy, yet enjoyable, Disney movies like “The Rookie” and “Miracle.” Yea for the underdogs! And yea for their teachers letting them be kids! (I too like the rapping boy with the hula-dancing/bum-showing story. It just shows that kids are kids no matter what language they speak or where they live.)

  2. That’s amazing! Hurray for your students! Please congratulate all of them from the Canadian mom! And congratulate yourselves too for an awesome teaching job.

  3. We’ll tell than congratulations from everyone. Claire and Chester (brother & sister) and Cody just left before I saw your comment, but they thought it was pretty cool when we told mom in Canada wanted to tell them congratulations.

    To celebrate, Claire and Chester’s mom took them to the night market last night. Claire ate a squid (“it smells very good!”). Par-ty!

  4. You can tell your kids that a Texan, who also has a distinct accent when speaking English, says congratulations! Hooray for the underdog!!! BTW, what is the equivalent of the underdog metaphor in Chinese?

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