Students’ Japanese skills result in regional victory

Courtesy Photo
From left, Whitfield, Miss., freshman Jonathan Tingle, Lecturer in Japanese Yuko Prefume, Maryland sophomore Serena Walker, Coppell senior Dee Guo and Arlington senior Matt Wicker celebrate after the speech contest.

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

Two Baylor students are advancing to the 22nd Annual Texas State Japanese Language Speech Contest after placing first and second at the Dallas Regional Japanese Speech Contest in February.

Winners of the Dallas Regional Japanese Speech Contest, which was held Feb. 12, include Coppell senior Dee Guo, who placed first, and Arlington senior Matt Wicker, who placed second.

Yuko Prefume, a lecturer in Japanese at Baylor, coached the students who each wrote and delivered three-minute speeches that were presented before native Japanese-speaking judges.

“[The students] are all hard- working, they love the Japanese language and they are really passionate about learning Japanese,” Prefume said.

Guo said she enjoyed the competition.

“Everyone is nervous and you don’t know the results until the end,” she said.

In an e-mail interview, Wicker said he enjoyed hearing students speak Japanese.

“It’s not often that I get to hear any Japanese outside of the classroom, so it was fun to be able to hear other Americans speaking Japanese,” he wrote. “I’m really excited to have been fortunate enough to place second and advance, and I plan on continuing to practice and refine my speech so that I represent Baylor well in Houston.”

Guo and Wicker will advance to compete in the Houston State Regional Speech Contest, which will take place March 5.

After the contest, a reception for the participants will be held at the Consulate-General of Japan’s residence.

Prefume said she believes students gain many skills from competing in speaking contests such as this one.

“They will definitely gain all kinds of skills from pronunciation and grammar, and they definitely improve in communication skills,” Prefume said. “It just gives them more confidence because you have to speak in front of a lot of people and in front of native Japanese speakers.”

Guo explained her speech discussed a song by one of her favorite bands. She began studying Japanese because of its similarity to Chinese.

“In general I really like languages and Japanese happened to be easy to learn for me because I knew Chinese fluently, and they have similarities,” Guo said. “It was also a language that my grandmother knew and it is related to my future career. I want to be a video game designer in Japan.”

Wicker recently studied abroad at Hosei University in Tokyo and used his experiences there as the topic for his speech.

“While in Tokyo I was always treated very kindly by the Japanese but at the same time, I sometimes felt like the kindness was a sort of barrier between me and the Japanese people,” Wicker said. “In my speech I try to show this duality through a couple of stories from my time in Tokyo.”

Wicker said the complexity of Japanese and his future career plans caused his interest in the language.

“As a business major, Mandarin and Japanese appealed to me for their potential usefulness in the working world, but in the end I decided to take Japanese because I have always had a passion for the Japanese culture.”

Maryland sophomore Serena Walker placed third at the Dallas Regional Japanese Speech Contest. Though she did not place high enough to advance, she said she enjoyed the experience as well as listening to the speeches made by the other contestants.

Walker discussed her cultural identity in her speech.

“Being half American and half Japanese, I grew up figuring out who I was and my cultural identity and things like that,” she said. “[Japanese] is hard but I just enjoy it a lot because as I learn more about it, I just feel a closer connection to my heritage.

Walker, who is currently involved in ROTC at Baylor, hopes to become an officer after graduation and possibly work in Japan.

“I’m not positive yet, but that is the direction I am heading in for now,” Walker said.