Two BU students reach state Japanese competition

By Linda Wilkins
Staff Writer

Two Baylor students who were finalists in the Feb. 11 Dallas Regional Japanese Speech Contest are now preparing for the next part of the competition, which will take place March 10 at Rice University in Houston.

Contestants had to write a speech in Japanese and deliver it in front of an audience and judges. The competition was hosted by the Dallas Japanese Association and the Japanese Teachers Association of Texas.

Dallas sophomore Ryan Smith took first place in the competition, and Bethesda freshman Gus Holdrich took second, which qualified them to advance to the state round in Houston.

Currently, the two are working with Yuko Prefume, lecturer in Japanese at Baylor, to prepare for the next round. Smith said both he and Holdrich are revising and editing the speeches they wrote in order to prepare.

Smith and Holdrich were part of a group of six Baylor students who participated in the competition.

“All of the students did very well, and I am proud of all six of them,” Prefume said. She also noted how hard Smith and Holdrich worked in order to prepare for the competition.

“They were already busy with their other school work, and they were working very hard as honors students,” Prefume said. “They put a lot of time and effort into this competition.”

The first-and second-place winners from five Texas regional competitions advance to the state round in Houston, Prefume said, meaning Smith and Holdrich will compete against eight other students.

Smith said the state competition is different from the regional competition in that it does not include a preliminary round. The regional competition began with nine students and narrowed that number to five, he said. Baylor took the first three spots with Smith, Holdrich and El Paso freshman Miki Wang, who won third place in the competition.

But the state competition will not feature that preliminary round, he said.

“We only get one chance,” Smith said, referring to the state contest.

After delivering their speech, each contestant will also have to answer questions from the judges. Those questions could range in topic and are meant to test the student’s skill in the language, he said.

The judges make their decisions based on content of the speeches, delivery, pronunciation and presentation, Smith said, and each of those elements are important to doing well.

Contestants were free to choose their own speech topics, and Smith and Holdrich chose to reflect the Japanese culture and language in the speeches they authored.

Holdrich said he wrote about a Japanese poetry collection called Hyaku-nin-isshu. He was introduced to the poetry when he visited Japan with his high school.

“The gist of my speech was how I was introduced to it, and what it was like when I finally translated one [a poem] on my own and discovered the amazing richness in such a short five-line poem,” he said.

Smith said he wrote his speech about his experience with the Japanese language, and how his studies in other languages helped him in learning Japanese.

Reflecting on the regional competition, Smith called it “nerve-racking.”

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said. Though Holdrich said he felt pressure during his speech, he thought it went smoothly.

“Memorization was the hardest for me,” Holdrich said. “You have to have the grammar and pronunciation correct.”

Trophies and other prizes will be awarded to the first-second and third-place winners at the state competition in Houston.