On Judging English Competitions

HostingSeveral years ago, back when I was regularly attending pub quiz, I met a woman who was the head of a primary school. Being a native English speaker, she had asked me if I could possibly come and be part of a jury for an annual English/speech competition the school hosted. Naturally, I said yes and have been doing it now for several years. In addition, I’ve also done some recording for her as the voice on the audio portions for grammar school English books (and, I was just informed, the English teacher in the books was named for me!)

All of which is to say last week, on the 8th of March, I once again went to judge the competition. Afterwards, I realized I’d never written about it. So here we go.

These competitions are interesting. The kids, all 4th graders, get to pick their own topics and must deliver a relatively memorized speech, no more than 3 minutes in length, often with a powerpoint presentation. Over the course of the several years I’ve been doing it, I’ve seen talks on all sorts of subjects. While there’s an abundance of pets and hobbies, there’s also some which, if not very deep (how much can you really do in 3 minutes?), still show a remarkable facility for at least pursuing something outside of oneself.

Even more so, it’s pretty amazing to see these kids, all of them, speak in a foreign language with elocution and thought. And the ones who win, they speak with confidence and poise (and the one kid at this last competition who paced, marking turns with such aplomb it has hard not applaud!). All of this made me think about the future.

The kids were mostly there with their teachers, but there were a number of parents in the audience, too, armed with go-pros and cell phones, videotaping everything. And I knew I would be that dad. All I could think about was Monki competing in something like this, be it for English or science of whatever else she turns out to be interested in (if it was held today, it would be burp cloths and cats). It was just interesting for me to see how my own reactions were tempered through that lens of fatherhood. When I’ve done this in the past, even last year when Monki was 8 or 9 months old, I didn’t have this reaction. She wasn’t walking yet, wasn’t communicating her thoughts and ideas, but now…now she is.

Now she lets you know what she likes and doesn’t like, shaking her head “no” when you try to give her food she doesn’t want or put on videos she’s not in the mood for. She helps me put on my shoes and ushers me out the door when I need to go to work and helps mommy cook and clean up. And so I watched these nine and ten year olds and know it’s only a blink of an eye before I’m there, embarrassing and encouraging her on in equal measure. It’s a rather humbling thought, really.

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