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Service members sweep Chinese speech contest

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – One hundred seventeen students from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center earned 55 awards as they competed against contestants from nine colleges at the 37th Annual Chinese Language Teachers Association of California Mandarin Speech Contest in San Francisco, Calif., April 14.

The CLTAC is the largest Mandarin Speech Contest at the state level, attracting Chinese Mandarin students from elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities.  Each year, DLIFLC students sweep up more than half of the awards, despite participants from universities with strong Chinese programs such as UC Berkeley and Davis.  

Before the official opening of the contest, a nervous cacophony of shoes tapping, chairs creaking under shifty bodies, and the low murmur of nearly 700 students practicing their speech filled the Carol Channing Auditorium at Lowell High School in San Francisco.

 “I am not that nervous, I have had three weeks to practice. I memorized my speech at first and then I practiced going back and telling my story in my own words,” Airman 1st Class Tim Hollinger, a former Baptist preacher who enlisted in the Air Force to start a career in intelligence work. 

“Most of the contestants are dealing with speaking to an audience (for the first time), on top of trying to do it in Chinese. As a preacher, I am used to speaking to an audience. I am just doing what I am comfortable with. It just just happens to be in Chinese,” he explained.

While Hollinger was in week 49 of his Mandarin course, some DLIFLC contestants were competing with far less proficiency. 

Airman 1st Class Joseph Fine and Spc. Ashley Newsome are two students who had only been studying Chinese for four weeks when they volunteered to take part in the contest.

“I volunteered because I thought it would be fun. In order to write a compelling speech, I had to learn a lot of new vocabulary that wasn’t needed yet for class,” said Fine. Like Fine, many students expressed their satisfaction with the learning experience they gained by preparing for the contest.

According to Newsome, she was weeks ahead of her classmates and her teachers worked intensely with her to get her speaking skills on track, acknowledging the sense of heightened urgency.

“My teachers worked with me. They had me write what I wanted to say in English and then we worked hard to translate it into Chinese and learn pronunciation,” Newsome explained.

The speakers were broken into 26 groups of approximately 10 participants each, and two judges were paired up with each group of contestants. The speeches were required to be between three and five minutes long and were graded in seven separate categories: overall presentation, time, diction, content, delivery, fluency, and cadence. Overall, 261 students competed in the university and college category.

Out of the 117 DLIFLC students who competed in this category, DLIFLC received 10 first-place trophies, 10 second-place trophies, 10 third-place trophies, and 25 honorable mentions.

Story and photos by

Brian Lamar, Strategic Communications

Caption 1: Airman 1st Class Tim Hollinger tells a story about an ex-girlfriend to fellow participants and a panel of two judges during the 37th CLTAC Mandarin Speech Contest, April 14 in San Francisco, Calif. (U.S. Army photo by Brian Lamar)(Released)  

Caption 2: Students from Alice Fong Yu (the first Chinese immersion public school in the U.S.) perform a handkerchief dance as part of the entertainment program during the 37th CLTAC Mandarin Speech Contest, April 14 in San Francisco, Calif. (U.S. Army photo by Brian Lamar)(Released)  

Caption 3: Spc. Ashley Newsome receives a second-place trophy for her performance in the 37th CLTAC Mandarin Speech Contest, April 14 in San Francisco, Calif. (U.S. Army photo by Brian Lamar)(Released)

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