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DLIFLC students shine at 36th Mandarin Speech Contest
San Francisco - Public speaking can strike fear into even the most courageous among us, imposing greater dread than the prospect of disease or even death. To speak well in public is an enviable accomplishment, and to do it in a foreign language is an even loftier achievement.
Students of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center’s (DLIFLC) Chinese department attended the 36th Mandarin Speech Contest organized by the Chinese Language Teachers Association of California (CLTAC) on April 30, at Lowell High School in San Francisco, California. Following the opening ceremony, students broke out into different classrooms divided into elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. Each classroom had Mandarin speakers to judge the speeches being given, some of whom were among the 48 DLIFLC faculty and staff who volunteered their time as judges and organizers. Each category was broken out into further divisions based on language proficiency. Performances ranged from nervous and reluctant to confident and dynamic, but everyone who willingly stood up and gave a speech in Mandarin Chinese had good reason to be proud. Family and friends of the contestants were treated to traditional and contemporary cultural entertainment while waiting for students to finish giving their speeches and for the results to be tallied. Acts included music, dancing, martial arts, and a spectacular performance of a traditional Chinese folk song performed by Yun Zhang, an instructor at DLIFLC, and one of her Mandarin Chinese students, Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Stewart, who is in his first semester at DLIFLC. The song included language far beyond Stewart’s current proficiency level, but he was able to master the song and give a stunning performance. The poem describes a mother who sends her dutiful son off to the military, and then moves through each season reflecting on how they each remind her of him. Zhang and Stewart sang the parts of mother and son respectfully. Stewart, who has had little experience performing, was somewhat overwhelmed singing in front of the approximately 1,500 people who populated the auditorium, but came through it brilliantly alongside Zhang’s equally impressive talent. “It went better than I expected. I didn’t totally lose it and just stand there on stage,” said Stewart. Ironically, the last time Stewart performed in front of people was the last time he was at DLIFLC studying Spanish, when he sang “La Camisa Negra.” Eighty-two DLIFLC students volunteered their off-duty time to prepare and participate in the competition, placing in nearly all levels of the college categories -- five first place trophies, six second place, six third place, and 25 honorable mentions. Among the many winners were Seaman Stephanie Concepcion, who earned an honorable mention in her division, and Airman 1st Class Matthew Sindelar, who placed first in his division. “Learning the language is hard, but it’s fun. It’s really challenging,” said Concepcion, who came to DLIFLC with an interest in Asian history and wanting to study an Asian language. She was surprised to find that there were many contestants who did not have Chinese heritage. “I saw a lot of different ethnicities. It shows that people want to understand Chinese culture. It [the competition] brought a lot of people together, whether they were Chinese or not.” Sindelar was equally impressed by the competition and its positive impact on the community. “People don’t know a lot about Chinese culture or Chinese language,” said Sindelar, who went on to express the importance of these kinds of events in order to encourage cultural diversity. This was not Sindelar’s first taste of success, however. He also took first place at the 7th Chinese Language Bridge Cup Competition, held on February 26 in San Francisco, and has been invited by the Chinese government to travel to China and participate in the next level of competition. Sindelar originally wanted to study Russian, but now couldn’t be happier studying Chinese Mandarin. “I love it; I couldn’t imagine studying any other language.” Though some may not have fared as well as they would have liked in the competition, each and every student contributed to the language event, reinforcing the heritage of some, introducing Mandarin culture to others, and promoting cultural diversity for all.

Text and Photo credits

1st Lt. Scott Ghiringhelli, Strategic Communications
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