Q&A: Japanese speech on family’s immigration earns junior second place in Sakura Gakuen Contest

(Photo used by permission of Barajas)
The two winners from the first division and the three winners from the second division hold up their awards following their speeches. Junior Ulises Barajas, second from the right, placed second.

Junior Ulises Barajas competed in the Sakura Gakuen Speech Contest and placed second, on March 18. The contest was organized by Sakura Gakuen, Barajas’s Japanese school at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento.

Q: What was your speech about?

A: Most people wrote their speech about themselves – describing their hobbies, why they started learning Japanese. It can be on any topic that you want, but you have to relate it to Japan.

(Mine) was about immigrants. My speech was directed to my Japanese teachers and my family. I wanted to thank (my family) for coming (from Mexico) to the U.S. in spite of all the things they’ve gone through, like leaving their families behind and doing it all so their children can get a better education.

My topic was one of the reasons I got second place. The judges said they felt the emotions in my speech.

(There is) a separate contest (at California State University, Sacramento). High (schools select) two students from around Sacramento. There’s a high-school division and a college division. The other student competing at Sac State is in the advanced class. She awed the judges with her pronunciation.

Q: How was the speech scored?

A: There were eight points of critiquing: pronunciation, facial expression, articulation, eye contact, memory, tone, content and greetings. (In addition to their speech), everyone had to say, “Good morning,” then say what their speech was going to be about in Japanese. Then they would have to end their speech by saying, “Thank you for listening to my speech.”

The speech was out of 40 points per judge. They would add the points together. There were five judges, but only four of them could judge because teachers could not judge their own student.

(Photo used by permission of Barajas)
The award that junior Ulises Barajas and the other winners in the top three received.

Q: Why did you want to do the competition?

A: Every student is advised to (compete). Even though I don’t like public speaking, this was an opportunity to try it out (in front of) about 80 to 100 people. I was surprised to find out that I was not nervous at all. It was one (of the best) – if not the best – experiences I’ve had thus far in my life.

Q: Who helped you write the speech?

A: My teacher from Sakura Gakuen helped me write it. We worked together for about a month and a half. Every single Saturday I would have to practice my speech in front of my entire class.

Q: Are you going to do the contest again?

A: This year’s contest was a wonderful opportunity to try out the Japanese I have been learning for the past nine months, and as an intermediate-level student, I feel as though I could have done better. I am definitely going to try it again next year.

Q: Where do you learn Japanese?

A: Tokiko White, the beginner class’s teacher at Sakura Gakuen and another teacher from Sakura Gakuen were holding a summer seminar at (White’s) house. She was offering a beginners course in Japanese. (Junior) Atsuo (Chiu) told me if I was interested, I should take it, so I did. I studied with (White) over the summer in July for three weeks. Her son (seventh grader Joe White) went to (Country Day). Currently I am in the intermediate (class) at Sakura Gakuen (taught by) Maiko Nelson.

Q: What is Sakura Gakuen like?

A: It (lasts) from 9:30-12:30 every Saturday. It’s a school for all ages – lower school to high school. (The people in my class) are all in high school. There are freshmen and juniors. Some of them have Japanese relatives. One of them, (has a) mom (who) is Japanese, but (the student) only really knows how to speak English.  

We get homework each week. Most of the time (we) have to study 10 of the characters (kanji), and our teacher will give a quiz on (them). We have to know the meaning, how to write (the kanji), and we have to recognize what she’s saying in Japanese. All (these) kanji will show up on our final in May.

Q: What convinced you to start learning Japanese?

(Photo used by permission of Barajas)
Junior Ulises Barajas (back row, second from left) stands with the other contest participants.

A: One of the main reasons I started learning Japanese was because Atsuo  always spoke it around me and always showed me these Japanese YouTubers. I wanted to understand what they were saying. He and (junior) Nina (Dym) would always talk in the quad together, and I wanted to (talk with them).

I like the way it’s written and the way it’s said.

Q: How many languages do you speak?

A: Four at the moment: English, Spanish, French and Japanese. I started learning the Korean alphabet because it’s really easy. My parents are Mexican, so I speak (Spanish) at home, (and) French is very similar to Spanish.

Q: What French class are you in?

A: I worked with (former middle-school French teacher Melissa) Albrand last summer for a month, and I didn’t have to take a test before I entered the class.

I’m in French II. I’m planning to take French III over the summer and be in French IV next year. (French teacher Richard Day) is all right with (a native Spanish speaker taking French over the summer) because Spanish is very similar to French. I was planning to finish the (French II book) and the (French III book) over the summer. I could be in AP French (next year), but I’m not sure if Monsieur (Day) will let me.

Q: Are you going to take the fluency exam for any of those languages?
A: I want to take the JLPT test in the future. There are five levels in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test: N1, N2, N3, N4, N5. I would probably take the N4 exam because I only currently know about 300 kanji, which is around the N4 level. (The test is) on grammar, vocabulary and kanji. I’m probably going to take it this December.

By Emma Boersma

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