The UCLA Center for World Languages and Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies hosted a Japanese speech contest on the UCLA campus on February 26, 2023. Sixteen students from high schools in the Los Angeles area participated.
The Japanese Speech Contest for World and Heritage Language High School Students is held annually with sponsorship and funding from the Terasaki Center and the Los Angeles Consulate General of Japan. This regional contest falls under the umbrella of a larger national Japanese speech contest, in which regional winners have the opportunity to compete.
Professor Asako Hayashi-Takakura, a lecturer of Japanese language at UCLA, said that this year’s contest was the first in three years. UCLA first started hosting the contest in 2018, but the national contest and its regional contests were canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to 2018, the contest had been historically held by the California State University system, but it had been stopped due to lack of funding.
The contest divides participants into two groups: world language learners and heritage speakers. Students self-register via a Google form and are judged accordingly based on the group, but there are restrictions. Heritage language speakers are not eligible to participate if they have received more than “3 years learning experience in the compulsory education system in Japan between 2016 and present.” Additionally, students of either group must be enrolled in a high school.
Professor Hayashi-Takakura explained that most students who have participated at UCLA’s annual contest have been learners of Japanese without a heritage language background. However, this year marked a notable change in the trend: “this year was very unique…14 participants were heritage language speakers, and only two are learning Japanese as a world language.” Professor Hayashi-Takakura emphasized the importance of this occurrence, adding that heritage speakers are typically excluded from such contests in other states and cities.
Participating students give live speeches, but the time differs between . Contestants who are learning Japanese as a world language speak between 3 and 4 minutes, while Japanese heritage language speakers are expected to talk for 5 to 7 minutes. Three judges were chosen this year by Professor Hayashi-Takakura to evaluate the speeches.
This speech contest is one of Professor Hayashi-Takakura’s initiatives to bring greater awareness of Japanese culture in the LA area. She leads a 3-day anime voice-over workshop, which she organized last summer through UCLA’s Center for World Languages. These events are cosponsored by the Terasaki Center, whose newsletter also helps draw students’ attention to these Japanese cultural and language-related events in the area.
Moreover, Professor Hayashi-Takakura works with the Nibei Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that seeks to streamline Japanese cultural exchanges. She has helped the Nibei Foundation carry out speech contests since 2020.