Kate Beatty admits that speaking French wasn’t something that came easily to her during her first few years as a student at Beairsto.
But now that she’s in Grade 7, her fluency with the language combined with her ability to speak in public has earned her first place in the provincial Concours d’art oratoire (the art of speaking) competition held last month at Simon Fraser University.
It was the culmination of many years of practice in French public speaking: every year, Beairsto students in Grades 1 to 7 take part in the Concours at the school level. The primary students are given a poem to memorize, while the intermediate students write their own speeches.
“I first had to do my speech in front of my class and then I went on to the district competition at Okanagan College,” said Kate, who adds that most people express surprise when she tells them the topic of her speech. “I spoke on the pros and cons of Barbie and the impression she has on young girls, so I talked about the negative effect she might have on young girls and their body image, and I talked about the positives, such as the careers she has had, including doctor.”
At the district level, Kate actually came in second, but the girl who won was unable to make it to the SFU competition, so Kate was chosen to represent the district.
Every May, Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon Branch hosts the provincial Concours d’art oratoire. Last year, more than 10,000 students in Grades 6 through 12 participated in the Concours in communities throughout B.C., with almost 300 students participating in the provincial Concours, and four students participating in the national Concours in Ottawa.
Teachers and parents have been organizing Concours for more than 25 years, and for many students, it’s now part of the curriculum.
At Beairsto, vice-principal Brendan Robertson said the school has made a concerted effort to put more of a focus on the oral aspect of the language.
“We’ve been working on helping the kids improve their oral work, by having them talking with their partners in the classroom and also speaking in front of the class,” he said. “And so Kate’s win is an example of this, the success we’re having with our school goal.”
For Kate, her Concours experience has been one she knows will last her a lifetime, although she admits to getting a little nervous before a competition.
“I also dance, so I’m used to getting the jitters before I go on stage,” she said. “So before I do my speech, I try and take a deep breath and I try and use as much expression as possible because I know I will be nervous.”
Kate’s win at the provincial and Yukon level earned her a gold medal, a French dictionary and $50 to apply to her education.
And, while she hasn’t settled on any future career plans, she knows her Concours experience is one that will last her a lifetime.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “And I think public speaking is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Kate will start Grade 8 at Seaton in the fall, and she’s hoping to continue succeeding at Concours.
“I’m going to try my best, but whatever happens, happens.”
And her fluency in French is something she knows will stay with her, whether it’s conversing with her cousin in France or perhaps one day running for the country’s top job on Parliament Hill.
“I was bad at French when I started and it didn’t really interest me and in kindergarten when I started, I wasn’t into it as much as the other kids.
“At one point, I wanted to quit but my parents convinced me that if I could get through it, I would be glad I had, so it’s definitely taught me to push my boundaries, and it will be something that is with me for the rest of my life.”
In addition to the nudge from her parents, Kate gives a special shout-out to her sister, Emily, in Grade 9 at Seaton, who has been a big supporter of her little sister.
“She helps me a lot, and if I didn’t have someone at home helping me with my homework, I think it would have been really tough,” she said.