Students taking part in the Concours d’art Oratoire have come a long way from the first time they learned to say “bonjour” in kindergarten to giving speeches in French.
Translated as Contest of the Art of Oratory, the annual French public speaking competition had 900 students in the Vernon School District participating this year, from Grades 1 to 12.
“In the past four years, this district has had four provincial winners,” said Bridget Trainor, co-president of the Vernon Chapter, Canadian Parents for French. “The fact that our students are doing so well at provincials is testament to how hard the teachers work with the students in class to assist them as they research, write and present their speeches in class.”
This year, Grade 8 Seaton student Lucas Newman and Grade 7 Beairsto student Ben Miller were named provincial champions. Previous winners were Grade 7 students Maddy Moss and Kate Beatty.
In the early years, students do their speeches in front of classmates, parents and teachers. From Grade 6 and up, two students are chosen from each class to present at the District Concours at the college.
“With 900 students participating, obviously not everyone will go to districts or provincials,” said Trainor. “It’s difficult for teachers and judges to choose because the caliber of speeches is impressive. I hope, though, that the takeaway for all students can be that they actually got up and did a speech, in French no less, in front of a large group of people.
“They did it, and it might have been difficult, but they are doing it in a safe learning environment and hopefully they will continue to build on their experiences.”
Provincial finalist Kristen Morgan is in Grade 9 at Seaton. While for many, simply speaking in French would be enough of a challenge, she also chose an obscure topic for her speech: Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, a type of bacteria.
“I chose my topic because I love physics, not biology, so I thought I should challenge myself on a topic I don’t know much about.”
Kristen took first place at regionals and said after 10 years of participating in Concours, it was “awesome” to go to provincials.
“At this level, it’s more than just writing a killer speech. It’s no longer about just using the right pronoun or conjugating the verb correctly, it’s about engaging the audience.”
Provincial finalist Jessica Linenko is in Grade 7 in the late French immersion program at Harwood who chose the topic, “The lack of education for girls in Afghanistan.”
At provincials, judges throw a few questions at the students following their presentation.
“I was scared I would not understand what they were asking, but it was fine,” said Jessica, who plans on continuing with French immersion at Seaton in the fall.
Also in late French immersion at Harwood, Grade 6 student Rebecca Haberstock is another provincial finalist whose topic, “Vietnam,” was sparked by a trip she took there with her family. Then living in Thailand, they travelled to Vietnam to renew their visas.
“It was one of the coolest countries ever,” she said.
While doing her presentation was nerve-wracking, Rebecca said winning regionals gave her the confidence she needed to compete at provincials.
“I really enjoy taking part in this because you get more confident in speaking French and talking to people.”
While provincial finalist Katrina Pleasance did not begin French immersion until she was in Grade 5, she had no trouble at the provincials, where she was also named a finalist. The Seaton student chose “the effects of media on children” as her topic.
“I started taking drama in Grade 8 so have become more comfortable public speaking,” said Katrina. “It’s good to learn how to write speeches and present them to your peers. This year I tried to make my speech more interesting and to engage the judges a bit more.”
Grade 6 Beairsto student and provincial finalist Kristian Hovdebo chose “Why movies are better than books” as his topic and said he doesn’t really get nervous before a presentation.
“It’s fun to see how far you can get in the province,” he said, adding that The City of Ember series of books are in fact better than the films.