I watched the contest to get listening practice, and I was delighted to hear the interesting speeches of each of the contestants who impressed the audience and judges with their Japanese skills.
Watching them, I was once again reminded of my experience in joining a Japanese speech contest in 2018. This was a life-changing event for me, as it convinced me to study Japanese beyond the basic level.
I was merely a beginner in Japanese at that time, so the odds were definitely against me. Still, I decided to join and challenge myself, and it turned out to be an amazing, memorable experience.
Even if you are still starting out in your Japanese studies, you CAN join a speech contest. You don’t have to be already fluent to participate. Rather, you can learn a lot from it and improve yourself to get one step closer to fluency!
The personal experience that I will share in this post can serve as your guide and inspiration if you do join a speech contest. Before I talk more about my story, let me introduce what the Kake Speech Contest is:
What is the Kake Speech Contest?
The Kake Speech Contest is an annual Japanese speech contest that is held in different countries in Asia and culminates in the grand finals at Okayama City, Japan.
The contest gives the participants an opportunity to deepen their appreciation of the Japanese language and culture as they express their thoughts in Japanese and learn from fellow participants how they perceive Japan.
The first Kake Speech Contest was held in 2011, on the 50th year that the Kake Educational Institution was established, but the Philippines was only included in the regional contests beginning 2014.
Other participating countries are China, Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Australia.
Who are eligible to join?
The regional contest in the Philippines is open to all current students of Nihongo Center Foundation (NCF) and the Philippine Institute of Japanese Language and Culture (PIJLC)*, regardless of level.
They should also be Filipino citizens who should not have lived in Japan for more than twelve (12) months.
*PIJLC is the institution that offers intermediate, advanced, and special Japanese classes, while NCF offers basic Japanese classes. Both are managed by the same organization and share the same campuses, resources, and faculty.
What are the rules for writing a speech?
The topic of the speech must be based on the year’s theme of the contest. This is unlike the JFM Nihongo Speech Contest where participants are free to write about any topic of preference.
The theme in the previous years are as follows:
- 2021 – A Challenge to the New Normal
- 2020 – What We Can Do Now-Overcoming Difficulties
- 2019 – What the Olympic Games Bring About
- 2018 – What Can I Do to Protect the Environment?
- 2017 – If Only One Wish Can Come True
- 2016 – My Greatest Treasure
- 2015 – My Message to the Future
- 2014 – The Japanese Language and Me
- 2013 – My Dream
- 2012 – The Pride in My Country
- 2011 – The Japan I Know
The length of the speech must be four (4) to five (5) minutes when delivered.
What are the criteria for judging?
Participants are evaluated by the contest judges under the following criteria:
- 30% – Content
- 10% – Expression (Delivery of speech)
- 5% – Pronunciation (Clarity)
- 5% – Grammar
Participants are highly advised to memorize their entire speeches, but they can occasionally glance at their printed copy of the speech. However, reading too long will result in scoring deductions.
How do you apply for the contest?
To join, you must send your speech entry in Word file, curriculum vitae (CV), and accomplished registration form to any of the e-mail addresses of the administration office of NCF:
When and where is the speech contest held?
The regional Kake Speech Contest is held annually at either the Manila or the Makati branch of NCF in the month of September.
The previous regional contests in the Philippines were held on the following dates:
- 2019 – September 14
- 2018 – September 22
- 2017 – September 16
- 2016 – September 10
- 2015 – September 19
The contest in the Philippines has been canceled since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, although other participating countries held the contest online. It will possibly resume when NCF reopens its campus and when it is deemed safe to continue with the event.
What kinds of prizes will the winners receive?
The three (3) winners will receive various prizes including but not limited to:
- Cash of up to Php10,000
- Certificate of Recognition
- Chance for a two-year scholarship or one-month tuition waiver at any of the three universities under Kake Educational Institution
The first-place winner will represent the Philippines in the grand finals at Okayama City as part of an all-expense-paid trip to Japan for five (5) days in November.
The 8th Kake Speech Contest Experience
In early August 2018, my teacher in Basic 2 encouraged our class to join the Kake Speech Contest which was still accepting speech entries during that time. The deadline for entries was delayed from July 28 to August 31.
Since the contest is open to all levels of Japanese proficiency, my teacher said that there should be nothing stopping us from participating. She further added that whether we win or lose, what ultimately matters is the experience that we build from it.
I didn’t feel comfortable at the thought of delivering a speech in front of an audience, even more so in Japanese. Plus, I barely knew enough Japanese to write a full-length composition. I wanted to skip out on the event and just watch my two friends who decided to participate.
However, my teacher kept on reminding me to join or asking me whether I changed my mind about it. Eventually, her persistence pushed through, and I reluctantly gave in to her request, much to her delight.
Writing the initial draft of the speech
The theme of the contest was “What Can I Do to Protect the Environment?”
With this theme, I brainstormed ideas that I could write about given my limited knowledge of Japanese. In the end, I decided to focus my speech on encouraging others to help in preserving the environment even with the smallest actions.
Despite such a simple topic, writing about it was a monumental task. I was still a beginner in Japanese at the time. I have just learned the negative form of verbs, which was part of Chapter 17 of Minna no Nihongo. To be able to use more expressions in my speech, I would need to go beyond this chapter.
First, I wrote down the outline of my speech in English. Yes, English. I described the content of the introduction and conclusion and enumerated key points in the main body of my speech.
Now that I had a clear idea about what I would be discussing in my speech, I skimmed through the succeeding chapters of Minna no Nihongo to identify grammar patterns that would work best with my ideas. I couldn’t study them in detail given the remaining time that I had, so there were a lot of times that I just followed my gut feeling to pick out useful expressions.
Using the content outline and the notes for the new grammar points that I chose, I began to write the speech itself in Japanese. Both tools served as my blueprint which immensely helped me in putting my ideas into words.
With my inexperience in Japanese, I couldn’t tell whether what I wrote was grammatically correct or whether it made any sense at all in Japanese. I would often take short breaks whenever my stress and frustration were already mounting.
I continued to write until I completed my draft of the speech. I made several revisions to reach this point, but I was painfully aware that it was littered with errors. Nevertheless, I knew that it was already the best that I could give.
Submission of the speech entry
Now that I had my draft of the speech, I submitted it to the administrative office, along with other document requirements, to complete my registration on August 23.
Two days later, a revised draft was returned to me through e-mail. My sloppy composition transformed into a clean and understandable piece of work after applying corrections in grammar and word choice. The hiragana/katakana version was also included for my reference in case I couldn’t read the kanji in the original text.
Amazed with the revision, I thought to myself, “Whoever cleaned up my work probably had a nightmare editing it!” I also wondered whether this person is a genius in interpreting poorly written Japanese.
In the same email, the administration informed me that one-on-one coaching is available with one of the top instructors at NCF who is a native Japanese (whom I shall call “Sensei” hereafter).
The coaching sessions were scheduled on the first two Saturdays of September, and each session was limited to only one hour. I chose the earlier date with a morning schedule.
Practice, practice, practice!
In the days leading to the one-on-one coaching session, I practiced A LOT. Again, I knew that I had to double my effort since I was aware of my shortcomings in the Japanese language.
In my self-practice sessions, I memorized my speech paragraph by paragraph. The revised speech contained some unfamiliar words and expressions, so they were tough for me to recite, much less remember. I had a rocky start with practice.
Miho, one of my Japanese friends, decided to assist me with practice. She recorded herself reciting my speech, and she sent her recordings to me through our online chat. Each recording covered one paragraph of the speech.
Using the recordings, I mimicked her pronunciation, speed, and rhythm. It was a huge challenge for me because I wasn’t accustomed to this level of spoken Japanese. I repeatedly recited my speech along with the recordings until I was satisfied with my performance.
Then, when I felt confident enough to recite all paragraphs in succession, I practiced my speech in its entirety. I repeated this several more times until I have fully memorized it.
Coaching session with a native Japanese instructor
On September 8, the day of my scheduled coaching session, I arrived early at the NCF Manila branch. I stayed for a while at the administrative assistant’s office until I was called for the session.
I stepped inside the room just beside the office. It was spacious, with tall bookshelves lining the walls and wooden tables and chairs filling most of the space in the room. Sensei beckoned me to come further inside and sit on a chair just in front of the teacher’s desk.
When I was comfortably seated, Sensei asked me my name, what class I was in, what my hobbies were, why I started learning Japanese, and other basic information about myself. It was my very first time to converse in Japanese with a native.
I felt nervous and scared, so I sheepishly responded in broken Japanese. He didn’t seem to mind, though, and he perfectly understood what I wanted to say to him. At this point, I realized that he was the one who did the revisions on my speech. He must be used to listening to beginners, I thought.
After the pleasantries, he asked me to recite my speech. Since it was just practice, he told me that reading my printed copy of my speech was acceptable.
I recited my speech, exactly how I practiced it at home. I was at the height of panic during this one-on-one session, so my mind was almost completely blank. I was speaking as if I was running on autopilot.
After I finished reading aloud my speech, there was a brief moment of silence. I was expecting to hear negative feedback, but surprisingly, Sensei’s face lit up and he praised me for an almost perfect performance.
Sensei noticed, however, that my speech was rather short. When he first revised my speech, he considered how fast I would deliver it given my basic level. Now that he heard me recite my piece, he said that he would help me adjust my speech to make it between four and five minutes in length.
Since he didn’t have much advice left for me, he asked me whether I had any questions about my revised speech. I only asked him one question, what 以上のこと (ijou no koto) meant, and he explained his answer so clearly that even an amateur like me would be able to understand.
It only took us less than half an hour for our practice session. I smiled and thanked Sensei again for helping me with my speech.
The final two weeks of practice
A few hours after my one-on-one coaching practice, Sensei sent his second revision of the speech. As he promised, he made it longer. That meant that I had to memorize and practice his additions in the remaining two weeks.
I actually had a lot of questions that I wanted to ask him during our coaching session, but I refrained from asking because I couldn’t handle speaking any more Japanese at that time. (Haha.) I decided to seek help from my Basic 2 teacher instead.
My teacher welcomed the request, and the two of us met at the open space of the condominium where she lived. I asked her all about the difficult parts of my speech and she explained them to me in plain Tagalog.
Next, she had me deliver my full speech. Given my shy personality, I couldn’t put in a lot of emotion nor make a lot of hand gestures. My teacher suggested simple actions that I could try, but I struggled with them. I was so awkward that there were a lot of times that we ended up laughing during our practice.
In the end, she advised me to act naturally when I speak in front of an audience. Then, she happily wished me luck for the event.
Performance on the day of the speech contest
Finally, it was time for the speech contest on September 22. All participants were asked to arrive at the venue which was the Makati branch of NCF by 12:30 pm. We were also required to wear business attire.
We had ample time before the actual event, which was scheduled to start at 2:00 pm. The administrative assistant called the attention of all eight contestants and gave us reminders, including the order in which we would present. After the briefing, we were seated at the right side of the podium.
While waiting, my two classmates and I talked with our fellow contestants. Most of them were already pursuing upper-basic and intermediate classes. Although I was already expecting that participants were far more experienced than I did, I still felt overwhelmed.
The event commenced with the opening remarks by the faculty manager of NCF. Thereafter, the three judges were introduced:
- Mr. Ken Nakamura, Director of the Japan Information and Culture Center (JICC) of the Embassy of Japan
- Ms. Hitomi Kohara, Department of International Affairs of the Kake Educational Institution
- Prof. Kenjiro Ogata, Academic Advisor of NCF-PIJLC
One by one, all the contestants stood on the glass podium at the front and delivered their speeches. One of my classmates was the first to present, and my other friend was the fifth.
As much as I would like to listen and understand their speeches, I couldn’t follow them very well. I could pick out a few words, but not nearly enough for me to comprehend even the gist. As funny as it may sound, I really wished there were subtitles…
Then came my turn. I was the second to the last. Bringing a copy of the speech was allowed, but during the entirety of the speech, I did not bother looking at it anymore. I practiced well enough to memorize everything, and I didn’t want to ruin my pace by glancing down at a piece of paper.
Thankfully, I managed to deliver my speech until the very end, so I breathed a sigh of relief. But when I remembered that I still had to thank everyone and bow to the audience, I stuttered terribly in saying “thank you.” Glad that wasn’t counted in the evaluation!
The final presenter was an N1 passer who had more than seven years of Japanese experience under her belt. She spoke with a fiery passion that could easily move the audience and the judges. Her pronunciation was perfect; her speed matched that of a native Japanese.
If I were to compare myself to her, it would be like comparing an ant to an elephant. A beginner like me couldn’t possibly hold a candle to an expert. But her performance greatly inspired me. She gave a masterclass on how to speak fluently in Japanese with confidence.
Now that all participants had their turn to deliver their speech, the judges convened at a nearby classroom to discuss their evaluations of the contestants, rank them in terms of performance and speech content, and choose the top three placers.
After about half an hour, the winners of the speech contest were announced. In third place was my classmate! She was amazing in her speech when she demonstrated her beautiful Japanese. Our friends who were in the audience cheered for her.
Then, for second place, my name was called! I was shocked and in doubt. Still, I walked to the front to receive my certificate. Ms. Kohara was saying something to me in Japanese as she handed me my certificate, but I didn’t understand anything. I just smiled awkwardly. (Subtitles, please!)
As for the first place, it was the final presenter who claimed the title. There was no doubt that she would win! With her level of performance, nobody could ever come close. It was well-deserved.
We were also given other prizes. As the second placer, I received an electronic Japanese dictionary and a cash prize of Php5,000. My friend who was in third place received a yukata set (with zori and obi), a happi coat, and a cash prize of Php3,000. All other participants were given notebooks and pens made in Japan as consolation prizes.
Realizations and learnings from the contest
The outcome of the speech contest was indeed unexpected. When I sent my speech entry, I was already expecting to fail. Certainly, I didn’t join to win, but I feared that I would make a fool of myself in front of everybody.
With what I experienced, it was actually the exact opposite. The people around me helped me all throughout. I was reminded that there’s nothing wrong in accepting your weaknesses and then seeking help from others especially when you need it.
Sensei meticulously reviewed and revised my speech. My Japanese friend Miho guided me with pronunciation. My Basic 2 teacher helped me polish my speech performance. Finally, my family attended the event for moral support. They have all been instrumental to my success.
However, more than the joy and sense of accomplishment, I was deeply frustrated. With each stage of my preparation, I strongly felt the limitations of my Japanese skills.
I wished I could write down my thoughts more freely, speak faster and naturally, read kanji easily without the aid of furigana, and fully comprehend what I hear in Japanese. How nice it would be if I could be as amazing as the first-place winner.
I began to reflect on my original motivation to study Japanese, which is to learn travel phrases. As I thought more about it, I realized that I have developed a desire to attain freedom and confidence in the Japanese language. I didn’t want to be trapped in the confines of beginner-level Japanese anymore.
After the event, I sent an email to Sensei to thank him once again for helping me succeed in the speech contest. In response, he congratulated me and encouraged me to continue studying Japanese until I can join his N1 class.
I wasn’t sure whether I could make it far enough to reach N1 proficiency, but what was clear was this: I wanted to become better in Japanese. And this new goal was all thanks to the Kake Speech Contest experience.
If you are a student of NCF or PIJLC and you would like to join the Kake Speech Contest, please wait for an announcement at the official website of The Philippines-Japan Society or at the Facebook page of NCF towards the end of May or early June.
Sensei actually became my mentor just six months after the speech contest. Since then, I have been studying Japanese under his guidance for JLPT N3 to N1 coverage.