Le Concours d’art oratoire – by Livia Poljak
May has always been characterized as being the month of flowers (after the showers), filled with sunshine and warmth and… French language…?
For many of us French immersion, francophone and core French students, May is a time in which we can showcase our knowledge and abilities in French public speaking in the form of the French speech contest, better known as Concours d’art oratoire.
All across BC, French speaking students everywhere begin preparing for this contest, choosing topics that interest them, researching them and finally going through many a Petit Robert and Bescherelle before finally being able to present their findings to the class. Some are humorous, some informative while others give us something to think about later on; still others bring tears to our eyes. The choice of topic does not make much difference. It’s only the presentation and motivation of the student that matters.
Being a student of late immersion, I have been participating in Concours both in the district and provincial levels for seven years, and I can say from my personal experience that the very atmosphere of the classroom shifts dramatically during this exiting period of time. French class somehow becomes louder as students discuss their topics with one another. There is always something new and interesting to be learned, and new vocabulary words to be discovered.
I remember the first time I presented my Concours in grade 6. Although I was not a shy individual – I had been reciting poetry as entertainment since I was three – I found myself somewhat nervous about presenting something in another language, especially one that I had just begun studying. My nervousness increased even at the district level competition. After winning there though, the taste of victory – of having advanced so much in the French language – was something I would have the honour of relishing for the next six years.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up in front of an audience – in front of judges you know are recording your every word. However, during the individual speeches, non of that seemed to matter, ever. All that was important was that for three to five minutes each participant had the opportunity to be the centre of attention and the most important figure in the room. For five minutes, you are the best, and most importantly you are communicating fluently in a language that most of the time is not even your first – and everyone in the room understands you and reacts positively towards you. Talk about confidence booster!
This year was my last year as a participant in Concours d’art oratoire, and the pressure was on! In grade 12, the first place winners, along with receiving the Prix Trudeau, also get to compete in the National competition in Ottawa. As exited as I was, I also felt somewhat sad. I had worked so hard – everyone had in fact – for seven years, and now it would all be over. However, as I stood in front of everyone while I received the gold medal for winning first place (“Oh my gosh, is this really happening?”) I realized something. Regardless of whether I would have won or not, I was still bilingual, and that is a far greater prize that any first place medal could ever be. I was proud that I spoke both official languages of Canada fluently. The fact that I was able to prove it with Concours, was just the icing on my already perfect cake. As for next year’s competitors, remember to be proud of yourselves regardless of the outcomes. You’ve already achieved what some believe is the impossible, and no one can take that medal of honour away from you. Ever!
What makes Livia’s victories over the years particularly unique is that she spoke neither English nor French as a young child. Her family immigrated to Canada from the former Yugoslavia when Livia was four. Her impressive language résumé now includes English, Hungarian, Serbian and French.