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Students Shine in French Public Speaking Contest

A group of St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) students put their French vocabulary skills to the test at a recent competition, offering them a valuable experiential learning experience outside of the classroom.

“The Concours d’art oratoire, hosted by Canadian Parents for French (CPF), is Canada’s largest annual French public speaking contest with thousands of students around the country participating in their respective cities and school boards,” says Dr. Caitlin Gaffney, French teacher at SMCS.

SMCS students attend French public speaking competition

The contest is open to students in Grades 9-12 who are enrolled in French courses and offers the opportunity to win monetary prizes and university scholarships at both the provincial and national finals.

“The goal of the contest is to celebrate students’ countless hours of hard work,” says Gaffney. “In particular, it aims to stimulate students’ interest in French learning, improve French speaking skills, and provide students with experience in French public speaking.”

Students can compete in the categories of core French, extended, immersion, or Francophone. For their speech, they can choose either a traditional format, where they prepare a topic and memorize their speech ahead of time, or an impromptu format, where they’ll receive a topic 15 minutes before speaking. Both formats require students to prepare a two-to-five-minute speech and respond to two questions from the judges.

“The most challenging part of the competition was getting over my nerves and delivering the speech,” says Nathan Girma Kesete, Grade 9, who participated in the core French category. “Doing an impromptu speech is a challenge, especially when it isn’t in my first language, but overcoming that fear gave me more than I could have gotten from just giving up.”

“For most people, public speaking is their biggest fear. Competitions like this are the best way to get over fears and become more resilient and confident,” says Jennifer Lee, French teacher at SMCS. “Le concours d’art oratoire encourages students to develop and enhance their reading and research skills, organizational skills, process writing, and oral expression.”

Gaffney and Lee helped students prepare for the competition by helping those in the traditional format with their pronunciation, articulation, pace, and eye contact, and assisting those in the impromptu format with improvising on the spot in front of their classmates.

SMCS students attend French public speaking competition

“My teachers had been preparing me since January for this competition, and they made sure that my speech was the best of the best,” says Jaden Garaboto, Grade 9, who also participated at the core French level. “They also held practice sessions every week for us to practice, and even judged our speeches along with some of the other French teachers at SMCS. A special thank you to Dr. Gaffney and Mme. Lee for being so helpful. I could not have gone as far without their amazing support.”

Four Grade 9 SMCS students and one Grade 10 competed in the recent competition under the core, immersion, and francophone categories, with two participating in the impromptu format and three in the traditional format.

“We encouraged students from Grades 9 to 12 to participate in this incredible experience outside of the classroom,” says Lee. “It is a great opportunity to demonstrate the relevancy and applicability of French language instruction to the real world.”

For Garaboto’s speech, he opted to compete in the traditional format and spoke about the use of artificial intelligence in schools, a topic that interests him and one that he wanted to learn more about.

“There were multiple reasons why I wanted to participate in this competition. One of the main reasons was that I wanted to showcase my speaking and pronunciation skills in French,” he says. “I also wanted to do it for the experience, to prepare me for future competitions similar to these.”

This year marks the first time SMCS has ever participated in Concours d’art oratoire, but it will be an ongoing opportunity for students in the future. Lee hopes that more senior students will opt to participate next year, especially with the possibility of earning university scholarships in the Grade 11 and 12 age groups.

“We couldn’t be prouder of our students. They won four out of the five categories we participated in,” says Lee, adding that the four students who advanced will attend the provincial finals at York University Glendon Campus on May 6, 2023.

“All our participants showcased what they have learned in their French language over the years,” she adds. “Their success demonstrates a commitment to excellence and a willingness to challenge themselves to reach new heights of achievement. We hope that their success will inspire more students to participate next year.”

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