Tucked away in her backpack, Milan Carter stores a thick notebook filled with Chinese words.
Milan, a fourth-grader at E.E. Waddell International Languages Academy, has learned 1,000 new Chinese words just this school year. And her studying has paid off, she said.
Milan recently won the third annual N.C. Chinese Speech Contest held May 5 at N.C. State’s SAS Auditorium. The contest is hosted by the Confucius Institute at N.C. State, a nonprofit educational center that focuses on enhancing Chinese intercultural understanding. Milan’s first-place finish also earned her $100.
“I was kind of shocked, but not really,” Milan said about her win. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got this in the bag.’ ”
At the speech competition, contestants were allotted three minutes to deliver an address in Chinese to a panel of judges. The judges represented Confucius Institute faculty, as well as Chinese teachers from across North Carolina.
To prepare for the competition, Milan said she wrote her speech in English, then translated it to Chinese. The two-page speech included details about herself, such as where she grew up and her extracurricular interests. After working with her Chinese teacher and tweaking details of her speech, she began to memorize.
Milan enlisted the help of her mom, Victoria Taylor, to listen.
“She really put in the hours,” Taylor said. “She was confident and calm.”
Milan also worked on her speech at My Chinese Treehouse, an afterschool Chinese language program she attends three times a week. And she consulted her Chinese teacher, Shoufen Jacobson, at Waddell.
“I am very proud of her winning the contest, but not surprised at all,” Jacobson said. “Her level of achievement in Chinese, her sense of Chinese language and Chinese culture, along with her charming personality make her hard not to win the contest.”
Contestants were also presented a question by the judges about Chinese culture, to which they had to respond in Chinese. Participants then had the option to present a three-minute talent showcase at the competition. Milan incorporated her love of dance into the competition by performing improvisational classical ballet.
“I was number nine in line, so I got to watch most of the other speeches,” Milan said. “I was excited, not nervous.”
Milan said she is no stranger to the language; she has studied it for six years. She began at age 4 with a Chinese tutor.
Also representing Waddell in the contest were Katie Beekman, who won second place, and Grace Ulloa and Athena He-DeMontaron, who tied for third.
To further students’ understanding of the language, Jacobson said she suggests immersion and visiting China, to accelerate their skills.
In the meantime, Milan said, her advice to students trying to learn a new language is: “Always listen to (the language) and try to read it, even though you don’t understand it (yet).”