Baylor students sweep top awards at national Japanese language competition

(Left to right): Professor Yoshiko Gaines, Evan Abella, Gabreel Elsawi, Salma Battisha and Dr. Yuko Prefume

By Randy Fiedler

Students from Baylor University’s Japanese language program swept the awards in a national competition designed to show off their skills.

J.LIVE (Japanese Learning Inspired Vision and Engagement) Talk is a Japanese language speech competition, inspired by TED Talks, that gives both college and high school students the chance to demonstrate their presentation skills and Japanese proficiency. During the final round of competition in November 2022 at George Washington University in Washington D.C., Baylor students Salma Battisha, Evan Abella and Gabreel Elsawi won all three awards in the College I category. It was the first time in the history of the competition that all three winners from the College I category came from the same school.

(L to R): Evan Abella, Salma Battisha and Gabreel Elsawi

Battisha, a sophomore computer science major who is minoring in Japanese, received the Gold Award. As the winner, she will receive a cash award of $300 as well as a scholarship to study in an eight-week summer intensive Japanese language course at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, complete with round-trip airfare and a stipend of $3,300.

Abella, a senior majoring in both linguistics and Spanish, received the Silver Award, which includes a cash prize of $200. Elsawi, a junior philosophy major minoring in Japanese, received the Bronze Award with its cash prize of $100.

“I was very moved by how our students delivered what was important for them in Japanese,” said Dr. Yuko Prefume, senior lecturer in Japanese in Baylor’s Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. “It just confirmed that language learning teaches the mind, and not just skills.”

Prefume received a Special Teacher’s Award for mentoring Battisha, the Gold Award winner, and was assisted in preparing the Baylor students for the competition by Yoshiko Gaines, senior lecturer in Japanese.

“Unlike a traditional speech contest, J.LIVE Talk emphasizes the presentation skills necessary for achieving effective communication in today’s world,” Prefume said. “It is meaningful because the students can choose any topic, but each presentation is expected to have a message. For example, one of the students made a speech about how anime helped him overcome his difficult time and made him a stronger person, despite some stereotypical views on anime. Another student made a presentation to convey that the definition of beauty is different for each of us, and beauty is all around us.”

Prefume said the students competing in J.LIVE Talk spent many hours preparing for their presentations. First, they had to decide on a topic and the message they wanted to convey. Then, each student created a short video of themselves speaking Japanese, which was submitted and used to evaluate their qualification and language proficiency levels.

“Once the semifinalists were chosen based on the initial submissions, they had to submit a one-minute video message in Japanese to a second panel of judges, describing the message they would like to convey at the J.LIVE Talk 2022 Final Round,” Prefume said. “Out of these semifinalists, only three finalists were chosen. Those finalists then had to prepare a PowerPoint presentation and speech for the final round at George Washington University.”

The final round of the competition can be viewed on YouTube.


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