Going far with words


LONDON awaits the two winners of the English Speaking Union (ESU) Malaysia’s Public Speaking Competition 2003, Mia Germain-Palencia and Jean Lee. Beating six other finalists at the grand final of the competition last week, Mia and Jean persuaded, charmed, provoked and even shocked the adjudicators and audience with their views on the topic Why youth is wasted on the young, to clinch the top two places.  

If public speaking can be likened to a journey, the speech the itinerary, and the audience the travel companions, taking part in the ESU competition has certainly been an enlightening experience for these teenagers. 

“I was astonished as I did not think I was going to win. I was so sure that Calvin Wong would win as I thought I could have done better,” shares Mia, 19. 

OFF TO LONDON: Jean is one of two grand finalists who will represent Malaysia at the ESU international competition next month.

Along with first runner-up Jean, 18, Mia will represent Malaysia in the International Public Speaking Competition in May. 

The annual competition was first held in 1981 by the ESU to encourage effective English and communication skills among young people in countries where English is not the first language.  

It also aims to create a platform for students from a variety of different countries and backgrounds to meet, exchange views and form friendships.  

In 1981, only three countries competed. Since then, however, the competition has expanded rapidly with up to 50 countries participating.  

This is the first time Malaysia is taking part in the competition. However, with the collaboration of The Star and the co-sponsorship of HSBC Malaysia, Malaysian participation is set to be an annual event. 

Participants in the competition will spend four days in London. This will give them a chance to not only get to know the other students better, but also to explore London and experience a slice of English life.  

An interesting itinerary has been planned, including trips to the theatre and Houses of Parliament, as well as workshops on debating and public speaking. This will culminate with a mock parliament where participants will be divided into newly created “political parties” and have to try to resolve a problem of national importance. 

Those interested in experiencing more of English life can opt for a “homestay” programme, where they will stay with members of the ESU and their families outside London.  

Mia, however, is afraid that she will be too nervous to enjoy the trip, “I am dreading it actually. With the competition looming, I don’t know if I will enjoy the sightseeing,” she quips with a smile. 

Yet, if there is anything that will hold Mia back, it wouldn't be nervousness. As the self-proclaimed opinionated teen proved in the grand final, she is one gutsy girl. In her speech, she “reprimanded” parents for pressuring their children in their studies.  

For a moment, it looked as if Mia had lost the competition when the adjudicators grilled her on her view that it is parents who have wasted their children's youth through their obsession with the paper chase.  

“For a minute I thought that maybe I should have been more careful so as not to offend anybody with my views. After the competition though, I was surprised when many parents came over to tell me that they agreed with my view, and that my arguments had gotten them thinking. 

“Now, I am glad that I went up and said what I really thought and not what I thought the judges wanted to hear,” she remarks. 

Mia, a part-time singer, has also represented her home state, Sabah, in the National Public Speaking Competition in 2000 and Malaysia in the Asia-Pacific Plain Speaking Competition in 2001. Currently studying at the International College of Music (ICOM), she hopes to explore her creativity in music further. 

Jean, meanwhile, is taking her A-Levels at Help Institute. Also an experienced public speaker, the former student of SM Damansara Jaya, Selangor, won the Tan Sri Datuk Wira Abdul Rahman Arshad Challenge Trophy National English Debate Competition in 2001 with her school, and was also chosen best speaker. 

Listing music and reading as her interests, Jean is thrilled about meeting new people when she goes to London. She is particularly excited as she dreams of doing medicine in the UK.” If I can get a scholarship, that is,” she adds. 

For now, the two are busy preparing, at least mentally, for the coming international competition.  

Jean hopes to pick up tips at the Champions Training Camp that will be held before they leave for the UK.  

Mia meanwhile plans to repeat her winning formula, “Although I will start researching earlier, I usually leave the drafting of my speech until the last minute because I work better under pressure. Usually I will form my arguments the night before. This is better, I think, as I’ll be saying what I think, and not reading aloud an essay I have written.”  

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