Fifty years of the Japanese Speech Contest: Veronica Taylor
Reflection: Veronica Taylor
PROFESSOR OF LAW AND REGULATION, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
SPEECH CONTEST FINALIST 1988 AND 1989, OPEN DIVISION
The real prize in this competition is having Japanese language take you places in your life that you can’t imagine.
When I think back to the Japanese language speech contest, I remember how proud I was to represent Monash University and how intimidating it was to speak in the Great Halls of the Australian National University and the University of Sydney. That was also the moment when I realised that having good Japanese wasn’t enough. Yes, you need to be fluent, but what really matters is having something significant to say, thinking about the audience, and really practising, so that you can be both serious and entertaining. I’m very grateful for that opportunity, and to The Japan Foundation and to all of the language teachers who made it possible.
What was really important to me was being in the company of other contestants who were, for the most part, really accomplished. It put my own Japanese language skills in perspective. That is really important when, as a young person, you were often praised extravagantly in Japan for having fairly basic language ability. And of course, I’d proceeded to the contest by performing well within my own high school and university cohorts. What the speech contest showed me was that it was possible to be truly fluent and literate in Japanese as a non-native speaker. Not winning the national competition was a good outcome – it made me work harder.
What I did gain from the contest was a degree of confidence speaking Japanese in a formal setting in public. If your life entwines with Japan, you need to do this surprisingly frequently. Being able to structure a speech, entertain an audience and practise to make the delivery smooth are basic professional skills in Japan – and in Australia – and this was good preparation for this.
The speech contest was my first introduction to The Japan Foundation. I didn’t know when I was 18 or 19 that I would have a long association with the Foundation. I haven’t been directly involved with the speech contest part of the Foundation’s activities, but I actually end up chairing its advisory board in the US for many years, and in Australia, partner with the Foundation on multiple projects through directing the ANU Japan Institute at the Australian National University. It just shows you that we can’t predict how those investments of time in students will bear fruit.
Japanese language has been a major driver for my career – I could never have become a specialist in Japanese commercial law without having developed very high level, technical Japanese. I was able to take up academic positions at Japanese universities and in the United States in part because I had a unique skillset that included being able to teach and research in Japanese. I now work on legal reform across Asia, but Japanese remains a way to link to other lawyers and academics who have also been connected to Japan – it adds a deep, additional layer to our relationships. I’m also very grateful that I’ve been able to support the Australia-Japan relationship through public diplomacy and my service on the Boards of the Australia-Japan Foundation and the Australia-Japan Business Cooperation Committee.
Japanese has been even more important in my personal life – my husband and my sister are also proud graduates of (what was then) the Japanese Department at Monash University; my brother-in-law is Japanese, and we have an extended network of friends who all studied Japanese. In many cases they remain very closely engaged with Japan. I also have a personal creative life in Japanese: I am a tea master in the Urasenke tradition and contribute to the development of art in Australia that draws inspiration from chadô.
One of the advantages of speech contests is that the preparation requires some attention to honorific or formal language and to diction and delivery. Those are all very important attributes of being able to ‘perform’ Japanese as a mature adult in a professional transnational setting. It is nerve-wracking to do this in a competition setting – but its nerve-wracking to do it in real life as well.
For the last five years I have coached the national team ‘Team Australia’ for the Intercollegiate Negotiation Competition held annually in Tokyo at Sophia University. The competition involves all of Japan’s top law schools, as well as those from Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Mongolia. In those five years, Team Australia has won the competition, been runner-up and placed third. In 2018 we were overall winners, but also won the prize for best arbitration performance in Japanese. Speaking as an advocate in court, or in an arbitration tribunal is all about composition, diction, delivery and confidence – precisely the skills that the speech contest fosters.
For students thinking about the contest
Preparing a speech in Japanese to deliver in front of a public audience is time-consuming and hard. But the time you put into this competition is a gift to your future self. Being able to deliver remarks in Japanese in a composed way, with real polish, is a skill that not many people have. If you stay the course and really sharpen your language skills, the professional and the personal rewards will be immense. The real prize in this competition is having Japanese language take you places in your life that you can’t imagine.
Veronica L. Taylor is Professor of Law and Regulation at the Australian National University (ANU) in the School of Regulation and Global Governance. Her work focusses on regulatory justice, rule of law and institutional reform, and corporate governance issues in Asia. Her international work as a development law reform advisor and designer has taken her to Afghanistan, China, Eurasia, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. Since 2018 she has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Tokyo, co-teaching the program she designed in South-East Asian Business Law. She is currently a seconded advisor to the Deregulation Taskforce in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Deputy Chair of the Australia-Japan Foundation (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) and a Director of the Foundation for Australia-Japan Studies and the Australia-Japan Business Cooperation Committee. She is also a Tea Master in the Urasenke tradition (Tea name 宗衣 Sôi) and the Executive Director of the non-profit Chadō Urasenke Tankōkai Melbourne. She received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Citation in 2017.