If you had told Bryony that she would win both French speech competitions to become the overall champion for secondary schools in Hong Kong, she would have probably dismissed it as impossible.
‘Even though I attended the award ceremony on the 2nd of June and was physically given a trophy and certificate, I’m still at a loss for words,’ she said. ‘I still can’t believe it happened.’
Her victory capped off a great year of results for Sha Tin College, which saw sixty-three students participating in the 11th French Speech Competition in ten different categories. The competition was organised by the AFLE (Association Français Langue Étrangère or the Association of Teachers of French), the French Consulate in HK and Macau, and the French Teachers Association of HK and Macau.
After STC finished with four winners, six runner-ups, and one second runner-up, the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau invited two STC champions (Melanie Cheung Y11 and Bryony Watt Y10) to participate in a second competition called Le Grand Concours oratoire. To celebrate the French actor, director and writer Molière’s 400th anniversary, participants had to perform an extract from Molière l’Avare (The Miser) as Harpagon, the main character. Subsequently, Bryony went on to win that competition.
Watching her passionate performance, it is easy to see why Bryony became the overall champion. From her expression to impeccable pronunciation, her interpretation of a scene from Molière l’Avare is truly remarkable to watch. Bryony, however, stated that her win was a group effort. ‘We were given lots of support by our French teachers (Mr Burt, Ms Pope, Ms Pitarch and Ms Paraschivescu) on pronunciation and dramatic expression. Ms Paraschivescu even created a timetable with daily slots so we could memorise and perform the pieces in front of our teachers every break and lunchtime if we chose to do so.’
Indeed, the teachers’ efforts were part of a typical day’s work, according to Ms Paraschivescu, Head of European Languages at STC. ‘I am so fortunate to work with an amazing team of teachers; they are true professionals and wonderful human beings. After teaching French at STC for ten years, I still find students eager to learn about French culture and language with a great work ethic. Their efforts come to fruition with the French Speech Competition, leading students on a massive journey of learning, improving, and becoming more confident. Although we love to see students win, the most rewarding part of the job is seeing students develop their creativity, interpersonal skills, and language aptitude over time, being able to perform even under emotionally tense situations.’
Bryony also considered the French Speech Competition a time of growth and opportunity. Not only did she get to pursue her passion for French and performance, but she also enjoyed watching her peers go through their interpretations. ‘They used certain words, tones and emphasis in ways I’d never thought of,’ she exclaimed. ‘It was fascinating.’
The preparation process for the second competition, however, was not without difficulty. “I was initially quite stressed because I had to translate the extract myself, unlike when I translated my other performance piece Il pleure dans mon cœur, de Paul Verlaine (It rains in my heart by Paul Verlaine) in class,’ Bryony noted. ‘I only had a month to prepare, so I went through countless rounds of practising, receiving feedback and improving with Mr Burt and Ms Paraschivescu in only a third of the time previously available. After filming the final performance, I also had trouble processing and uploading it as a YouTube video, but it all worked out in the end.’
When asked about advice to participants looking to participate in the French competition, Bryony says it is crucial to be confident. ‘Even if you are not very confident in your French pronunciation or your French abilities and public speaking initially, this is an incredible opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. It’s also very beneficial to your French pronunciation because of the extensive rehearsals and feedback from the French teachers. Before this competition, my pronunciation was not good, and I had no idea how to link certain vowels and consonants together. After spending so much time reading the poem and understanding what it meant and the sounds I was meant to make in preparation for the competition, my pronunciation improved dramatically.’
Moreover, she considers volunteering to join and making a commitment equally important. ‘If you do not go to each rehearsal and put in as much effort as everyone else, you won’t be able to get as much out of the whole event. However, if you are committed and attend each rehearsal, you will feel proud and accomplished once you finish.’
After such stunning results in the French Speech Competitions, It is clear that French will only ever become more prevalent in STC. When asked about her vision for the school’s French community, Mrs Paraschivescu paused to think. ‘I have a dream.’ she said, ‘that the French community will become more visible, noticeable, and transdisciplinary. Not only will we continue to grow, but we will also hopefully become more well-known and be able to collaborate with other departments.’
Written by: Kadence Wong
Edited by: Sylvia Chan