Vive le Discours!

by Cam Culham, Junior Houseparent

Having worked in the boarding community as a Bolton house parent for nearly 19 years, one of the drawing cards to this unique gig is the international events. They are a chance to experience so many cultures and languages all in one milieu! Before moving here I lived in Quebec and France, and spoke mostly French, but in the span of time since those years, my French has became a bit rusty. Et alors…

I have had a wonderful “French-enriching” opportunity here at SMUS, however, and it has become one that I look forward to year after year. The French Public Speaking evening, at which a large number of Middle School students and a smaller number of Senior School students present a speech, happens every spring. Students address the audience entirely en français, with speeches that they have researched, written and rehearsed. The short talks are on topics of interest, bien sûr, to the presenter. They range from stories of comic platypuses to personal stories of overcoming a disease like cancer. And they are always très formidable and well-delivered. I have had the privilege of acting as one of the judges on a panel consisting of Francophones and Francophiles, who include parents, friends of SMUS, and educators.

“The student presenters have differing levels of ability in French, and for most of them French is an additional language rather than mother tongue. Yet what impresses me the most is their courage, passion, conviction and, très franchement, their panache!”

Of course, the student presenters have differing levels of ability in French, and for most of them French is an additional language rather than mother tongue. Yet what impresses me the most is their courage, passion, conviction and, très franchement, their panache! Once they have finished their two to five minute talk, we ask a question pertaining to their topic, and then from each session on that first round, one to three winners are selected to move on, with the others receiving a certificate of participation. On a follow-up night, the finalists all present the same speech a second time, and then the winners of that final round become our school representatives at the Provincial level. The event is held at the Surrey campus at SFU and is put on by Canadian Parents for French. Many win top awards at that event.

This is the fifth year SMUS has held this competition and it is the only independent school in Victoria that participates. In the first year, 30 students participated in Grades 6 to 8. It has grown each year and this week there were 140 students in Grades 6 to 11. More than 40 judges were required this year!

It is rewarding to be a part of this meaningful event and I am always delighted to be invited; Dariol Haydock, Assistant Director of the Middle School, reports that returning students often recall this as being a highlight of their time at their school, and speak of the confidence it has given them professionally. After all, any public speaking certainly has its challenges and hurdles, let alone one done in a foreign language!

At the heart of this special event is Middle School French teacher extraordinaire Mme Karen Oraas. The work and dedication she has brought to these evenings have ensured their success time and again. Karen has done an incredible job, tirelessly working to create this opportunity for the students, and to build these evenings into the well-oiled machine they are. It is an event from which students surely benefit, yet so do we the panelists gain from our involvement. A tip of the hat to dedicated parents, as well, who often attend as audience regardless of whether they understand their child’s presentations.

Tu nous manqueras Mme Oraas lors de ton départ, et merci de nous avoir laissé ce cadeau!

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  1. Bravo Madison! Je suis fière de t’avoir choisie, en tant que juge, et tu mérites vraiment ton titre de championne!

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