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U.S. college students speak up in Mandarin

By Katherine Harbin (Xinhua)

14:56, May 07, 2012

CHICAGO, May 5 (Xinhua) -- It was all Mandarin Chinese all of the time as dozens of American college students spoke of their hopes and dreams during the Chinese Bridges Speech Competition at Northwestern University.

Crowded into campus classrooms Saturday with their Chinese teachers standing by to take photos, each student gave a five-minute presentation in Mandarin on topics ranging from family life to their Chinese dream.

One student shared how he first became interested in Chinese culture, saying "it all began with the Kung Fu movies I watched as a child."

"Once I discovered I was unable to fly like the martial arts heroes of the films, I decided studying the Chinese language would be the second best option for me to explore Chinese culture," he said.

Another student discussed how different China was from her expectations and marveled at how Shanghai's Pudong district seemed much like Las Vegas while the Puxi buildings across town bore many similarities to European styles.

One of the most memorable performances in the Midwest Division competition came from Dalian Urbonya, who took the top prize in the final Fourth Year Speaking Competition.

The contest was divided into four levels according to how many years students had studied the language. In addition to an individual speech, each participant also shared a Chinese cultural talent such as a song or dance.

Speaking at breakneck speed and in almost perfect tonal pronunciation, Urbonya impressed the judges both with her speaking skills and traditional Chinese dance.

After the competition, Urbonya told Xinhua that she was just as interested in China's culture as she was in its language. She said that she hoped to study Chinese dance and music more in the future.

Urbonya said she was greatly inspired by media personality Mark Henry Rowswell, a Canadian better known in China by his Chinese name of Dashan, when she watched his performance for the first time.

She hopes to one day be like Rowswell and plans to participate in the speech competition in China in July.

Alicia Montague-Keels, another student who won a gold medal in the speech competition, told Xinhua that she was actually inspired to study Chinese so that she could teach others.

After a few years of studying French, Montague-Keels switched to Chinese. She found the change so "fresh" and interesting that she moved to Beijing to study last summer.

"It was just an amazing experience, and every opportunity I get to go back China, whether it be two weeks or three months, I take advantage of that," Montague-Keels said.

Montague-Keels, set to graduate with a major in Chinese education, said her experience in learning mandarin has helped her recognize a long-held ambition.

"My ultimate lifetime goal is to open an immersion school focusing on critical need languages. I always wanted to be a teacher," Montague-Keels said.

Fifty-three students from a number of Midwestern universities including Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul, Purdue and the University of Wisconsin participated in the competition.

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