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Courtside Language Lessons to Chinese Speech Contest

David Burnett displays his prized basketball jersey

David Burnett displays his prized basketball jersey

Monday, April 17, 2017

David Burnett put Madison on his back this Saturday at the 16th Annual Midwest regional chinese speech contest. He’s a first year student at UW-Madison in third year Chinese who had a drive to win on his home turf.

The speech contest had over 60 participants coming from over 15 different universities. Students competed according to speaking ability and heritage status. A trip to China was awarded to the top two speakers in the Non-heritage Advanced High group. Nine UW-Madison students competed in the contest.

The speaking competition required students to perform a memorized speech on the theme of “Dreams Enlighten the Future” that they had spent months preparing followed by a brief talent portion.

We managed to catch up with one of the students, David Burnett, a student in third year Chinese at Madison, to learn more about the contest and why he studies Chinese.

“Initially my teachers were like, David, your Chinese is pretty good you should do the speech contest,” said Burnett.

Burnett’s speech focused on nine months he spent abroad during his junior year in high school. After winning a scholarship to study in China, the Madison native found himself in an international school in China. He realized quickly that he could spend his entire time in China without actually being a part of Chinese culture and took his learning outside -to the basketball court.

He bonded over the cultural pastime meeting other students and learning Chinese on the street. His love for the sport stretched even further encouraging him to get basketball magazines in Chinese and a jersey of one of his favorite players, Stephon Marbury. He would talk to the other kids playing and learn how to pronounce words in the tonal language, but also about the culture and shared  love of the sport.

The jersey and the nine-month exchange were the true heart of his speech. Marbury’s jersey represented a story of a bittersweet basketball career, but turned up with a move to Beijing and won three national championships in four years. Burnett bought the player’s jersey and wore it every day under his uniform as a reminder of motivation and inspiration.

With his speech and a short stand-up routine that started with, “now I’m going to perform a joke,” Burnett earned first place in his category. However, he wasn’t the only Madison student to walk away from the podium.

Chinese speech contest participants pose with judges and instructors

Chinese speech contest participants pose with judges and instructors

Alongside Burnett in first place was Courtney Stobbie and Jake Lee in the intermediate level, and Tucker Penney in the Advanced High Level. Second place Badger finishers were: Isaac Mades at the Novice level, Heather Brevard in the Intermediate level, Sunny Yang in also the intermediate level, Jiwon Kim in the Advanced High Level and also Tyler Ruzicka in the Advanced High Level.

Penney’s first place finish afforded him the opportunity to go to China as the Midwest representative for the International competition; however, he had to defer due to a conflict with his internship this summer. Instead, University of Minnesota’s Martin Miller, will replace Penney. Second place finisher Tyler Ruzicka will attend the finale as an observer. The trip is funded by the Chinese government.

Burnett said it would be a dream to return to China, so there’s hope for next year when he can compete in the Non-Heritage Advanced High group.

His time in China and his love of basketball keep him learning, but he knows that he’s far from perfect. He believes the best way to learn a language is to get angry, and he would know. He’s got quite a few under his belt: Japanese and Spanish are two others he’s learned.

“You feel so stupid and you’re angry at yourself and you’re like I feel so dumb, but you’re not. It’s part of learning a language. If you’re not overwhelmed, you’re not going to be motivated,” said David Burnett about languages.

Learning a language is hard, but is one of the most rewarding things. Burnett is excited to make his time at UW-Madison a global experience and wants to continue learning languages.

Story by Jen Wagman, Language Institute

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