Emphasizing the importance of intercultural relationships, local high school students competed in the Global Village Children and Youth Bilingual Speech Competition for the first time in Santa Clarita on Friday.
Students from Saugus High School partnered with foreign exchange students from China and presented their speeches in the other’s native language.
After a week of American and Chinese students building language skills and friendships, 25 groups of two competed in the speech competition on the theme “If I had a superpower.”
Topics ranged from the ability to finish homework quickly to having telepathy to turning rocks into diamonds, showcasing a broad range of interests among students.
Ying Fisher, the Chinese language teacher at Saugus High, said the sense of community that forms during the competition lasts long afterward and students end up making lifelong friends.
“When two groups who have totally different languages and cultures learn together, they practice their communication skills and build friendships,” Fisher said.
The younger students can get involved in learning another language and building relationships the better, according to Fisher.
By being on stage, students are also able to strengthen their speaking skills and boost their self-confidence, which they can use for the rest of their lives, she said.
“It’s really important because global communication and collaboration skills are now 21st century skills,” Fisher said.
Saugus High School has had a Chinese course available for 14 years and the William S. Hart Union High School District has programs available from introductory through Advanced Placement courses.
“If we’re going to have a future together, it starts with our youth,” Dave Lebarron, Director of Curriculum for the William S. Hart Union High School District said.
Lei Yang, General Manager for the North American Branch of Xinhua, a news organization, emphasized the ability for students to build social skills by interacting with those who are different from themselves.
“Languages are so beautiful and are keys to understanding other cultures,” Yang said. “Today’s competition is a platform for communication between cultures.”
Learning Chinese in the classroom setting is entirely different from getting to practice it with a native speaker, according to 11th grade Saugus student Jenna Bushton.
“You don’t always get the opportunity to talk with native Chinese speakers,” Bushton said. “I’m excited to see how I do in the competition.”
Alongside her partner, Bushton welcomed the audience onstage in both Chinese and English and discussed the impact of sharing cultures, faith and world views.
“Diplomatic relations between China and the United States are the most important in the world,” she said. “We can make contributions in our friendships.”
Esther Palomino, a 9th grader from Saugus High, has been learning Chinese for about a year, which is her third language after English and Spanish. Competing was a combination of nerve-wracking and wonderful, she said.
“It is really fun to share and exchange our cultures,” Palomino said. “Chinese is one of the most important languages someone can learn for life and business.”
This is the second year Joanna Veres, a Saugus High 11th grade student, has been speaking Chinese in school.
“They’re learning their second language and we’re learning ours,” Veres said.
The event also featured a group of elementary school aged students who danced and sang to songs about travel, geography and international relationships.