With the ACYA Victoria Bilingual Language Competition (BLC) accepting applications for 2016, Asia Options spoke with last year’s winners Maggie Milne and Nell Chan, to hear about their experiences and discuss how bilingual Victorians can put their Chinese language skills to the test in all aspects of university and life.

The BLC, hosted by Victoria’s Australia China Youth Association (ACYA), is a unique and new event in the Australia-China space. The first event was held just last year and brought Victoria’s ACYA chapters together to test the talent of their bilingual members.

ACYA VIC BLC
BLC 2015 Finalists

About the ACYA Victoria Bilingual Language Competition

The BLC was spearheaded by Monash University student Joslyn Ma with the aim of generating public recognition for Victorian Chinese-English bilinguals of all backgrounds. Competitors included local students who picked up Mandarin at university, international students starting degrees in Melbourne, and cross-cultural Victorians with one foot in China and one in Australia.

Competitors are sorted into two streams, intermediate and advanced, then put through their paces in a number of rounds. The first round requires participants to write two essays, one in Mandarin and one in English. The top five writers progress to the speech competition, in which competitors will be required to flip seamlessly between speeches in both languages.

To be eligible, you must be a tertiary student currently enrolled at a Victorian university. For Asia Options (AO) readers at a Victorian university, the BLC may be the perfect chance to hone your bilingual skills and get a grounding in Victoria’s Australia-China community.

Maggie Milne
Maggie in the speech round

Maggie Milne – Intermediate Level Winner

Briefly, how did you start learning Mandarin and how do you use your bilingual skills now?

I started learning Mandarin at five years old; I just did it because I’m half-Chinese and my Chinese mum told me to. When I was about seventeen I started to enjoy Chinese again and studied it in Year 12. I chose Chinese as my major in my undergraduate and now I study translation and interpretation in my master’s degree.

How did you prepare for the essay round?

I looked forward to the speaking round, but worried about my writing. For the essay round, the BLC guidelines vaguely said that the topics were on culture or Australian-Chinese relations. I wrote some practice essays in Chinese on related topics and got feedback from my Chinese teacher. Luckily there was an essay question similar to what I’d prepared for.

I didn’t really prepare for the English essay. I thought it would be the easier essay because I use English all the time, but it was actually the one I spent the most time on.

How did you prepare for the speech round?

The topics of our speeches were on the same topic as our essays, so my Chinese speech was about Chinese culture in today’s society, and my English speech was about being an Australian in China.

I wanted to approach the topics in a more personal way, because I think that’s what people relate to. For the speech round I started preparing right after I got the (totally unexpected) email saying I had made it into the second round. I’ve had bad experiences of pulling all nighters to prepare a speech, so I didn’t want it to happen this time. I started by changing my essays in to speeches; my goal was to learn the speeches by heart and use cue cards if I didn’t have enough time. I was also lucky to have great friends and my Chinese teacher (love Xu Laoshi!), who were willing to listen to my speeches and give feedback. Overall, preparing early gave me enough time to memorise the speeches and I’d recommend to others to start preparing as soon as possible.

What would you say to encourage someone to take part in the BLC, or to use their language skills in creative ways?

I think the BLC has made me more confident to speak Chinese. Previously, I was more confident with English public speaking, but now I would say I’m equally confident in both!

“I always used to think that my Chinese wasn’t good for any competition, but now I think it shouldn’t stop you from trying and entering the BLC, because you never know how you’ll go and what you might learn”

It’s never too late to use your language skills creatively or enter a competition like the BLC. I always used to think that my Chinese wasn’t good for any competition, but now I think it shouldn’t stop you from trying and entering the BLC, because you never know how you’ll go and what you might learn. I was also surprised by the opportunities the BLC gave us, not only having an audience for our speeches, but also radio interview opportunities, having our essays published, career networking, scholarships and more!

I’d recommend anyone interested in improving their Chinese to keep their eyes out for any competitions or events you can enter, or just ask your helpful Chinese teacher to point you in the right direction. Another thing that I loved about the BLC was all the people involved. The whole competition was well organised and well run; you really felt looked after by everyone. I also got to spend time with a great bunch of like-minded people, which really made it more than just a competition.

Nell with BLC External Vice President, Nathan Hang
Nell  Chan with BLC External Vice President, Nathan Hang

Nell Chan – Advanced Level Winner

How did you feel when you started studying in Australia and learning in a new language? How do you use your bilingual skills now?

I had studied in English for several years and had a fairly good foundation before moving to Australia. I didn’t find my initial time here particularly challenging because I could express myself and understand what was going on. However, I did struggle with the Australian accent and slang.

Now having been here for a few years my reading and vocabulary have improved, which has greatly helped my confidence to make new friends and speak in public. In fact, it’s actually my Chinese that has become a bit rusty! I now maintain it by reading Chinese literature, like poems, 成语 (chengyu, or set character phrases) and ancient Chinese.

I’m proficient at switching between the two languages. I use my skills to read in both, help people who speak only one of the two, and tutor those who want to learn.

How did you prepare for the essay round?

For the first round of the competition, which was a round of writing two essays in the two languages respectively in two and a half hours, I honestly did not prepare for anything else as I had no idea what kind of topic the essays would be about. The only preparation I did was probably the essay plans I outlined during the time limit. My Chinese essay was about my opinion on the ‘tiger mum’ phenomenon, while my English essay was on how Chinese immigrants settle into Australian society and culture. I brainstormed several ideas regarding those issues then structured them properly on paper.

How did you prepare for the speech round?

I was lucky to get into the second round which includes giving speeches to the public based on the essays I had written in the first round. I made a few amendments in my essays and started to let myself familiarise the whole story I would give.

“I would be lying to say that I was 100 per cent ready and not stressed at all. After I started my speeches though, I became relaxed enough and just gave my speeches as who I was”

I also practised several times speaking in front of my friends, which helped me calm my nerves. When I was actually standing in front of about 300 people, I would be lying to say that I was 100 per cent ready and not stressed at all. After I started my speeches though, I became relaxed enough and just gave my speeches as who I was.

Has your approach to language learning changed?

My approach to learning languages hasn’t altered dramatically after the competition, apart from increasing my appreciation of being bilingual. Also, I believe in the great potential of people who possess bilingual talents more deeply than ever.

What would you say to encourage someone to take part in the BLC, or to use their language skills in creative ways?

Firstly I would highly encourage people who are bilingual and are willing to challenge themselves to participate in this event or any similar event. As I stated before, bilingual abilities are not just simple abilities that should be taken for granted. Instead, more awareness and recognition of them should be raised. For those who are bilingual in both English and Chinese like I am, I would definitely say to go for it!

“Every individual has a different perspective in terms of acquiring a language or how to shift from one language to another”

The BLC is a really well-organised event and all the candidates are of high-standard. The organisers and the committee, who are involved in planning out the events, are really easy-going and talented people themselves. They may even end up becoming your friends for life!

Every individual has a different perspective in terms of acquiring a language or how to shift from one language to another. What matters the most at the end of the day is that these gifted individuals know exactly what they are after when learning and applying their languages in the way that they are most comfortable.

ACYA维州双语比赛

For more information

Listen to BLC founder Joslyn Ma’s interview SBS Radio in Mandarin and in Cantonese on how learning Chinese or English at any level deserves support and encouragement. To hear more about Nell and Maggie’s experience in the competition, listen to their interview on SBS Radio Mandarin. Finally, you can follow the ACYA VIC BLC on Facebook and by searching ACYA维州双语比赛 on WeChat, if you haven’t been convinced into competing, then keep your eyes open for how to make it into the audience.

Maggie studies a Masters of Interpreting and Translation at Monash University. She hopes to become an interpreter.

Nell is completing a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Marketing and Accounting. She enjoys reading a lot, and wishes to settle into a career that aims to help improve people’s life qualities.

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Will Breedon

Will graduated from Monash University with degrees in Economics and Arts (Mandarin) and studied at Soochow University as a Hamer Scholar.

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