…rather two winners.
Last semester, sometime in October, my co-teacher at the gymnasium (high school) asked if I would be interested in judging the Olympics. I was really thrilled and shocked to be asked to judge the Olympics for the Czech Republic! What an honor! I mean, I am not even a citizen! Just kidding, I am not that naive, but I was confused as to why she wanted me to watch a bunch of high school students perform athletic events. She went on to explain that the Olympics were a language contest. I said that I was interested and was told that they would not take place until February.
January rolled around and the subject of the Olympics was brought forward again by my co-teacher. She said that they are taking place at the end of the month and that she needs to know whether I have four hours free on Wednesday or on Thursday… hem hem..excuse me? FOUR HOURS??? Already having committed myself, I resigned myself to a looong Wednesday. But hey, at least I would get out of a conversation class. NOPE. The school director wouldn’t allow my conversation class to be cancelled because that is how I am paid. So I was told I would be judging for four hours and then teaching a conversation class. Fun stuff.
The day of the Olympics arrived and I was in Ostrov by 8:40am, I normally don’t start there until 10:40. I had again wrongly assumed that I was going to be on a panel of 3 or 4 judges and just have to sit there and take notes. Again, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was going to be just me and my co-teacher. We would have to listen to 20 upper level English students give 5 minute talks about a randomly selected topic. After this speech, which they would have five minutes to prepare for and had a list of all possible topics, they were given a situational dialogue. I was to be the second party in the dialogues. Just because I am a native speaker doesn’t mean I can bark on command! I felt so used!
It was not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. I was able to meet some students that I wouldn’t normally have met and I got to hear some very interesting ideas on a variety of topics. I was also surprised by a few accents. I have gotten used to the Czech accent. “w”s and “v”s can sound the same and vowels are pronounced in a largely British way. Eastern European is what the accent is. Simple as that.
On of the students came in and drew the topic of fashion. She then went to discuss a bit of the history of fashion as well as social implications of fashion trends and models. She said this all in what too me was a very Mid-Western American accent. She sounded like someone I could run into in the streets of Springfield, IL. She had never been to an English speaking country. I have no idea how she came about that accent- or lack of? She ended up tying with another student for first place. The other student is in my conversation class and he had a much simpler topic of interests and likes (he has a normal Czech accent).
Another girl came into the room and as soon as she opened her mouth to introduce herself, I thought an Australian had walked in. That took me by even more surprise than the mid-western accent. This girl had also never been to an English speaking country. After her speech and dialogue I mentioned that she sounded Aussie and she said she had an Aussie skype buddy. I am impressed with how influential skype can be!
My co-teacher and I were nearly through the list of twenty when she stopped, read the next name on the list and rolled her eyes. I gave her an inquiring look and she began to tell me about Jan. He is a student that a week ago returned from being in the U.S. She is surprised I had not seen him, met him, or heard of him because all that week he was wearing cowboy boots, a gallon hat and raving about the United States. I assumed that he must have been in the US for a year or so to be so enthralled. He had only been in the US for a month. He had spent the month traveling from the East to West coast. Ok, seemed a bit exaggerated. Oh no. Not at all exaggerated. Jan walked into the room wearing black cowboy boots, skinny jeans with a tucked in white t-shirt and a belt with an American flag buckle the size of a wallet. He sat down, leaned back, splayed his legs and said “I’m John. I’m a Republican.” It took all of my ability as a human being to not laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. He continued his pre-speech tirade with how he was a “Bush man” and he didn’t like all this “Obama business”. He also felt like he “should have been born a Texan”.
Anyway, his topic was the sports and games and he did not say anything of particular interest, except that he liked how American’s did anything to win and he was upset about the Lance Armstrong thing, nor was his English all that amazing. He did tie for second place. Boy was he not happy with that! He was pacing and biting his nails waiting for my co-teacher and I to total the points and announce a winner. When we had finally finished it, we found him waiting outside the door and told him he would have won a silver had it been the true Olympics. He bowed his head and put away his American flag. That’s right. He had brought and American flag with him to drape around his shoulders if he had gotten first place. Cocky much?
The Olympics took about 4 hours and I did not end up having to teach the conversation lesson. Yay for that at least!