Imperial College London

"It's the passion that makes it happen" - prizewinners discuss contest success


Imperial finalist students Helen, Kailun, Anne; Ivan, Martha, Florin; and teachers, Senseis Aya, Yuki and Mariko.

As Horizons students triumph again at the Japanese Speech Contest for University Students, Prizewinners Helen and Kailun share their thoughts.

Imperial finalist students (L-R): Kailun, Helen, Anne; Ivan, Martha, Florin; teachers, Senseis Aya, Yuki and Mariko.

It's no secret that Imperial thrives at the Japanese Speech Contest for University Students, having won prizes at the event for 13 years running. 2021 was no different with Imperial students claiming the top prize and a runner up prize and having one group reach the group finals.

Imperial Contestants and Prize Winners 2021

Individual Presentation Category Winner 2021
Kailun Peng (3rd year, Maths with Statistics) “Not exactly your ‘China doll’!: living in a world of stereotypes”

Individual Presentation Category Runner Up 2021
Wei Shan (Helen) Tan (4th year, Material Science) “Mental Health and Us”

Group Presentation Category Finalists 2021
Shi Wing (Martha) Yeung (Biotechnology), Ivan Ereshchenko (Computing), Florin-Teodor Ruja (Computing) and Anne Katrin Soltow (Aeronautical Engineering) “Jolly good snow: Winter Holidays - Christmas & New Year”

  • Helen's Presentation

    Helen's Presentation

  • Helen with certificate
  • Kailun Presentation

    Kailun's Presentation

  • Kailun with certificate
  • Team Jolly Good Snow presentation

    Team Jolly Good Snow Presentation

  • Prizewinners and Sensei Yuki

    Prizewinners and Sensei Yuki

  • Team Imperial

Competing Online

Held on 6th March, the 16th Japanese Speech Contest for University Students was unique in that everything took place online: not only the Finals Day itself but all the coaching and practice sessions the students and teachers undertook in the lead up to the event. Meeting with Prize-winners Wei Shan (Helen) Tan and Kailun Peng after the event, we discussed their journey of learning Japanese, experience in the competition and thoughts about Imperial’s success.

For Helen, it was her last chance to enter the contest: “Graduating this year was my main motivation to enter. I’ve always wanted to, but have put it off: I wanted to have my more practice. Japanese intonation is something that you don’t really learn through classes alone but through specialised training. Yuki Sensei [Dr Yuki Tokumaru] really helped me with recordings, I listened and I practiced over and over.”

Kailun had some experience of the competition, having participated in the 2019 contest at Kings College London, being a finalist in the Group Presentation category “That was really fun and my first time ever speaking Japanese in public”. Being part of the audience and being able to see the range of contestants was a catalyst for Kailun: “I thought, I’ll challenge myself and try to do the individual presentation sometime later”. Comparing the two experiences, in-person and remotely, Kailun weighed up the pros and cons: “I’m not someone who is good as public speaking, so when I was doing the presentation at Kings College London I had stage fright and was really nervous. But it was a great experience. Online, it is a bit of a shame that you can’t see your audience but in terms of stage fright it really helped me a lot… I could feel a lot more relaxed.”

(Very) Individual Presentations

Both students chose highly topical subjects for their individual speeches, and were rewarded for their endeavour. Both drew on personal experience to make their topics relatable. Kailun discussed stereotypes, why we stereotype and what impact it has on people. “I closed my presentation looking at my own experience and my thoughts on stereotyping in the UK in a Chinese women’s perspective.”

Helen’s talk “Mental Health and Us”, took a specific angle: “I feel like the topic is very personal to me and was less about general knowledge of mental health but more what I’ve experienced and how I would like people to approach this topic.” To be able to convey this in another language and before graduating was personally significant. “I received an Email from BAJT President to say that the topic rang with him and that he was very touched by the topic and how I approached it. For me it was reassuring, feeling that I’m not alone in this. A great end to my final year.”

It was acknowledged that participating in an online version of the contest was not quite the same experience as participating in person. “It was a bit of shame not to be able to meet other contestants, studying Japanese at other universities,” said Kailun. “[In 2019] we chatted a bit and I met people who had similar interests to me, it was a really good opportunity to meet like-minded people. To be sat in our room with our laptop with no interaction at all… it was a little bit sad”.

What is the secret to Imperial’s continued success?

“It’s the passion that Imperial students have” says Kailun. “I have met a lot of people who are doing Horizons Japanese courses and they are very passionate about learning a language, some I would call true linguists. I think it’s that’s that passion that ultimately drives Imperial Japanese students to success in this speech contest.” Helen agreed, “It’s completely the passion, and Yuki Sensei too, she has put a lot into this”.

Yuki Sensei (Japanese Coordinator and the individual presentation coach, Dr Yuki Tokumaru) commended their work: “Kailun spent time preparing for and finalising her speech drafts because she did not want to compromise on the content of her speech in any way, and I admired her determination. Her care and efforts in reaching the heart of the audience paid off and won the first prize.”

“Helen’s speech was very personal, yet very relevant to all of us, and I was the first audience member (followed by many others) who was touched by her genuine message. She was deservedly awarded a special prize from the judges.”

“The presentation made by our Group Presentation Finalists, Team Jolly Good Snow, was fun and of a high standard, which clearly demonstrated their efforts and many practices.

“I would like to thank my colleagues, Ms Aya Takeda and Ms Mariko Smith, for coaching our Group Presentation finalists, as well as other teachers who got involved in this year’s contest. I am yet again very proud of the Team Imperial for their efforts and achievements.”

What advice would the prize-winners give to students considering entering the contest in future?

Helen: “If you want to enter the contest, don’t think about if you want to win the prizes. Think about the one thing that you really want to tell people, that’s going to be the thing that touches people’s hearts, and not anything else”.

Kailun: “You need to find a topic that you are most interested about so that you feel you’ve got a lot to say and your passion comes through. If you are considering the Group Presentation, apart from the topic, teamwork is really important so choose someone you have the same interest as. For the Individual Category: think more about the topic, what message you want to convey to your audience, not just introduce it. Presentation skills are so important, especially online you need it to be more engaging to stand out from other contestants. Plus a lot of hard work!”

About the Contest

The Japanese Speech Contest for University Students is organised by the British Association for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language (BATJ) and the Japan Foundation, London. The event presents an opportunity for students from the UK and Ireland to demonstrate their Japanese speaking skills.Imperial has entered students in the contest since 2003.



Cleo Bowen

Cleo Bowen
Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication