When thinking of topics 12-year-olds are interested in, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda may not come to mind.
But for Sasha Zandieh — a Grade 6 student at Ecole John Stubbs Memorial School — being interested in the poet led to a third-place win in a province-wide French competition.
Zandieh competed in the Concours d’art oratoire, an event sponsored by the Canadian Parents for French that involves writing, memorizing and reciting a speech in French.
The event starts off at a classroom level, in which Zandieh placed first. He also placed first in the district-level competition which led him to provincials at Simon Fraser University in Surrey.
Jennifer Gibson, one of the vice principals at Ecole John Stubbs Memorial, said it’s a lot of work for students to have to research something and memorize it, but the efforts are worth it.
“It’s the thrill I think of being able to accomplish memorizing the work that they’ve done,” Gibson said.
Zandieh decided to research Pablo Neruda because his family had recently gone on vacation to Chile, where he learned about the poet.
“I found things we had in common … he was a big collector and I like collecting things too,” Zandieh said. “We got to know him through the museums we visited.”
The competition has very particular guidelines students have to follow. The speech must be a five-paragraph essay and include certain phrases in the first and last paragraphs. It also has to have transition words to link ideas and has to be between two to four minutes long.
Students that go over or under the time limit are penalized for it. Additionally, they cannot use props or gestures and can only use cue cards to guide them.
“It’s really just the art of speaking,” Gibson said. “It takes a lot of practice and poise.”
Zandieh said he practiced a lot before the event and memorized his speech so well that he didn’t need cue cards at provincials.
“The last couple of days I was like pedal to the metal,” Zandieh said.
Next year, Zandieh hopes to make it to provincials again. He said he’d like to start thinking about his new topic soon.
“We are very very proud of Sasha,” Gibson said. “We’re not surprised because he’s a very hard worker and has done a great job but we couldn’t be more proud of having our students go on to provincials.”