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Posted on Sun, May 16, 2010 : 6:12 a.m.

Dexter High School student wins Michigan Japanese Speech Contest, heading to nationals

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

The Japanese teachers were all abuzz at last month’s Michigan 2010 Japanese Language Speech Contest because two of the nine finalists were from Dexter High School.

When did Dexter High School start a Japanese Language Program? The truth is that Dexter does not have a Japanese Language Program, but two of its determined students have found a way to pursue Japanese as their foreign language anyways—one studies with Kaori Ohara of Ohara Language Institute and one studies with Kayo Nakamura at Emerson School. Both schools are in Ann Arbor.

The really funny thing is that the two students did not even know each other. They met at the competition in Novi.

Congratulations to Julia Murphy of Dexter High School who won first place in the high school division of the Michigan 2010 Japanese Language Speech Contest. Out of 60 contestants and nine finalists, Julia spoke eloquently and persuasively—in Japanese—about formal and informal ways of speaking in Japanese and how changing the level of formality in language also affects people’s attitudes and characters. Julia has been studying Japanese since seventh grade with Kaori Ohara of Ohara Language Institute in Ann Arbor. She also participated in Ann Arbor’s Youth for Understanding student exchange program to Japan.

The big news since the competition is that Julia has just been notified that she has been accepted as one of the 15 participants in a nationwide speech contest in Los Angeles, which is taking place at the end of this month. If she wins again this time, she will be invited to go to Tokyo for the World Japanese Speech Contest.

Em Winfield, also from Dexter High School, and Miles Grofsorean of Community High School were among the nine high school division finalists in the same Michigan 2010 Japanese Language Speech Contest. They study Japanese with Kayo Nakamura at Emerson School in Ann Arbor.

In the university division, Alexander Nelson of Eastern Michigan University won first place with his speech, “Keigo: Japanese Polite Language.” Andrea Panger of Eastern Michigan University and Lawrence Gross of University of Michigan also were among the nine university division finalists.

While the judges were tabulating the scores, David and Lily Wu of Saline High School who study Japanese with Kaori Ohara at Ohara Language Institute entertained the assembly with a humorous skit in Japanese.

This competition was co-sponored by the Japan Business Society of Detroit, the Japanese Teachers’ Association of Michigan (JTAM), the Japan America Society of Detroit and Windsor, and the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit.

When I was studying French at my small all-girls Catholic high school, we could not even muster enough people to have a fourth-year French class. French felt so remote; the only time we ever heard it was during the Olympics. My classmates and I often got into trouble for bluffing--saying things with a French accent when we did not know the right answer--and hoping.

In contrast, I love to see how determined these students and teachers are to master another language, one outside of the “normal” French, Spanish, German (and maybe Latin) offered in most schools, and to think what it opens up for young people to be able to access not just another people’s conversations, but their literature, film, culture, history and hearts.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at