[See the original Korean article here: https://www.voakorea.com/a/4274097.html]

North Korean Refugees Demonstrate English Skills in TNKR Biannual English Speech Contest

This article was originally published by V.O.A. News on February 28th, 2018.
It was translated for TNKR by Emily Skalovsky and edited by Shihwa Kim.


The TNKR Speech Contest in Seoul is a chance for North Korean refugees to show off the English they’ve learned over the past year. Hyun-jin Kim, Seoul correspondent, reports.

[Contest Recording] “Welcome to TNKR’s 7th English Speech contest…”

On the afternoon of the 24th, in the auditorium of a building near Namsan, Seoul.

The 7th Biannual English Speech contest was hosted here by Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), a private organization that provides free English education to North Korean refugees.

[Contest Recording] “Today’s special because it’s our 7th English Speech contest…”

North Korean refugees studying in TNKR’s English education program showed off the language skills they’ve been polishing over the past year at today’s speech contest. The theme of the contest was “My Little Big Heroes.”

[Contest Recording: Spring] “Today, I will talk about the two people that I respect as heroes…”

While explaining the difficulties she faced during the resettlement process in South Korea by not knowing English, one of the contestants, Spring, says that TNKR co-founders Casey Lartigue Jr. and Eunkoo Lee are her personal heroes.

One contestant named Ah-rang, who joined TNKR in 2017, says in her speech:

[Contest Recording: Ah-rang] “As time went by, I couldn’t even remember my mom’s face…”

While recounting memories of her grandparents who raised her, despite facing difficult circumstances, Ah-rang explains why they are her heroes. Just like how her grandfather and grandmother are her own heroes, Ah-rang wants to someday be a hero for someone else.

[Contest Recording: Ah-rang] “After I came to South Korea, my childhood dream changed…”

In English, Ah-rang confidently describes her hopes to one day become a biologist who develops new medicines in South Korea.

The TNKR English Speech Contest started in 2015 and is held twice a year. Contestants must give coherent speeches related to the contest theme in ten minutes or less, and captivating the audience is an important judging criteria.

Beau Miller, Director of Exchanges and Alumni at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and one of today’s judges, says that upon hearing the speeches, he was surprised by the contestants’ English abilities.

[Contest Recording: Beau Miller] “I think there are a lot of heroes in the room today. I think that’s a great theme. I’m really excited to be here. At the embassy, we recently reviewed a round of candidates for a scholarship to go pursue undergraduate studies… ”

Recently while reviewing applications from North Korean refugees who applied for study abroad programs coordinated by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, the application committee had a hard time understanding how the refugees had significantly improved their English skills in such a short amount of time. They now see that it was due largely to TNKR.

With TNKR’s help, the participants were not just able to improve their English, but also gained the confidence to present in front of a large audience.

Eun-hye Kim was born in Chongjin, a city in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea, and defected in 2010.

After the contest, she says, “Before applying to the contest, I thought, ‘Can I really do this? I’m not even a native English speaker…’ Even though I made mistakes during my speech today, I learned a lot about how to speak, write, and give speeches in English in front of an audience.”

Another contestant, Seong-cheol, says, “Yes, I feel like my English improved a lot. Now, I don’t feel as scared to talk to foreigners, and I’m making an effort to use English more often. I want to go to graduate school, and if possible I would also like to study abroad.”

Behind the impressive English skills of the contestants lies the efforts of 17 volunteer English teachers. These teachers are proud of the refugees who worked so hard under their guidance.

Adam Connor is an English teacher with TNKR.

[Contest Recording: Adam] “Extremely proud. I was probably more nervous than she was when she went out there. On the surface they’re learning English and there’s obviously numerous benefits…”

Adam says that learning English gives refugees many advantages, including adapting to various aspects of life in South Korea, such as college and classes, more easily. TNKR plays a significant role in helping these refugees.

Sarah Smith is also a volunteer English teacher and applauds the students for their work.

[Contest Recording: Sarah] “I’m so proud of him, I think he did a really good job…”

Sarah says she’s so impressed by all of the refugees who, despite their busy schedules, worked hard to improve their skills.

The Awards Ceremony

[Contest Recording] “In a moment, our judges will announce…”

Today’s Speech Contest winner is Jin-mi Kim. In her speech, she talked about her sister who sacrificed her own life to help Jin-mi escape from North Korea. Her sister was captured and sent to a North Korean concentration camp while crossing the China-Myanmar border. Jin-mi has not heard from her sister in the past seven years, a story that resonated with the audience.

[Contest Recording: Jin-mi] “My sister tried to come to South Korea as well…”

Jin-mi, who defected in April 2010, poured all her efforts into preparing for this speech contest, and says she’s pleased with the results.

[Contest Recording: Jin-mi] “I worked so hard and never missed my practice sessions, which were every two weeks.”

Jin-mi received a certificate of achievement and a cash prize of 1 million Korean won for winning the contest.

Hyun-jin Kim from VOA News.