Young Czechs speak out - in English

If you listen to debates in the Czech parliament, you will probably conclude that public speaking is not a Czech speciality. But things may be changing. A nationwide competition has just ended in which Czech secondary school pupils stood up and tested their rhetorical skills. To make things even more difficult, they were speaking not in their native Czech but in English. Radio Prague's David Vaughan went along to the final to meet the organizers and participants.

Eight finalists from secondary schools around the country gathered in Brno last week, and each was given five minutes to talk around the subject "Internet, Ideology and Information." And most had little difficulty overcoming their initial nervousness.

(What was it like, going up on stage and speaking to a packed hall?)

Female student: "Well, I found it very interesting, I found it very inspiring and it actually made me feel good."

Male student: "It was crazy, because many people tell me - you seem to be so natural, you seem to be so cool and not nervous - but what was happening in me, what I was going through inwardly, that nobody knows."

Female student: "It was interesting, new for me. I was excited. It was great."

The maturity and confidence of most of the students was striking. They were also amazingly diverse in the way they covered the subject. One spoke about the Internet as a weapon for international terrorists, another looked at Shakespeare in the age of the computer, and one student even turned to the other end of the world for her inspiration.

"I talked about Aborigines, because when I was in Australia they just fascinated me, their culture and their simple lifestyle which is so different from ours."

The competition was the brainchild of Brno schoolteacher, Ludmila Zabloudilova. She took her inspiration from Holland where she saw a similar competition, and decided that public speaking was something seriously neglected here in the Czech Republic.

"My own experience is that we've got excellent experts and clever people who know their subjects very well, they are not ready to present their work, because they were not taught to do that. We don't teach drama which is a pity, or rhetoric. That's why I've started organizing this competition because it helps the students a lot."

The overall winner was seventeen-year-old Ondrej Paclt from the city of Ostrava. His talk focused on the theme of discrimination against women.

"I overheard a dialogue between two ladies in the library, mentioning that one of them was not accepted for the workplace. I thought that everybody else would speak about the Internet and all very usual topics, so I thought it was original."

For the second year the competition is being coordinated with the English Speaking Union, an organization based in London that aims to enhance communication between English speakers around the world. As part of his first prize Ondrej will be travelling to London next month, where he will be representing the Czech Republic against over thirty other countries in the international final.

"I take it as a challenge and I try to do my best. I think that I'll just enjoy that."