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Draper Journal

Corner Canyon student places third in national Chinese proficiency exam

Oct 21, 2020 11:22AM ● By Julie Slama

Corner Canyon High School senior McKay Larsen took third place in the national 13th annual Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Secondary School Students, which was held online this year. (Screenshot courtesy of Shelley Larsen)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It wasn’t the competition that McKay Larsen expected after months of preparation.

In first grade, Larsen began to learn Mandarin—the first class to begin learning through dual immersion classes—and the language he has studied every day since that first day. 

Now, as a Corner Canyon High senior, he had been invited to compete in the 13th annual Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Secondary School Students, that was held within 10 days of school starting this fall.

He studied, practiced, rehearsed and prepared for the proficiency competition all summer and was excited to interact with other high schoolers from the country in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the competition was moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a really cool experience, but it would have been a great opportunity to go and speak Chinese to my competitors and make those connections and speak with and network with those who were there, like the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in San Francisco, who co-sponsored it,” he said. 

Not competing in person didn’t diminish Larsen’s intensity in his preparations for the contest that judged his ability of a speech, to be able to answer questions and to demonstrate his ability in a cultural talent in front of six judges who represented schools and universities in both the United States and China.

To compete, Larsen had to be recommended last spring by a teacher, which he received from his University of Utah professor who has been teaching the bridge classes with dual immersion high school students. Larsen wasn’t a stranger to her—she had taught him in elementary school before last year. He also had helped with a dual immersion training for elementary and middle school. 

“My passion is Chinese, and I’ve loved helping with the program,” he said. “I help with Lone Peak Elementary students learning Chinese and am able to show them where they can go with learning it.”

After being recommended to compete, Larsen prepared a speech titled, “Taking Off Toward My Dream” about his experience in the dual immersion program, which he rehearsed and ran through in front of his teachers before submitting a written copy along with a videotape of him presenting it.

“I spent a lot of time working on it. Every day I’d go through my speech; I wanted it to be fluid. It really helped me to work on my Chinese,” he said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to go to China and speak, so I really wanted to polish my language skills.”

He learned he would be one of 11 finalists who would compete virtually Aug. 15, where at least 200 educators and officials would be watching and commenting. Larsen would have to wait as a random drawing put his turn ninth in the finalists.

“There was an opening ceremony and then, it was more than two hours into it before I gave my speech,” he remembered. “It was live. I answered three questions and was scored on my responses.”

For his cultural talent, Larsen sung a famous Chinese song which, when translated is called, ”My Future is not a Dream.” The classical song tied into the theme “Fly High with Chinese” and tells listeners not to give up on their dreams.

“It’s a very popular song and it was more impactful since everyone knew it,” he said. “I grew up singing and was in choir my freshman year and had taken voice lessons, but I spent a lot of time getting back into it. I struggled with the sound I wanted. I wanted to show my own voice in Chinese.”

As allowed, Larsen had decided to pre-record his vocal performance.

“The reaction on the live chat just blew up. Everyone was writing about how touching it was and there were very powerful, positive statements,” he said. “I think the competition would have been more nerve-wracking in person. It would have been cool to talk to the judges and officials. That would have been the most meaningful part of it.”

While he would have welcomed a first-place finish—which usually includes an invitation to compete in the world exam in China—Larsen finished third out of all the competitors across the nation. He will receive a certificate, which he plans to place near his Viking Scholar award in foreign language he earned as an eighth-grader at Draper Park Middle School.

Now, Larsen has switched gears as he finishes his senior year this year, which will include taking six Advanced Placement courses and swimming for his high school and hopes to win the Sterling Scholar award for languages. 

Larsen also plans to study in Chinese in college and currently is applying at colleges and universities. His ultimate goal is to own his own business or be part of a commercial or government business that trades with China so he can use his language skills. He’s also like to live in China to experience its culture.

The 4.0-GPA student said he wouldn’t trade the experience he had this summer.

“It really reinvigorated me and motivated me in what I want to do,” he said. 

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