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Sophomore Arianna Griffith, left, and junior Vangelina Gonzalez, both of Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa, review Kanji cards during a break at the 17th annual DODDS Japan Foreign Language Festival. Fifty-nine students from mainland Japan competed in the one-day event at Misawa International Center last week.
Sophomore Arianna Griffith, left, and junior Vangelina Gonzalez, both of Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa, review Kanji cards during a break at the 17th annual DODDS Japan Foreign Language Festival. Fifty-nine students from mainland Japan competed in the one-day event at Misawa International Center last week. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Sophomore Arianna Griffith, left, and junior Vangelina Gonzalez, both of Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa, review Kanji cards during a break at the 17th annual DODDS Japan Foreign Language Festival. Fifty-nine students from mainland Japan competed in the one-day event at Misawa International Center last week.
Sophomore Arianna Griffith, left, and junior Vangelina Gonzalez, both of Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa, review Kanji cards during a break at the 17th annual DODDS Japan Foreign Language Festival. Fifty-nine students from mainland Japan competed in the one-day event at Misawa International Center last week. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Nikko Bautista, a freshman at Nile C. Kinnick High School at Yokosuka, recites a poem from memory in Japanese in front of a panel of judges at the 17th annual DODDS Japan Foreign Language Festival.
Nikko Bautista, a freshman at Nile C. Kinnick High School at Yokosuka, recites a poem from memory in Japanese in front of a panel of judges at the 17th annual DODDS Japan Foreign Language Festival. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA, Japan – Hola. Konnichiwa. Bonjour.

For one day, English was not the dominant language spoken by dozens of Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific students.

The 17th annual DODDS Japan Foreign Language Festival, held Thursday at the Misawa International Center, tested some of the best and brightest student linguists from mainland Japan.

The six DODDS schools participating could send only five students per language, in Japanese, French and Spanish.

Nikko Bautista, a freshman from Nile C. Kinnick High School at Yokosuka Naval Base who’s in his first year of Japanese study, said he tried out for the opportunity to travel to northern Japan and for the sheer challenge: “I wanted to see if I could do it.”

Students vied in the three categories for gold, silver and bronze medals: Answering random interview questions - or for more advanced students, reciting an essay on a prepared topic; memorizing and reading a poem (without notes); and writing.

And yes, no English was to be used in the actual competitions.

The festival is put on each year to promote language study and encourage students to continue on into college with their studies, said organizer Amy Sweeney, the Robert D. Edgren High School French teacher.

In Japan, the most popular languages among students are Japanese and Spanish, Sweeney said, noting that only three schools in mainland Japan offer French.

Answering questions from the judges – all native speakers of the language they represented – was most nerve-wracking, students said.

“It was definitely harder than when you talk with your friends because it’s so fast,” said Zama American High School sophomore Emily Ashby, a second-level Spanish student. “You’re kind of hoping that you’re answering the right questions.”

The 22 judges, plucked from the local Misawa community, were a mix of active-duty members, spouses and off-base residents.

Puerto Rico native Master Sgt. Miguel Montanez of the 35th Maintenance Group at Misawa, a Spanish language judge, gave the pupils high marks.

“For it being their second language, seeing how easy it has been for some of them to navigate through this, has been just amazing,” he said.

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