It could have been an impossible challenge: to memorize a Chinese poem and prepare to recite it aloud, in Chinese, in only two weeks, in competition against college students.
However, five students in Lisa Reed's private Chinese school were up for it, with good results.
Three of the junior high-age students placed in the 15th Annual BYU Chinese Speech Contest March 22. Tai Grey, 14, won best pronunciation; Ashleigh Hefner, 15, won second place overall in the beginning level; and Kierstin Dangerfield, 14, won best performance.
Reed, of Bountiful, was pleased with her students' performance, especially because of the short preparation period. "When they were preparing I said, 'I don't want you to just say the words because anyone can memorize. I want you to say it with feeling,"' she said.
"They didn't walk up there like most contestants did. They said it with feeling, and I feel that set them apart from other contestants."
Kierstin said getting the tones on the words right was one of the most difficult things.
"There's tones and, depending on how it sounds, it gives you a different word with each," she said. "You have to get your tones down. We had to practice our poem over and over again and work on it."
Tai said adding the emotion was difficult hurdle.
"We had to practice saying it with emotion so people would believe what we were saying. That was the thing I had the hardest time learning," he said.
Reed developed an appreciation for Chinese poetry while taking a class at the University of Utah. She hoped her students would feel the same passion. One thing that sets her students apart, she says, is that they're both teachers and students.
"If someone said something wrong, they're quick to correct. If I say something wrong, they usually correct me. I think it's a good factor with learning this language," Reed said. "As long as they're humble, I know they're going to go far."
Kierstin agrees. "If you get cocky, then you just think you're so much better than anyone else," she said. "If you don't get cocky (you know) there's always room for improvement."
Ashleigh said Chinese culture attracted her to learn the language.
"I like the culture, and you can't have a language without culture," she said. "(I also like) the rarity of how many people our age speak Chinese. There's always something to learn."
Grey, who has been studying Chinese for three years, said he wanted to study a language different than the traditional Spanish or French most people take in high school. Chinese culture has also been a draw for him.
"I think the culture is the most interesting because it's different than anything you can see here," he said.