Ballenas Secondary School student Ben Noel stands with Canadian Parents for French BC-Yukon president Diane Tijman, right, and vice president Greer Cummings, left, after being awarded first place in the provincial French public speaking competition. — Gaetan Nerincx

Top of the pecking order

Parksville student wins French public speaking competition with speech on chickens

When it comes to public speaking, Ben Noel is no chicken.

While the rest of us may have to imagine an audience in their underpants to get through the harrowing experience of speaking to a crowd, this Grade 8 Ballenas Secondary School student actually enjoys it.

Oh, and he’s pretty good at it, too. For the second year in a row, Noel has won the provincial Concours d’Art Oratoire, or French public speaking competition.

About 10,000 students from across the province competed this year, with 264 making it to the provincial finals.

Other SD 69 finalists were Grade 7 student Grace Blackthorne, and Grade 6 student Jordan Harvey.

Ben won 1st place in the Grade 8 category on May 6 at Simon Fraser University with his speech Aventures avec des poules, or adventures with chickens.

“I feel really, really happy overall,” Ben said of the award. “The fact that I got to go there and have that opportunity, I’m really glad I got to do that, regardless if I won or lost. I’m just happy I got to be there and write the speech and get to that point.”

Ben won the competition last year as a Grade 7 student with a speech on phobias, but this year elected to focus on a personal experience: his family’s backyard chicken flock.

The family has had the chickens for two years now, he said, and he’s had some interesting experiences with them. “You wouldn’t think it but they all have different personalities,” he said, including the rooster who routinely attacks him upon entering the coop. He used that and other stories as comedic elements in his speech, and wrote it in the hopes of encouraging others to consider getting backyard chickens of their own.

This was Ben’s third time participating in the French speaking competition, though he might not have had the opportunity to compete this year if not for SD 69’s French language advisor, Mme. Francine Frisson, he said.

Though the Concours d’Art Oratoire is part of the curriculum in elementary school, it’s not included in high school, said Ben.

“I wanted to have the chance to compete against other Grade 8 students from other districts in Vancouver so I wrote the speech on my own time,” he said. “Mme. Frisson agreed to include me in the presentations at EOES (Ecolé Oceanside Elementary School) so that I could potentially qualify for provincials. If that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have been able to go!”

Ben said he plans to write a speech next year as well and hopes to return to compete in the finals.

“Just the fact that I get to go there again would be enough for me,” he said. “But if I could win a third time in a row, that would definitely be quite an achievement for me. I would be really happy if that happened.”