What started out as an opportunity for extra credit in one of his BYU classes led to a month-long, all-expenses-paid trip to China: a “pretty sweet trophy and a very good scholarship.” BYU senior Josh Robinson entered a BYU competition as a chance to get extra credit and won. Then he advanced to the multi-national competition and nabbed the top spot there to earn a seat at the global contest, the Chinese Bridge Proficiency Competition.
Throughout the various stages of the competition, Robinson was graded on a three-minute oral presentation, a stand-up comedy routine, a vocal solo, multiple Q&A’s about another country’s culture and history and a theatrical play that was also a test. Much of that was broadcast on national television with millions of viewers. “It’s as much a TV show as it is a contest,” Robinson said.
He completed all of that and more, entirely in Chinese. But interestingly, Robinson is not a Chinese major. Now the stand-up comedy routine sounds more difficult, right? There is a lot of nuance and skill in being able to land a joke in a second language.
“Some of those Q&A’s were really fun. For example, they’d play a fast-paced pop song and ask questions about the lyrics,” Robinson said. “Or other questions were tests on challenging parts of Chinese language, with words that sound similar to each other. We also got quizzed on poetry, idioms and ancient stories.”
Robinson, who is planning to graduate in April, took third place out of 157 competitors from 122 countries at the global Chinese competition this summer. The event tested language proficiency, knowledge about China and Chinese cultural talents for college students whose first language is not Chinese.
“Only the winners of the regional contests were able to enter the competition in China and all of them have superb Chinese,” said BYU Asian and Near Eastern language professor ShuPei Wang. “It is an incredible feat to be able to take the top spot in the Americas. It is such a great honor for our school to be listed in the top three for the entire competition.”
BYU ranks third in the country for producing the most graduates with foreign language degrees. Nearly 65 percent of BYU students speak a second language, with 128 languages spoken on campus. Robinson took some Chinese courses in high school but said he was more proficient in Spanish. Then he served a Mandarin-speaking mission in Taiwan where he was able to improve his skills.
While working toward a minor in Chinese, he is majoring in statistics, with additional minors in math and computer science.
Robinson is a man of many interests. In addition to his main focuses in his academic career, he’s also interested in artificial intelligence, running, neuroscience, reading and linguistics, just to name a few.
“My academic superpower would be the ability or the desire to pick up new skills,” Robinson said. “Sometimes you learn the most when you’re pushing yourself, whether in academics or in life. It’s stressful and it’s time consuming, and maybe you’re losing some sleep, but you are certainly learning a lot faster than if you were simply reading a textbook or not putting yourself out there.”
When he’s not studying for his stats classes or the three minors, Robinson finds time to participate in various clubs on campus, such as the data science and Chinese clubs, and even serving as Vice President of Skill Development in the former.
Episodes from the TV show in China can be viewed online.