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Emily is nation’s top talker

A girl who couldn’t speak English when she started school has won Australia’s premier public speaking competition.

A girl who couldn't speak English when she started school and cried when she had to speak in front of her primary class has won Australia's premier public speaking competition.

North Sydney Girls High School Year 12 student Emily Kim today won the National Final of the Plain English Speaking Award held in Melbourne.

Her prepared speech, The ‘P' word, examined why society is so reluctant to talk openly about menstruation. In the impromptu section the topic, ‘Ignorance is bliss', allowed Emily to highlight how our own privilege allows us to ignore the plight of those less fortunate.

The 18-year-old was representing NSW after taking out the State title last month and will now represent Australia at the International final in London in May next year.

Emily migrated to Australia from South Korea with her parents when she was five and had no knowledge of English when she started school.

"It was very difficult because I had to start school straight away. My mother was telling me one of the first things she had to teach me was how to say ‘bathroom' so I could ask to go to the toilet at school," Emily said.

She said her parents, who attended today's final, were probably more excited than she was about the win.

"For them it is quite surreal that a child they bought to Australia who couldn't speak enough English to ask to go to the bathroom at school will now represent Australia in public speaking," she said.

"It is very rewarding for them to know how far we have come as a family since we arrived 12 years ago."

Emily said she had only embraced public speaking and debating in Year 10 at North Sydney Girls High School with the encouragement and support of school principal David Tomlin.

"In primary school I cried in front of everyone during one of our public speaking competitions," she said.

Mr Tomlin said the school was "immensely proud of her achievement today as a great ambassador for public education".

"Emily embodies the spirit of this demanding public speaking competition. She recognises the power of language to cast light on everyday issues with a new focus and to bring about a change in social attitudes and understandings," he said.

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