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Over the last few weeks we discussed a method for teaching debate to English learners. Debate is a valuable way to practice communicating. It can also bring long-lasting rewards outside the classroom, especially for people working with Western businesses.

Communicating Western-style

The main activity of debate is presenting one's opinion and supporting it with evidence, such as statistics or facts. It is a way of persuasive communication – of making someone believe what you are saying.

Charles Lebeau helped create the "Discover Debate" method. He says debate is important to understanding how people communicate in Western business. Successful debaters learn how to give their opinion, reasons and support.

"What we are trying to do is to develop a kind of thinking or approach to discussion and how to interact with someone else’s opinion, rather than brush their opinion aside and say, “well yes, but this is what I think."

Debate skills are also important in selling a product, he says. In that situation, the judges are the customers.

"So on Monday, for example, one company may come in and present their case to the customer and they'll make as strong a case as they can. On Tuesday, the next day, another company will come in and present their case to the customer. Usually the party that can present the strongest case wins."

He adds that people use persuasive communication in meetings, too. Three or four people may present ideas. Then, they attack or support each other's arguments.

"I think this way of approaching presenting opinions and responding to opinions, is very important for English speaking. In Japan, we don't really do that, we don't respond to a person point by point. In English-style meetings, we do do that and Japanese participants need to do that in an English style meeting in order to be successful."

Critical thinking

Debate also strengthens critical thinking. In other words, it helps students learn to ask questions and try to understand someone's reasons and evidence.

Mr. Lebeau points out that successful debaters learn to listen carefully to what other people are saying. Then, they look for the weak points in someone else's opinion or argument. He says debate teaches a systematic way of questioning.

Broadening one's perspective

Successful debaters also learn to think from someone else's point of view. Mr. Lebeau says debate can help broaden the mind.

"There's an expression in English: don't criticize another person before you have walked in their shoes. I think the wonderful thing about debate is, it puts us in another person's shoes."

For example, students in a debate might argue the topic "soccer is a better sport than baseball." A student may have to argue in favor of soccer, even if he or she does not really think soccer is better than baseball. But the student will have to explain why soccer is an interesting sport and present the viewpoint of soccer fans. The exercise will offer a way of thinking the student may not have normally had.

Debate can improve one's thinking and language so much that it brings benefits to a student's life and career. Professor Lebeau tells a story about teaching debate to new employees at Toshiba. One young woman came up and asked, "Do you remember me?" She had been his student in a Debate and Presentation class at her university. She said the class improved her English skills so much that she had been able to get a good job in the company.

She is living evidence of the benefits of learning to debate.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

persuasive - adj. able to cause people to do or believe something; able to persuade people

critical thinking - n. analyzing and evaluating an issue in order to form a judgment

broaden - v. to make something wider or more general

Now it's your turn. Do you have any experience with learning to debate? What did you find were the benefits? Write to us in the comments section.

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