Debating in Chinese

  • Learning
Spencer Baron, Upper Division Chinese Teacher

In the wake of the shooting in Parkland and the many instances of school violence in our history, President Trump was reported suggesting that violence in the media – such as violent video games, movies and television – is one of the main forces driving real-world violence in American youth. Many of my students are gamers and this is an argument that has existed long before video games were invented. I heard some students talking about it outside of class, so I thought it would be interesting to learn about in Chinese, since we had just finished a new unit.

Many students think of language class as a place to acquire basic life skills in a new language, but I imagine not many of my students in Chinese 3 had thought they could have a political debate in their target language. I sifted through different media in Chinese and English. I couldn’t find any one article at the appropriate Chinese level for my students, so I wrote my own article in Chinese, taking facts from different articles to provide points for both sides of the argument. We then read the article in class and discussed it as a group in Chinese.

Debating in Chinese

Students likely surprised themselves at how much they were capable of in expressing their opinions about a topic we had never discussed in Chinese. After class, the students were tasked to do their own research and to record it in Chinese and internalize it for a formal debate in the following class. I also assigned sides for the debate, so that there would be a higher likelihood students would have to defend a side that they didn’t personally support.

When we arrived in class, we broke off into student-lead discussion and fact gathering for the purpose of assigning roles within their own respective sides. We had opening statements, multiple rebuttals, closing statements, and judges who were required to take notes the entire time and give a comprehensive reasoning why they casted their vote for either side.

The first opening statement began coldly with much inhibition from the students. They presented the facts in an accurate way for the other side, and I was very proud. But only after the rebuttals began did the students start to warm up and show their passion (genuine and feigned) for the side they were defending.

Debating in Chinese

This debate was likely the first debate any of these students had done in Chinese, or possibly in any second language. It was a strong lesson in reactive speaking. Students can often become dogmatic in preparation for presentational speaking in that they sometimes feel they can’t deviate from what they’ve prepared. A debate is specifically built against such tendencies and allows natural feelings and passion within speech to ignite.

Due to the sensitive nature of our debate, we had a five-minute discussion in English during which students could voice their true opinions and come to a new consensus about this topic. We all gave each other a big round of applause for the accomplishments made in class that day. It was an interesting and new experience for everyone involved.

  • 10th Grade
  • 9th Grade
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Upper Division
  • Upper Grades Program