Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Debating in English helps hone your power of persuasion
NUMATA Sadaaki  / Chairman, The English-Speaking Union of Japan

October 29, 2015
In order to vie on a par with self-assertive people from Western as well as emerging countries, we Japanese need the ability to engage in intellectual dialogue. We need first to have our own opinions. We also need not just linguistic skills but intelligence, insight and human charm to persuade our interlocutors through logic, reason, passion and humor.

In Western countries, debate has been widely practiced as an intellectual game designed to hone these skills. There are two kinds of debate: academic debate, where the motion is given months in advance and well-constructed and elaborate argumentation is required as in a court of law, and impromptu parliamentary debate, modeled after the British Parliament, where the motion is given immediately before the debate. The latter debate takes place between the Government and Opposition sides, and can be as much fun as playing a game.

Since its foundation in 1998, The English-Speaking Union of Japan (ESUJ) has been promoting parliamentary debate in English in Japan, working in close tandem with the English-Speaking Union in the United Kingdom known for its nearly 100-year long tradition of public speaking and debating education. 32 teams (two persons per team) will participate in the 18th annual ESUJ University Debating Competition to be held in Tokyo on the 3rd and 4th this month to engage in an exciting series of debates, with student champion debaters invited from the U.K. joining the judges.

To be successful in impromptu debate, you need not only English language skills but also logical thinking and broad enough common sense to argue either the proposition or opposition side of varied and wide-ranging motions such as whether the statute of limitation should be abolished or whether society should become more tolerant toward divorce. You are judged also for your presentation skills to appeal to the audience, such as eye control, gestures, hand motions, voice control and humor. This may seem to pose too high hurdles for Japanese to clear, but some Japanese students have done quite well in international competitions. Further, parliamentary debate has been spreading to high school students as well over the past few years.

The English-Speaking Union of Japan has also been hosting its annual Shakaijin (Adult) Debating Competition since 2002. The participants comprise a diverse group, including businesspersons from trading, financial, IT and other companies, civil servants, teachers/professors, medical doctors and so forth, ranging from young to old generations. The veterans of these competitions have found their debating experience useful in the real world. They have learned to identify problems by looking at a topic from various angles and finding solutions, and have developed a flexible mind through approaching a motion both from the proposition (government) and opposition (opposition party) points of view. Further, the guts, the sense of speed and the reflex nurtured through arguing under pressure make them “battle-ready” for tough business negotiations.

In parliamentary debate, the government and the opposition have to engage with each other. You have to respond to each of the points made by your opponent and clearly analyze and explain what will happen if a certain policy is implemented or not implemented. You need to follow the manners of a two-way dialogue between the speaker and the listener. If you end up just making “one-way” declarations, you cannot win. In such a process, you also need to try to see how things might look and what you might think if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes. In short, you need empathy. 
Impromptu debate in English is a highly effective means of not just improving English language skills but also nurturing appropriate powers of judgment, negotiation and persuasion. As such, I strongly recommend incorporating it into school curriculums. I also believe that it will be a highly useful tool for self-training for those who use English at the forefront of business transactions and negotiations.

Sadaaki Numata is former Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan and Canada. The article first appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun dated October 1st , 2015.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

沼田 貞昭  / 日本英語交流連盟会長

2015年 10月 29日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Debating in English helps hone your power of persuasion