Monday, November 17, 2008

IDEA Mandarin Training: Yang Ge's Report

Debate trainer Yang Ge helped translate curriculum and train at last week's Mandarin and English Debate Workshop at BFSU. Check out her report below, or visit Robert Trapp's page for the full report and copies of the curriculum here:

The International Debate Education Association (IDEA), in association with Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) has been involved in teaching English-language debate for the past three years. For the past two years, we have held workshops and tournaments in English. Since last year’s tournament and workshop at BFSU, IDEA has initiated a further move in debate education: Four—team British Parliamentary Debate training ---- in Mandarin.

Chinese Mandarin debaters, who already have a long fine tradition of debate, may find the new format hard to accept. Indeed, it is a pioneering and challenging move to introduce Western-style debate in Mandarin language. With this concern in mind, IDEA created a curriculum for Four-team debating and three facilitators (He Jingkai, Li Xi, and Yang Ge) prepared to teach a workshop on Four-team debate, also known as British Parliamentary style (BP) debate. Prior to the workshop, the three of us and others recorded a demonstration debate in Mandarin, The demonstration debate was used to introduce the workshop, which was followed by lectures and discussions of various topics ranging from rules and roles to refutation to constructing arguments for the proposition and opposition.

Li Xi began the training by explaining rules and roles of four-team debate while simultaneously playing the demonstration to the audience. The topic “China should legalize the marriage between the same sexes.” was a dashing one and the atmosphere was hilarious. The audience was composed mostly of veteran Mandarin debaters, and it was their first time to be engaged in this style of debate. Except for Tom Smithurst an Australian, majoring in Law in Beijing University and a former BP debater in Australia, all of the debaters were full of curiosity and surprise. Tom took it a good opportunity to practice Chinese, as well as debate here.
The first day’s exposure to BP filled the audience with doubts. For example, since every debater had 7 continuous minutes to speak, they were worried they couldn’t make full 7 minutes (traditional Mandarin debate involves free debating and each debater is assigned fewer minutes.) Since the Prime Minister bore the right and responsibility to define the motion for his own sake, the opposition seemed to lose the edge and advantage. Mandarin debate does not have this rule. Some felt puzzled about definition and policy-making. A few even suggested adjusting the format.

The following morning, He Jingkai described how to define a motion and construct a case for the proposition. His vivid lecture involved a lot of personal experience as a debater. The essence of four-team debate began to dawn on the audience: it provides teams with the opportunity to learn creative problem solving and think outside the box in the spirit of democracy, humanism, respect to the individual rights and freedom. With some exercises of practicing defining motions followed, they became more excited about BP. Many interactive questions centered on how to justify the value each team proposed.

With many doubts cleared away, my lecture on refutation became easier. I introduced the methods of refutation, and I focused on evaluation of a quality argument, how to connect evidence to a claim through logical reasoning. This kind of logical reasoning is not considered so important in our traditional Mandarin debate.

On the third day, my discussion of constructing argument for the opposition and Li Xi’s talk about “Extension creation” went very smoothly. She covered varieties of values and perspectives to analyze.

At the end of training we were happy to find debaters have been prepared to try on a full debate of BP. We set the topic “Zoos should be closed” and chose volunteers to engage in the debate. They showed great confidence and enthusiasm in debating although with slight traces of traditional debate. Tom was one of the 8 debaters. We had not been able to imagine how superb he was to debate in Mandarin.

I felt highly impressed and encouraged by the audience in our workshop. We formed new friendships with people who are definitely fast and enthusiastic learners, open-and-democratic-minded young college students, full of vitality and intelligence. It was such an amazing experience for me, and I look forward to the IDEA-BFSU tournament in December.

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