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Using Debate as a Strategy in Teaching Non-native English Language Speakers

Using Debate as a Strategy in Teaching Non-native English Language Speakers
on February, 21 2014

For non-native speakers learning the English language, the most important lesson that the teacher should impart is confidence. It is a lot easier for these learners to be proficient in English when they are given more opportunities to speak and express themselves. Though there are a lot of teaching strategies to enhance English proficiency, debate has become one of the most popular choices for many teachers.

Why Debate?

Using debate as a teaching strategy is like hitting many birds in one stone. First of all, it is a great way to improve the students’ speaking skills. It also allows them to do research and read more texts in English. During the process, they can widen their vocabulary too. Most of all, their critical thinking skills are enhanced. There are 4 major components in English proficiency. This includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Throughout the debating process, from the researching of issues, expressing arguments, listening to opponents and hearing teacher’s feedback, all 4 skills are given emphasis.

How to Get Students to Debate

Non-native speakers who are just starting to learn the language might not be enthusiastic about the idea of debating. Therefore, this strategy is only applicable to those who already have a basic understanding of the language. Let the students start with doing researches on controversial issues first. Don’t let them debate unless they have already understood the concept of debating. Spend time to explain the mechanics of debate and what they can possibly acquire when debating. Once they are ready, it is high time to ask them to engage in a semi-formal argumentation class. If they seem comfortable with exchanging ideas with each other already, a formal debate can already be done.

Do's and Don’ts in a Debate Class

• Let the students realize that the point of debating is not really to fight with each other. Invoke a competitive atmosphere, but in a healthy way. Let them understand that what they need to do is to develop their speaking skills and boost their confidence.

• Don’t let the opportunity pass without targeting other skills such as vocabulary building, ability to research and time management. English language classes are meant not just for practicing the language, but also to provide students with values they can use in real life.

• Never let the students feel that they are wrong. They are entitled to their own opinion and it has to be respected. Tell the students, that they can stand on what they think is right and no one should force them to change their beliefs.

• Be sensitive in choosing the topics for debate. You might encounter students who might feel like certain topics should not be discussed at all. This is true especially to those who have strong political and religious connections. Find a topic that is fun and everyone can relate to.

• Don’t forget to provide feedback. When giving this, make sure to hit not only their analysis of the subject matter. Make sure to point out how they make use of the language during the process. Correct some grammatical mistakes. Determine what words they mispronounced and what words they kept on repeating. This is important in order for them to improve on the next round.

Debate in an English language class can be fun and exciting. It might be quite difficult to get students to debate at first. When they have finally started to appreciate the class, it will become more meaningful.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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