Stop worrying about your English when you are debating and just go for the win!

By Julie Moffat

No one is judging you on your grammar or how well you can speak English – as long as you know your motions, can present a good argument, and can speak with confidence

By Julie Moffat |

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If you go to a CMI school and you want to start debating in English, be like Hebe Pang Hin-kiu of Pentecostal School and keep a level head.

Picture this: you’re a student at a Chinese Medium Instruction (CMI) school. You like the challenges of learning and using English. You’ve been reading articles about debating in Young Post, and you’re thinking about becoming a debater – but you’re worried. How can you compete against students from English Medium Instruction (EMI) schools? What if the motions are too hard for you to understand? How do you go about preparing for a debate in English? How will debating affect your test and exam results?

What to do if the motions are too hard for you to understand

Debating develops teamwork. You are not on your own. Remember this. In the Hong Kong Secondary Schools Debating Competition (HKSSDC), the motions are usually related to something that has been in the news recently or over a long period of time. When you get the motion, you and your teammates should look at the whole motion, as well as in the individual words within the motion. What is the idea behind the motion? Are you being asked to support a change? To explain something new? Does the motion only apply to Hong Kong or does it have a wider application? Check the meanings of unfamiliar words – be prepared to use several dictionaries to make sure you fully understand any differences in the meanings – but remember that the debate is about the whole motion.

How to go about preparing for a debate in English

It doesn’t matter what team you’re on, you need to think about both sides of the motion. With your teammates, brainstorm all the possible points you can think of both for and against the motion. It won’t be a wasted effort: these may be points you will have to argue against later. Decide on the three or four points that are the most important, but don’t forget the rest. Then start your research.

The internet is a wonderful resource, but it’s not the only one. Use the experts around you – schools are full of experts on all sorts of subjects (we’re called teachers). If you have questions about a motion on artificial intelligence, go and speak to one of your IT teachers. If the motion relates to something you’ve studied in Liberal Studies, bring in the relevant notes and handouts. Wherever you get your information, remember to note where it came from. “A website said …” is not good enough. “According to the Hong Kong government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department website …” is a far more authoritative and checkable statement. “A newspaper report …” is rather vague and inexact. “A report in South China Morning Post in February this year stated …” is much more likely to be believed.

Once your research is done, and your team has decided on the team line and the order in which your case is to be made, then it is time to write and practise your speeches.

How debating will affect your test and exam results

This is a perfectly understandable question given Hong Kong’s very competitive education system. The answer is “Positively”. Debating builds confidence. Debating improves oral English. Debating improves your listening skills. Debating develops research skills. Debating even helps improve your compositions. Many of these skills are needed in a range of subjects, not just English. Provided you have a balance between your studies and your debating, your test and exam results should improve because of the skills and confidence debating gives you.

How can you compete against students from other schools – EMI or otherwise

More often than not, as a CMI student, you will be competing against students from other CMI schools, as the HKSSDC is organised according to the ability of the competitors. Many CMI students worry that their grammar isn’t good enough, but grammar doesn’t appear on any adjudication sheet I’ve ever seen. What matters is a well-structured team case, with evidence to support your points, good rebuttals, and engagement with the motion and the audience. No matter how well your opponents speak, if they haven’t got a logical, well-supported case, or if they can’t rebut your team’s points, they won’t win. Believe in yourself!

Let me finish by telling you the three final instructions I give my teams.

1 Do your best.

2 Have fun.

3 Win if you can.

If you can learn from debating and have fun while you are doing it, then you are a successful debater. You are a winner. Go for it!

To find out more about debating, visit or contact Hong Kong Secondary Schools Debating Competition Coordinator Stan Dyer, via [email protected]

Edited by Ginny Wong

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