Mini Debate Asia team development

Having recently returned from Debate Asia, I want to share with you my thoughts on where I would like to take this.  My DDs (13 & 16) and I had a wonderful time participating in Debate Asia at the B team level (16 & below basically).   Here are links to my blog entry: highlights of first debate & team video.  There were 32 teams across Asia but one team could not make it to Taiwan due to visa issue, I heard.  Our team of urgently formed group of 5 debaters (who could make it to Debate Asia) had one win, one tie, and one loss.  We did better than 14 teams out of 31 teams!

However, we got lucky this time.  Our team debaters have a wide range of Chinese proficiency.  Basically, only my DDs’ Chinese are proficient enough or close to proficient enough to be competitive for Debate Asia.  Intellect is not the issue and a non-issue for our team, as most of the other team members are gifted students.  One skipped a grade and takes above level classes still, so skipping two grades basically.  Another was the president of the student government in a large middle school.  Chinese proficiency is the issue.  The coach and I did a lot of background work to get the team “ready”.  We studied the scoring rules closely and place debaters at positions that maximize their strength.  The scoring rule is in our favor this year, since the strength of the arguments weighs one third to one half of the score, this year.

We may not be so lucky next time.

Now that 2019 Debate Asia is over, I am thinking of how to get ready for 2020 Debate Asia.  There are inherent difficulty in doing so at the local level due to insufficient talents, insufficient interest, insufficient coach, and insufficient means.  It is expensive to fly to Asia for the debate.  It is difficult to find enough teens who are proficient enough in Chinese and interested in debate.  The parents need to involved and interested also.  There are few Chinese debate coaches.

What is the solution?  Chinese Mini Asia Debate teams at the local level and US Debate Asia team at the regional or national level.

First, I would like to paint the “grand” picture in my mind and my arguments (ha ha) for doing it this way.  I am not a debate coach but I have learned quite a bit as a Chinese debate parents over the last few months.



What is team debate?

Team debate is a team event that advocates or rejects a position posed by the topic. The clash of ideas must be communicated in a manner persuasive to the judge.  The debate should:

  1. Display solid logic, lucid reasoning, and depth of analysis 
  2. Utilize evidence without being driven by it
  3. Present a clash of ideas by countering/refuting arguments of the opposing team (rebuttal) 
  4. Communicate ideas with clarity, organization, eloquence, and professional decorum


Why teach Chinese team debate?

Chinese team debate is an excellent way to teach Chinese at the next level, complementary to the usual Chinese instruction & CLE, and encompass everything that is important for language development: 

  1. (理解): Critical listening and comprehension skills in Chinese
  2. (表達): Verbalize ideas and arguments with clarity in Chinese
  3. (找資料):Research materials in English & Chinese
  4. (翻譯,整理):Organizing and writing sound arguments in English and then translating them back to Chinese or doing it in Chinese in the first place

Having the opportunity to compete in Debate Asia makes the learning process real, fun, urgent, and also useful for college application (least important, I think, but this helps greatly! ).  But other publicly verifiable debate competition format can work too.


Debate Asia Format

  1. Group A (16-18) & Group B (14-16 but no age minimum, so 16 & under) with Group C (13 and under) in the work for 2020
  2. Four debaters to a team at the minimum (many school teachers have close to a dozen students, with subteams for different topics)


Whom is Chinese team debate for?

Chinese team debate is intended for teens with Mandarin Chinese proficiency of third to fourth-grade level in China/Taiwan at the minimum, who can:

  1. Communicate activities of daily living, at least semi-fluently  
  2. Read Chinese teen/tween short stories or novels fluently.  Requiring phonetic assistance at times is acceptable. 
  3. Comfortable with read-aloud exercises
  4. Write or type in Chinese or be willing to learn to type in Chinese
  5. At this point, I would like to concentrate on 11-15 year olds who can go on to form Group B teams to compete in Debate Asia. The ages of our group B team was 12, 13, 14, 14, and 16 year olds.


Difficulty of teaching Chinese team debate with Debate Asia Format at the local level

  1. May not have enough people for each group at the local level
  2. May not have enough debaters in a group to form two opposing team at the local level
  3. May not have a Chinese debate coach


Solution around Debate Asia format

  1. Parent-driven Mini Debate Asia debate modeled after Public Forum debate (2 person team) at the local level that loosely mirrors the English counterpart
  2. Local, regional, or national level competitions in the US with parent judges (as often in the case of the regular public forum debate competition, which is my understanding)
  3. Formation of regional US or national US team for Debate Asia toward the end of the school year with regional or national coach acting as coach or advisor.  The topics are released at the end of May and competition is held in Asia at the end of July.  By that time, debaters ideally have been trained to be relatively independent in debate preparation with some parental assistance.  Through teleconference and various social media tools, the team can prepare for the debate over the summer under advicement of a coach, gather for two weeks before Debate Asia for intensive training with the coach, and then fly to Asia for the actual Debate Asia competition.


Public Forum Debate (English)

Wikipedia: “Public forum debate (PF) is a type of current events debate for teams of two which is the most widespread form of high school debate in the U.S. Individuals give short (2-4 minute) speeches that are interspersed with 3 minute “crossfire” sections, questions and answers between opposed debaters. The winner is determined by a judge who also serves as a referee (timing sections, penalizing incivility, etc).  The debate centers around advocating or rejecting a position, or “resolution”, which is a proposal of a potential solution to a current events issue.  Public forum is designed to be accessible to the average citizen.”

A PF debate lasts 33 minutes and can be broken down into the following:

  1. Team A: first speaker: opening speech:  4 minutes
  2. Team B: first speaker: opening speech: 4 minutes
  3. Crossfire (between first speakers): 3 minutes
  4. Team A: second speaker: rebuttal speech: 4 minutes
  5. Team B: second speaker: rebuttal speech: 4 minutes
  6. Crossfire (between second speakers): 3 minutes
  7. Team A: first speaker: summary:  2 minutes
  8. Team B: first speaker: summary: 2  minutes
  9. Grand crossfire (all speakers): 3 minutes
  10. Team A: second speaker: final focus: 2 minutes
  11. Team B: second speaker: final focus: 2 minutes


Proposed Mini Debate Asia format

Since Debate Asia and Public Forum have different formats, I try reworking PF debate to have features of Debate Asia. I propose the following Mini Debate Asia format for a two person team with Team A (A1 & A2 speakers) and Team B (B1 & B2 speakers) in a debate:

  1. Team A: Affirmative constructive 1正ㄧ申論:  A1: 3.5 minutes
  2. Team B: Cross examination 1 反二質詢: B2 asks A1 question: 2 minutes
  3. Team B: Negative constructive 1 反ㄧ申論: B1: 3.5 minutes
  4. Team A: Cross examination 2 正二質詢: A2 asks B1 questions: 2 minutes
  5. Team A:  Affirmative constructive 2 正二申論: A2: 3 minutes
  6. Team B: Cross examination 3 反ㄧ質詢: B1 asks A2 questions: 2 minutes
  7. Team B: Negative constructive 2 反二申論: B2: 3 minutes
  8. Team A: Cross examination 4 正ㄧ質詢: A1 asks B2 questions:2 minutes
  9. Team B: Negative short summary 反ㄧ小結: B1 short summary: 2 minutes
  10. Team A: Affirmative short summary 正ㄧ小結:A1 short summary: 2 minutes
  11. Crossfire (any speakers): 2 minutes each allotted to each side (4 minutes total)
  12. Team B: Negative final focus 反ㄧ總結: B2: 2.5 minutes
  13. Team A: Affirmative final focus 正ㄧ總結: A2 2.5 minutes

This works out to a grand total of 34 minutes for the whole debate, much shorter than Debate Asia with four person teams, with 13 minutes of constrictive and rebuttal speech, 8 minutes for four cross examinations, 4 minutes of short summaries, 4 minutes of cross fire, and 5 minutes of final focus. Each debater has on average 5.5 minutes of speech, 2 minutes of cross examination, and 1 minute of crossfire allotted or a total of 8.5 minutes.

Now, a speech of four minutes typically consists of 900 to 1,400 Chinese characters, depending on how fast you speak.  My DD # 2 was the one doing the opening speech at Debate Asia.  I gave her ~ 1,000-1,100 characters to read.  You can check out the video again. So, a speech of 3.5 minutes should have around 800-1,200 Chinese characters.

Here is a sample lesson plan for Public Forum debate (I only skim through it…).

Basically, if a Chinese proficient adult of at least ILR level 4 can find four kids in the ~ 11 to 15 age group that fit the requirement, you can run your own local Chinese PF group with two competing teams with the opportunity to compete in Debate Asia.  If you have six kids, then you can have three teams of two.  Then, for every topic, you can have three-way debates for which each team needs to debate both sides of the topic.  There are various ways to do this using technology but that’s the overall picture.

For me, Debate Asia and Chinese debate are the means to an end, but not the end.  The goal is to take our children’s Chinese proficiency to the next level, in a comprehensive and fun manner.  So, finer debate skills that require the expertise of a coach are the icing on the cake.   The meat of this whole exercise is to develop skill in independent research, critical thinking, structuring, and delivery of arguments for a topic, in Chinese.  And debate is just the method to make the process fun and pertinent.



Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

We can break down the whole process to piecemeal standard operating procedure and let our children tackle each part separately.  The following is one way to do it.  

Here are a few actual Debate Asia topics for 2019.  All but topic #3 are for group A (16-18)  debate.  (From what I gather, US debate topics are policy driven.  However, there are many policy topics that are sensitive to the government and country to which many Debate Asia participants belong.  So, those would NOT show up as potential debate topics in Debate Asia.  So, some topics may be more value judgement / driven and harder to pinpoint.)

  1. 強制疫苗接種法案利大於弊(正)/弊大於利(反)
  2. 最低工資保障對勞工權益利大於弊(正)/弊大於利(反).
  3. 遏止全球暖化更需要國際立法(正)/民眾覺醒(反)
  4. 推廣基改作物是人類的福音(正)/災難(反)

I randomly take topic #1 on the relative degree of benefit vs. detriment of mandatory vaccine requirement (benefit > detriment or detriment > benefit).  I strongly encourage the debaters to learn how to debate both sides for any topic.  Parents or an adult proficient in Chinese help each child according to his or her need.

  1. Go to a website such as where you can readily see the pros and cons for each side of the arguments, at least on the major points.  This removes the burden of independent research at this stage.
  2. Search the website for topic discussion in Chinese and English.  For example, Wikipedia.  Watch online videos on such topic discussion in English and Chinese.
  3. Copy & paste the arguments onto word processor and start working on how you want to phrase your own arguments.  If you do this step first in English, then translate it to Chinese at the end.
  4. Read aloud your own arguments, refine them, and keep practicing.
  5. Do the same thing for both sides of the debate.
  6. Get your two teams to start practice debating.

I can come up with a topic that each team works on for, say, two months at a time, under advisement of our coach. Then, teams can compete locally, regionally, or nationally depending on interest level. We can even use video conference to compete.

Part of the exercise is to be able to verbalize one’s argument, understand what the opponent is saying, and respond to the opponent’s argument. A winning argument needs a debate team proficient in Chinese to win. For example, my team wins the debate on the pro side. The other team can use my arguments against me, but if they are not as proficient in Chinese and can not deliver the messages effectively, they can still loose.


Graduated steps in preparation for Asia Debate

  1. Utilizing debate topics that have been worked out for public form already, with arguments and scripts already laid out and available online. This takes out the research part and the debaters just need to read up on the topics in English and Chinese, copy & paste, rework it to his/her liking, and translating them to Chinese. Both sides already know each side’s arguments but, to win the debate, a team needs to be able to deliver it effectively. To kick start the process, we can act as Debate Central and provides basic Affirmative and Negative constructive speech. The rebuttal speech, short summary, and final focus will all draw from the the constructive speech and any rebuttal each side presents.
  2. Use debate topics which warrant new research
  3. Debate Asia topics comes out late May and this is when one does more intensive training with the coach, online initially and then in person, say, two weeks before the competition.


So, I think that’s the main idea. Any takers?

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