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Regarding Natsumi Ando’s May 13 letter, “Put priority on debating skills“: I sympathize with Ando’s obvious frustration over the lack of opportunities for debate in class. There is nothing more exciting for a teacher than an engaged and highly motivated student, and Ando is absolutely right that one is unlikely to become good at debating if one is never given the chance to practice.

However, with regard to Ando’s view on fluency — “it is still more important to learn how to debate rather than how to speak ‘fluently” — I do believe we should be cautious about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Fluency cannot be separated from competent communication. Someone who is fluent will have faster processing skills and thus will hesitate less, either because of a more ready store of active vocabulary or because of more accurate control of what he or she wants to say.

Being proficient in the technique of debating will be worth less if the speaker is often misunderstood because of poor pronunciation and incorrect use of words and idioms. In English-language schools across the world, students practice the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. There is a good balance of input and output. That is lacking in most curricula in Japan.

I’m sure there would be nothing more refreshing for teachers in Japan than to hear a good debate in their classes. For those Japanese students who have opinions and wish to express them, pursuing the four skills along with fluency and clear pronunciation would go some way to equipping them with the tools necessary to engage in discussions on the global stage. And they should ask teachers to incorporate more debating time in their lessons.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

andrew ng

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