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The Chinese Flagship Program Builds Bridges Through Debate

Students taking the debate course learn important skills and cultural attitudes to prepare them for life abroad.

Debates can be difficult. Tensions run high, and to seem convincing you have to say the right thing at the right time in the right way. This can prove a tall order for anyone to do in their native language, so imagine the difficulty of debating in a language you are learning!

For students in the Chinese Flagship Program debate course, this doesn't need to be imagined. The course, taught by visiting professor Sha-Sha Yang, centers around formal debates that happen throughout the semester. For each one, students with a high proficiency level in Chinese speaking debate one another on a predetermined topic.

These debate topics are designed to be relevant to Chinese current events and culture. The last topic was, “Does the internet bring people closer together or farther apart?” This topic has become more salient as internet influencers have become a bigger part of China’s economy in recent years.

Yang remarked, “From 2015 to the present, there have been many very famous internet celebrities. They promote the company's products and get them to sell. Lots of companies make a big profit, especially in recent years, because we all use the internet to work, study, and more people want to watch the internet celebrities.”

These kinds of topics are important for the students in the Chinese Flagship Program because they will be spending their capstone year living in China or Taiwan before they graduate.

“[The students] need to talk with the native speakers, not just about their major, but also about the current issues in China or in Taiwan. They also need to have their own cultural understanding,” Yang said.

This is the end goal of the debates—to prepare students learning Chinese to travel abroad and form relationships and networks.

“This course is especially designed for our advanced students, and our goal is to help them to become global professionals,” Yang said. “So, we think that if we have the debate, that will help them know how to use the Chinese to support their ideas, to refute others’ opinions, make hypotheses, and to give examples to have the statistics to support their ideas.”

The mission statement of the program says that it's designed to “create global professionals who can function culturally and linguistically in the professional Chinese world.” The students in this class will continue to refine relevant skills as they work through the Chinese Flagship Program and beyond.

For those interested in viewing the final debate, it will take place on April 14th at 11 a.m. The topic will be, “If mankind made a time machine, would you take it?” More information can be found on Instagram @byu.chinese.flagship.program.