Debating in English When it’s your Second Language
A language barrier can prevent someone from understanding you in the simplest of situations leaving you frustrated, anxious, and sometimes even ready to give up. For Melody Li, a sophomore who moved to the U.S. from China to pursue a bachelor’s in Marine Science and Biology at the University of Miami, learning English as a second language gave her the opportunity to attend a college outside of her country, but left her feeling nervous conversing with peers.
“It was an easy choice,” Li said of selecting to attend UM. “It’s one of the best universities, the weather is perfect, they have a great football team, and the university promotes diversity.”
Although Li was taught how to write and speak in English, talking to native English-speakers was intimidating for reasons including pronunciation and trying to quickly coming up with the right words to express herself. This was a challenge that Li decided to take on and conquer.
During her freshman year, Li made friends with other students from China, sticking together and only speaking Mandarin. Li decided this wasn’t going to be her path here at UM. She saw a flier for the University of Miami Debate Team and felt the team would be a way to better her English-speaking skill.
Joining the debate team is where she met David Steinberg, director of the debate team and associate professor of professional practice. He encouraged her to push herself outside of her comfort zone and emboldened her to speak in front of crowds and to travel with the team. While traveling and building social skills on the debate team, Li broadened her horizons and hopes to be a head speaker on the team.
Li’s goal upon graduating is to be a marine scientist and credits the debate team for helping her solidify her research skills.
“A lot of research goes into building a proper argument. Digging through the material, finding pertinent facts, and being strong enough to deliver. The persuasion and research skills I am learning, I can prove other views based on my research, and dismiss other theories and views no one cares about,” said Li.
Li wants other students to experience her journey with the debate team and advises them to “not go to your usual clique, branch out. Don’t be shy, be brave.”