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23 October 2019

Finding an Arabic voice through the power of debate

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Emma Chiu, who will participate in the first US Universities Arabic Debating Championship organized by QF member QatarDebate, explains how debating develops young people’s listening skills

You might not immediately think of Emma Chiu as being an Arabic speaker – but when you hear her speaking and discussing complex topics in the language, you will soon change your mind.

Chiu, a Taiwanese student studying philosophy at New York University, has been learning Arabic and developing her debating skills over the past few years. When she joined the university, she was attracted by the distinctive pronunciation of Arabic letters and words and inspired to study the language.

Taiwanese student Emma Chiu’s Arabic language skills have been enhanced through her participation in QatarDebate tournaments.

Chiu believes that debating is vital for the development of critical thinking skills and understanding other people’s perspectives.

And now she is about to participate in the first US Universities Arabic Debating Championship at Harvard University, which is organized by QatarDebate, a member of Qatar Foundation, and will take place from October 25-27.

Speaking about how her passion to learn Arabic took hold when she started studying in New York, Chiu said she was empowered to discover the language when she heard it for the first time in her life from her classmates. “After learning more about grammar and expanding my knowledge into Arabic culture, I felt that the Arabic language and culture were much deeper than I expected,” she said.

“My experience in the Middle East was very useful, especially my participation in the fifth International Universities Debating Championship in Doha [also organized by QatarDebate]. Learning Arabic helped me to discover more about literature and art in the Middle East, and what attracted me most to the Arabic language was its creative aspects.”

“Learning Arabic helped me to discover more about literature and art in the Middle East, and what attracted me most to the Arabic language was its creative aspects.”

Emma Chiu

Explaining some of the obstacles she faced while learning the language, Emma explained that a key challenge was Arabic grammar. "I usually can't memorize anything even in English, so it was difficult to memorize the grammar in Arabic at the beginning,” she says. “But after I learned the rules, Arabic became more understandable for me, and I started to enjoy it a lot".

Chiu believes that debating is the best way of practicing the Arabic language outside the classroom, because it has its own methodology and this means debaters have to be in a constant state of focus to frame arguments and analyze topics.

"As a philosophy student, I liked the experience of debating so much,” she says. “For me, debating for me is one of the most important ways of thinking and studying. I started debating in Arabic tournaments, and my skills were improved through my university's English debating program."

“For me, debating for me is one of the most important ways of thinking and studying.”

Emma Chiu

Speaking about her participation in previous debating tournaments organized by Qatar Debate Center, Emma says she has been impressed their competitive environment, and the opportunity they provide to learn Arabic.

“It’s important to be able to listen well, because it helps debaters to understand the ideas of others, and develops critical thinking skills,” she said. “Often, young people do not listen to ideas that they do not agree with. So I believe that debating is an excellent exercise for honing listening skills.

“A debate gives us more than one point of view on a particular topic, and makes us open to intellectual differences."

The US Universities Arabic Debating Championship will be hosted by the Arab Students Association, with 130 students and judges across 24 teams of Arabic speakers representing 23 American universities, including Harvard, New York, George Mason, Georgetown, and Princeton Universities.

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