Greenhorn team wins national debate competition

Proud winners: (From left) Chan, Law and Eu showing their trophies. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

JOHOR BARU: Despite being a year old, a debate team from a Chinese independent school here has beaten 40 other institutions to clinch the top prize at the Malaysia National Schools Debating Championship in Kuala Lumpur.

The victory was also unexpected because, in last year’s competition, Foon Yew High School Seri Alam was eliminated in the preliminary round, said Law Wei Hao, the team’s second speaker.

“This time around, we did not place high hopes on ourselves. We just wanted to do our best and learn as much as we could by watching the other teams,” he said of the competition in May.

The victory was even more satisfying for Law personally, as he was crowned the final round’s best speaker, despite his tendency to stutter.

Law and his colleagues, first speaker Eu Zhuo Li and third speaker Chan Xin Yi, defeated SMK Seri Hartamas from Kuala Lumpur after debating the topic, “This house regrets the narrative that a woman can have it all”.

Law said they were nervous and intimidated by some of their opponents throughout the two-day competition, as they thought the other teams were more experienced and fluent in English.

“We did not expect to finish in first place as we were eliminated in the preliminary round of the same competition last year.”

At the start of each round, teams are given 30 minutes to prepare their speeches on topics that revolve around social, educational, justice and international issues.

“I think our team’s shared interest in current affairs gave us some advantage, as we were able to present solid facts and come up with strong arguments in our speeches,” Law said.

“It is actually part of our daily practice and training to look out for interesting topics to discuss and debate among ourselves,” he said, adding that all three team members are in Senior 2, which is the equivalent of Form Five.

Law attributed his strong performance and his success in overcoming his stuttering to constant and consistent practice.

“I frequently recorded myself giving seven-minute speeches, and I would rewatch the footage to spot mistakes and areas in which I could improve.

“This has made me more fluent and has improved my body language,” he said, adding that his teachers also saw improvements in his class presentations after participating in the debate team.

His teammate Chan said her love for online gaming helped to improve her English, as she uses it to communicate with gamers from different countries.

“My mother, who works at a bank, will also have casual debates with me at home to help me understand an issue better,” she said, adding that she hopes to study law or psychology.

Although he is more reserved compared to his colleagues, the team’s first speaker, Eu, found confidence in being on stage when he debated.

“My mum has always encouraged me to learn English and insists that I speak it at home or risk having my allowance cut,” he quipped.

“I know that vocabulary is not my strength, so I usually do more research and read more. I also debate with an artificial intelligence chatbot to improve myself,” he added.

The team’s coach and English teacher, Sim How Sian, said the team was only formed in May last year.

“I put forth the idea of starting an English debate team, and the school immediately jumped on board and gave their support,” he said, adding that an audition was held to select two teams of three students, one of which went on to win the national competition.

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