Lasswade High School

Multilingual Debate at Heriot Watt University

Monday 29th April 2019

Convincing a room full of people to vote for you is one thing… but doing so in five different languages is quite another!

This year, the Modern Languages department was able to take all of the Higher French candidates on a trip to Heriot Watt university campus to watch the annual multilingual debate.  It proved to be very impressive and a well worthwhile day out.

The topic of the day was “single-use plastics should be banned completely”.  That covered everything from plastic sachets and food wrapping to disposable medical equipment: a complex topic in any language.  Speakers – made up of university lecturers and PhD students – presented their arguments in French, German, Spanish, English and Mandarin in turn.  Meanwhile, Heriot Watt language students sat in booths translating what was being said into English in real time: quite a feat!  The audience had headsets so that we could tune into the different translations.  The arguments were nuanced: single-use plastics play a key role in sanitation, hygiene and medicine, making these affordable in third world countries.  On the other hand, if alternative options were mass-produced, these would also come down in cost… but would this cause financial disasters, health problems, and deaths?

The audience was given the opportunity to participate through a question and answer session and through a vote.  One vote was taken before the debate, where the overwhelming majority voted in favour of banning single-use plastics.  The debate clearly had an impact, however: the final vote was a very narrow victory for the team against banning single-use plastics.   A real coup!

It was a great opportunity to see the study of languages at university level “in action” for our Higher students, and several left with Heriot Watt prospectuses… clearly feeling inspired!

I would also personally like to thank those who came on the trip.  They were some of the only school students in the room to take off their headphones to listen to the French without a translation, and their enthusiasm and exemplary conduct were commented on by several people that day.  You did yourselves and your school proud.

Looking forward to hearing what topics are in store for us next year…!

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