Multilingual debate attracts 1000 students from across UK

Translators at the multilingual event

Nearly 1,000 pupils and students from schools and universities across the UK came to a very snowy Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh on 24 February to debate political apathy in the X-Factor generation and social networking sites at the Multilingual Debate 2010.

Heriot-Watt University's Multilingual Debate is an annual event that showcases the interpreting skills of undergraduate and postgraduate students. The event takes the form of a formal debate with two multilingual teams arguing for and against a motion of topical interest in a range of languages. The teams deliver their views in their various native languages (French, German, Spanish, English, Chinese, Arabic).

With events such as these, Heriot-Watt is playing an active part in disseminating the message that the acquisition of languages develops the kind of transferable skills in demand by international employers

Dr Maggie Sargeant, Course Director

The Multilingual Debate stimulates an interest among young people in the international politics and social issues of the modern world whilst also setting language acquisition in a realistic context. The success of this initiative won a European Languages award in 2006. There was such great demand for the Multilingual Debate that Heriot-Watt now runs two debates in order to allow as many participants to attend as possible.

The audience is mainly made up of pupils coming from Scottish and English secondary schools, but also university undergraduate students considering entering the interpreting profession, as well as government and local authority representatives. The audiences participated in the debate by listening to the arguments, putting questions to the speakers in the languages represented and voting on the motion. This year for the first time electronic voting was used and the audience were able to see clear changes in their opinions before the debate compared to after the debate.

Dr Maggie Sargeant, Course Director for the MSc Translating and Conference Interpeting programmes said, "Despite the continuing crisis in languages take-up in Scottish schools, the enthusiasm with which the audience participated in the event proves that there is still a lively interest in learning languages. With events such as these, Heriot-Watt is playing an active part in disseminating the message that the acquisition of languages develops the kind of transferable skills in demand by international employers".

Heriot-Watt University's Multilingual Debate attracts leading keynote speakers such as Wolfgang Mössinger, Consul General, Federal Republic of Germany; and Reto Renggli, Consul General, Switzerland, both of whom spoke at the 2010 debates.