Multilingual debates a success

Heriot-Watt University recently hosted their annual Multilingual Debates, which demonstrate languages in action as well as raise the profile of languages, in particular translating and interpreting for which the University is internationally renowned.

The Multilingual Debate is a true celebration of linguistic diversity

Dr Bernie O'Rourke, Coordinator, Multilingual Debates 2011

Over 700 people attended this year's event with the morning debate focusing on "This House believes that endangered languages should be kept alive at all costs"; and motion for the afternoon debate being "This House believes higher education should be funded from the public purse".

Organised by the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies, the Multilingual Debates have been running for over 30 years and showcase the interpreting skills of our undergraduate and postgraduate students. The Debates also stimulate an interest amongst young people in the international politics and social issues of the modern world whilst setting language acquisition in a realistic context. The success of our Multilingual Debates won us a European Languages Award in 2006.

Format of the Multilingual Debates

The event itself is formal debate with two multilingual teams who each argue for and against a motion of topical interest by delivering their respective arguments in their various native languages, which this year included French, German, Spanish, English, Gaelic and Chinese.

Student interpreters simultaneously interpret these views into a range of languages which the audience are then able to tune into via their headsets. This year the interpreted languages included Arabic, BSL, Chinese, English, French, Gaelic, German, Italian, Luxembourgish Spanish, and Slovene.

Audience participation

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 participate in the debate by listening to the arguments, putting questions to the speakers in the languages represented and voting on the motion both before and after the debate - hence allowing opinion before the debate to be compared to opinion after the debate.

Event Coordinator, Dr Bernie O'Rourke, said "The Multilingual Debate is a true celebration of linguistic diversity. The enthusiasm with which the audience participates in the debate year after year shows a lively interest in learning languages and understanding different cultures."

Heriot-Watt University's Multilingual Debate attracts leading keynote speakers such as Wolfgang Mössinger, Consul General, Federal Republic of Germany; and Pierre-Alain Coffiner, French Consul General, both of whom spoke at the 2011 debates.

About the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies

The Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies, part of the School of Management & Languages, is one of the leading centres for the teaching of translating and interpreting, and one of the few universities that provides specialist translating and interpreting degrees.

The Department excels in offering demanding yet relevant and rewarding languages courses which have been producing graduates with high quality communication skills for over 40 years. With a real focus on preparing students for employment our Languages graduates are highly sought after going on to work for international organisations such as the United Nations and the European Parliament.

Dr Maggie Sargeant, Programme Director for the MSc Translating & Conference Interpreting programmes, said: "With events such as the Multilingual Debates, the Department plays an active part in getting across the message to people that the acquisition of languages develops the kind of transferable skills much in demand by international employers."