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English event touts substance, not perfection

The Japan News

Debaters present arguments at the grand final debate in Tokyo on Sunday.

The Japan NewsThe English-Speaking Union of Japan (ESUJ) held an open symposium titled “Using English to Meet Challenges in the World” at the International House of Japan in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday. The symposium covered practical approaches for Japanese to more comfortably speak English in global settings.

The keynote speaker, Yasushi Akashi, vice chairman of the ESUJ and former United Nations undersecretary general, emphasized that the most crucial element in conversation and negotiation is not pronunciation but “content and substance.”

According to Akashi, English has become the lingua franca — a common language for speakers whose native languages are different — of today’s world. He cautioned, however, that “Japanese perfectionism” has adversely affected Japanese people’s speaking and self-expression in English. At the United Nations, he said, “It is permitted to have certain national or regional accents.”

“Let’s not put too much importance on the pronunciation of a lingua franca,” he urged.

Akashi’s speech was followed by a panel discussion in which panelists with backgrounds in diplomacy, academia, business and English language education exchanged views on the main topic.

Ahead of the symposium, the ESUJ hosted its annual debate competition at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Saturday and Sunday. A total of 32 teams mainly from universities participated in the tournament, with the team Keio Reunions winning the championship by defeating Tokyo Institute of Technology 1.

The debates employed the parliamentary debate style, which is modeled on the British parliamentary system. In this format, a pair of debaters representing the Proposition (prime minister) faces off against another pair representing the Opposition (leader of the opposition). The two sides are given a motion (topic) and try to persuade judges to affirm their argument. The motion for the grand final debate was “Assuming that the technology exists, this House would allow prospective parents to genetically modify features to create their ideal child.”

The Keio Reunions pair, Yuki Oka and Mitsushi Ono, both graduates of Keio University, played the role of Proposition and argued in favor of the motion.

The ESUJ is a nonprofit organization and a member of the ESU International Council based in London. The symposium and debate competition were held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its founding. After the debate, Shigeo Suzuki, ESUJ debate committee chief, said, “Throughout the last 20 years, participants’ English skills and the quality of debates have steadily improved.”Speech

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