The Indiana University (IU) Arabic language debate team won second place in the non-native speakers category and eighth place overall at QatarDebate’s 4th U.S. Universities Arabic Debate Championship 2023, held Oct. 13-15 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. IU Arabic language tutor, Fares Hajji, also won second place for the best debater in the native speakers category. The IU team competed against more than 200 participants from 42 university teams across the U.S., including Ivy League schools.
The team included IU Hamilton Lugar School students and those in the IU Arabic Flagship Program, who are regularly immersed in Arabic language and culture through their coursework and programming. In addition, students spent many evenings and weekends preparing for the competition with support from Hamilton Lugar School coaches: Ammar Alnakhli, Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures doctoral student, and Senior Lecturer Iman Alramadan, Director of Cultural and Co-Curricular Activities in the Arabic Flagship program.
“The experience has proven to be immensely valuable for our students, providing them with a total immersion in both language and culture,” said Alramadan, who is a member of the U.S. Arabic Debate Union academic steering committee, which took part in organizing the championship. “One of the notable aspects of this experience is that our students could debate against teams of native speakers of Arabic. This challenging environment enhanced students’ linguistic abilities and significantly boosted their confidence in using Arabic as a means of communication.”
The team’s performance is a testament to their hard work and the dedication of IU Arabic language faculty, who use highly effective, interactive teaching methods. IU Arabic language students build strong vocabularies and learn to discuss global issues through their regular coursework and programming in the Arabic Flagship program. The Arabic Debate Championship gave students the opportunity to showcase their strength in global issues discussion.
“The championship was a fantastic opportunity for our students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-life contexts,” said Alramadan. “Understanding others and discussing global issues are crucial to our students’ learning experience.”
Hamilton Lugar School senior Madison McEwen said the competition was transformational.
“Though I was nervous to be immersed in an Arabic-only setting, this competition is designed to respect where you come from linguistically and empower you to go further with your skills,” said McEwen, who is majoring in International Studies and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. “This tournament was a highlight of my college experience, and I look forward to participating in any way after I graduate.”
The team’s win was especially meaningful to Hamilton Lugar School senior Sachin Talagery, who was a student coach for the team. Talagery, who is double majoring in Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures and International Studies, has participated in QatarDebate competitions for the past three years.
“Attending the US Arabic Debate Championship each fall has consistently been the highlight of my academic year and will continue to define my college experience,” he said. “I have always left each year’s championship inspired by the progress achieved under the intense pressure of the rounds. Returning to subsequent championships as I further develop my Arabic language skills has been reassuring. It’s a pleasure to reunite with familiar faces and meet new ones, forging a supportive community that spans Arab Americans of my age, fellow language learners, and role models from across the country.”
While Talagery anticipates graduation in May 2024, he is confident in the team’s future.
“I am deeply appreciative of Dr. Alramadan’s unwavering support year after year, and I eagerly anticipate what the future holds for the numerous Arabic language learners at Indiana University who will thrive as debaters in the championships to come,” he said.
Emma Holdren, who is triple majoring in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, Arabic, and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, said she was proud to participate.
“It was an immersive environment where I was speaking Arabic all the time all weekend, both formally in the debate and more informally with my peers,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to use my Arabic and meet Arabic speakers and learners from around the country. By the last debate, our team had improved so much, and we all spoke more confidently and fluidly. I am proud to have debated such complex topics in my second language.”
Finance major and Arabic Flagship program tutor, Fares Hajii, said the competition was fulfilling.
“From a linguistic perspective it was very exciting to reconnect with the language in a complete immersion,” he said. “It felt like we were in an Arabic speaking country, and this was cool. From a more personal perspective, I enjoyed the experience. I met a lot of incredible people from across the nation and bonded with a lot of them.”
Due to the growing interest in Arabic debate at IU, doctoral student Ammar Alnakhli is starting an Arabic debate club in collaboration with Hajii and other members of the Arabic Flagship program. Senior Lecturer Iman Alramadan is also developing a new Arabic debate course to be offered in spring 2024.
The U.S. Universities Arabic Debating Championship is an outreach program of the Qatar Foundation that aims to spread the culture of open dialogue and the Arabic language across the globe. The 4th United States Arabic Debate Championship 2023 follows the tremendous success of QatarDebate’s 1st USADC at Harvard University in 2019, the 2nd USADC at the University of Chicago in 2021, and the 3rd USADC at the University of Stanford in 2022. The US Arabic Debate Union is a QatarDebate initiative in the United States that works to coordinate efforts, maximize the impact, and ensure the sustainability and quality of Arabic debate-related programs and events.