The Top 5 Benefits of Debate

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
The Top 5 Benefits of Debate

What are the Benefits of Debate?

In the decade that LearningLeaders has been helping students to develop lifelong public speaking and communication skills, one of the most common questions we hear from parents (and other educators) is, “What are the benefits of debate?”

Having been involved in speech and debate education for most of our adult lives, we must admit to being pretty evangelical about the many and varied benefits that learning how to debate can bring to students of all ages! Here are some of the key benefits for students that we’ve identified over the years.

Benefits for Academics and Admissions

Many parents first encounter speech and debate early on in their educational journey, when they are trying to identify extra-curricular activities that will help their children both within the classroom as well as in their goal of reaching a top university.

There’s no doubt that having a track record of speech and debate on a college application does wonders for a student’s chances of success. Universities love to see debate on student resumes, and LearningLeaders students have gone on to gain acceptance at the world’s top universities - whether in their home countries, the US and Canada, or other countries like the UK and Australia.

This effect is only magnified by competitive participation and success; LearningLeaders alumni with stacked trophy cabinets at home have had to leave them behind when heading to Ivy League colleges! Our 2018 World Champion students went on to Yale, Stanford, Chicago and Duke respectively, and all identify debate as a crucial element of their success.

The ability to speak well is only becoming more important as the importance of standardized testing declines. Live communication and public speaking, via interviews or recorded submissions, is the most authentic form of differentiation that’s available to ambitious students.

Beyond the admissions office, debating has all sorts of positive benefits on educational attainment. Studies show that students engaged in debate do better on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT, as well as having higher grades at school.

Debate teaches students all manner of useful academic skills, from organizing essays to citation of evidence. The lessons we teach in our debate classes help students understand how to construct clear, logical arguments, and the skills required to research effectively and be able to distinguish credible, authoritative sources from fake news sources – a vital skill not merely in school but, increasingly, in life.

It is extremely common for parents of LearningLeaders students to share with us that they have noticed improved academic performance from their children within just six months of beginning debate classes.

Benefits for English

In many parts of the world, particularly East Asia, speech and debate is strongly associated with English learning. While the benefits of debate to students go far beyond language learning, there’s no doubt that debate and speech coaching can have a very significant positive effect on English proficiency.

Uniquely, debate requires students to practice all elements of linguistic learning – reading, listening, writing and, of course, speaking - almost simultaneously. Debate students must read news sources, topic guides and online research in order to prepare for debates. Listening to other debaters is a key skill, since it is impossible to win a debate simply by giving a prepared speech but vital to listen to, and engage with, the arguments of opposing speakers.

In addition, debaters must learn to write quickly, accurately and well, since they often have limited preparation time before making their speeches. And, of course, the ability to stand up and talk confidently, fluently and clearly in English, is perhaps the most central skill that debate teaches.

Different formats of speech and debate help students practice varying aspects of language learning. For example;

  • Public Forum Debate is particularly valuable for students’ ability to research and read English articles from a variety of sources quickly and accurately. It also puts a premium on writing and editing skills, with students preparing speeches that must express complex arguments in clear and concise paragraphs, and organizing their ideas into short, time-limited speeches.
  • World Schools and BP Debate require students to speak for up to eight minutes with relatively little time to get ready, and no prepared script. They must listen to opponents and quickly write down rebuttals to what they hear. During speeches, they may receive questions from the other team and have to respond immediately to what they’ve been asked.
  • Persuasive Speaking tests a student’s ability to write a long-form speech of up to 10 minutes or even longer. Here, the quality of written English is important; a well-crafted opening, or original turn of phrase, can be as important as a piece of research dropped into the speech. After the speech is written, it’s vital to practice again and again, working with our coaches on pace, diction, tone and clarity.
  • Extemporaneous Speaking requires competitors to put together knowledge from a huge variety of sources and explain it in simple, persuasive terms. Reading skills come to the fore in this event, but when it comes to presentation, students must give a polished speech on complex global topics with almost no notes. It’s one of the hardest speech events, but a terrific way to practice fluent English presentational skills.

It’s important to note that debate is not only for native or fluent English speakers. Many debaters from ESL or EFL backgrounds are highly successful debating in their second or even third language, and English proficiency is not a formal criterion in speech or debate competitions.

Nonetheless, students who take part in speech and debate classes become more confident; and reading articles, watching videos related to topics, and listening to native English-speaking opponents in competitions, all help them to enhance their vocabulary list!

Communication and Leadership Skills

At LearningLeaders, our mission is to empower students to be heard, respected and understood. Communication skills are perhaps the central skill that today’s young learners need to master for success in the workplaces of tomorrow. The #1 requested skill on global job boards is effective communication – more highly rated even than leadership or problem-solving skills.

With more and more tasks sure to be done by AI in the coming decades, it will be more important than ever for young graduates to be able to demonstrate their ability to think critically and communicate clearly.

Some of the benefits conferred by speech and debate practice include:

  • INCREASED CONFIDENCE. Debate and public speaking lead to heightened self-confidence. Practicing speaking your mind can lead to developing further self-confidence.
  • LEADERSHIP SKILL PRACTICE. We're preparing students to learn & lead for life. Results show that debate participants observe a clear change in how they perceive themselves as leaders!
  • BUILDS TEAMWORK. Teamwork makes the dream work, especially in debate. Teamwork & relational skills are amongst the top four most frequently cited perks of debate!
  • POLISHED PRESENTATIONS. With your new-found critical thinking & communication skills, you'll be able to organize your thoughts & materials into a delightful & inspiring presentation!

Many parents notice increased confidence in their children after just one or two courses of speech or debate. The ability to express your ideas in front of their peers is one of the most exciting “a ha!” moments that a student can have.

Being asked a question in class may elicit a right or wrong answer, and less confident students may “hide” from the teacher for fear of making a mistake. In speech or debate classes, by contrast, where there are no “wrong” answers and students are being asked merely to share and explain their ideas, it’s easier to build confidence in being able to participate in group discussions and present your ideas to others.

Crucially, debating is almost always a team activity. Young debaters quickly learn that there is no benefit or advantage in keeping all the best arguments for themselves, or making a good speech if their teammate doesn’t properly grasp the topic.

Rather, debates are won by those who work together well. Debaters must subsume their egos and learn to work with teammates from different backgrounds and with different personalities – often under significant pressure! The teamwork lessons that students take from these activities are lifelong skills that help them learn – and lead – for life.

Many political and business leaders around the world have been successful – or sometimes, not so successful – debaters at school or college. Legendary national leaders like John F. Kennedy and Lee Kuan Yew, business leaders, US Supreme Court justices – and even Brad Pitt! – were successful debaters in their youth.

Critical Thinking Skills

In contrast to traditional models of learning, particularly those still employed in some Asian countries, debate class emphasises proactive student participation rather than purely top-down, teacher-led education.

Novice debaters often attend their first debate class with notebook or blank Word document at the ready, preparing to faithfully transcribe what the teacher is going to say to them. Imagine their surprise when, instead, the teacher asks them to explain what they think about the topic before anything else!

This is particularly true at LearningLeaders, where we have always advocated a student-led learning experience. In speech or debate, there are few if any “wrong” answers; our class structure is designed not to impart knowledge but to empower young learners to share ideas.

In debate, there are always two sides to every question, and this realisation is a key milestone in the educational journey of every student.

The building block of many student speeches, in both public speaking and debate class, is what we call the argument. The essential components of an argument need to be built across formats, topics and themes by students who aren’t merely reproducing talking points they have read in articles, but who understand the material they are being asked to present on.

Debate requires students not only to build their own arguments, founded on solid logic and clear examples or evidence, but also to critique and dismantle arguments presented by others. This constant process of interrogation of the logical foundations for speakers’ positions is central to how debate works – and it’s such a useful life skill.

Debate teaches students – teaches all of us – to be cautiously skeptical of what we hear from others, to ask not just whether things are true but why they are true and how we know they’re true. We often remark ruefully that the world would be a better place if more people grew up with this crucial skill.

It’s an inescapable fact that students from many of the Asian countries that we partner with families in, have historically found the experience of going abroad to study in college in the US, UK or Canada to be unduly challenging. This is partly because traditional, top-down models of education still hold sway in many schools in this region.

It’s often hard to manage the transition to student-led learning, where learners are required to take responsibility for their own education and critically evaluate what they are reading and learning as they go along. Experience of debating, in particular, can help to ease this transition. The critical thinking skills that students encounter in debate class are not just transferable to higher learning, but crucial to it.

Global Experiences for Students

As well as all the benefits in terms of educational outcomes, lifelong skills and critical thinking ability, speech and debate offers another component that’s hard to find elsewhere; a truly global experience for students.

Debate has no borders. Not only can young people debate and compete against students across the globe, they also can learn all about international affairs through exciting debate motions, and simply talking to fellow global classmates. LearningLeaders works with students from multiple countries, and our debate tournaments typically comprise participants from a dozen countries or more.

This “global mindset” is often cited as a key benefit of speech and debate by students and parents that we work with. Even in international schools, it can sometimes be difficult to guarantee a truly globalized experience for students; in debate, by contrast, such interaction is almost guaranteed for any student who takes part in more than a few weeks of classes.

Since 2020, a large section of global debating tournaments have moved online, with all the benefits for accessibility, convenience and cost savings that online competition can offer. Even now that the biggest major tournaments have returned to an in-person format, there continues to be a thriving ecosystem of online tournaments for students of all ages and experience levels.

More exciting even than debate competitions are – competitions and travel! With events and tournaments also hosted in-person around the world, debating and public speaking allows students to travel around the world, including to the World Championships of Debating and Public Speaking (WIDPSC), to which we train and accompany a team every year.

We’re proud to have one of the best and most experienced competitive coaching teams of any speech and debate organization in the world, working with some of the most notable personalities in global debate to prepare students for competitions.

Our coaches include national, regional and world champions, and we’ve trained students who’ve won pretty much every trophy going in global debate, up to and including the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC)! For students and families who want to experience the best possible competition preparation, there’s no better option than the LearningLeaders Competitive Debate program.


Speech and debate has so many benefits that we’ve struggled to fit them into a website article. Most obviously, debating helps students with their academic performance, both within in the classroom as well as in their college admissions journey. It teaches crucial critical thinking, teamwork and leadership skills, and is regularly cited as a formative experience by business leaders and many high achieving people in diverse fields. It’s a great tool for English learning for those who feel like they still have a way to go in their language learning, and it offers a unique international experience for students that it’s quite hard to replicate elsewhere.

Simply put, debating is a “silver bullet” that offers myriad benefits to students and educators alike, which is why we love it so much. Whether you’re part way through your speech and debate adventure, or just considering starting out – we hope you’ll embrace that adventure with LearningLeaders.

Learn More About Debate

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy