Take Part in Seminar Discussions

Campus Week

speaking

This week it’s Campus Week at Get Great English. I know the term hasn’t started yet but think of it as a little time to prepare before packing bags, unpacking, moving into halls of residence or a flat.

Participating in seminars can be quite intimidating, especially for non-native speakers in classes that have a native-speaking majority. Here are some tips to help you take part in seminar discussions with more confidence. This may also be useful in meetings at work or even informal discussions among friends about music, books and films.

Just because someone else is speaking confidently doesn’t make them right

Some of the most confident people that you will ever meet at university (in an English-speaking country) will make you wonder whether they have brain cells inside their head. These people are the ones that try to speak most in seminars; do not be afraid to disagree with them. The seminar leader is probably waiting for someone to disagree with them. Often they mistake opinions (a personal belief which may not be able to be evaluated as correct or incorrect) with facts (not opinions; can be verified using evidence).

Back up your opinion with evidence to make it more persuasive

You can start by giving your opinion with an opener, such as ‘In my opinion’ or ‘What I think is’. After giving your opinion state your evidence using ‘because’ or ‘due to’.

Examples

“In my opinion, Marx’s theories of surplus value are still relevant today due to the famously low wages in the manufacturing industry, take an Apple Computer contractor Foxconn, and contrast this with the fact that Apple is the richest company in the world.”

“What I believe is that Star Wars is a better film than The Searchers, which it is based upon. This is because Alec Guinness is, in my opinion, a more charismatic mentor than John Wayne’s Ethan in The Searchers. Star Wars also has by far the more menacing villain.”

It is acceptable to disagree with people

In a university seminar you may need to disagree with someone. You can be polite in disagreement by using ‘I’m afraid I disagree’ rather than something like ‘You’re wrong’. As with stating your own opinion, give evidence. You should also give evidence when agreeing with someone.

It is also acceptable to talk about an idea

Sometime you only have ideas in your seminars, not a wide knowledge of facts, and it is often useful to state these ideas. I recommend hedging, using something like ‘Would I be right in thinking…’ or ‘I assume that… Is it correct?’

Examples

“Would I be right in thinking that Kant agrees with Hume that God is not actually self-evident and therefore ought not to be asserted as such, regardless of belief?”

“I assume that because clinical trials conducted on small sample sizes without a placebo control group can be considered deeply flawed that a large sample size, again without a placebo control group, would also be flawed. Is that correct?”

I hope this helps to get you started in your seminars and builds your confidence.