English Speaking Union

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The English-Speaking Union is an international educational charity founded in 1918 to promote "global understanding through the shared use of the English language." With almost 40 branches in the United Kingdom and over 50 international branches in countries in different parts of the world, the ESU promotes a variety of activities such as debating, public speaking and student exchange programmes, runs conferences and seminars, and offers scholarships, to encourage the effective use of the English language around the globe. English-Speaking Union Scotland is the Scottish office of the ESU, based in Edinburgh.

The mission statement of The English Speaking Union (as stated in its website) is to:

  • Provide a forum for international friendship through the support of the worldwide network of ESUs and the provision of secretariat facilities for the International Council at the ESU's headquarters at Dartmouth House, London
  • Facilitate and assist the establishment and recognition of ESUs worldwide
  • Focus on key current affairs issues through regular international conferences, seminars and taff and voluntary helpers
  • Work in close and innovative partnership with its corporate members and sponsors

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Debating and Public Speaking

In many circles the ESU is best known for its major educational activity, the promotion of debate as an educational tool. The English-Speaking Union Centre for Speech and Debate, established in 1995 to coordinate the organisation's work in persuasive spoken English, is one of the world's major supporters of formal debate. In the United Kingdom it runs the national championships in debating for schools (the Schools Mace, the largest and oldest competition of its kind in the world) and universities (the John Smith Memorial Mace, named after the former Labour leader and winner of the competition who died in 1994). Other winners of the universities mace include Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats. The ESU also runs competitions in mooting, a form of legal argument, and public speaking.

The Centre teaches debate through outreach programmes, teacher training and the provision of resources. It offers teaching support to overseas ESUs and also selects and trains the England Schools Debating Team which competes in the World Schools Debating Championships each year. The ESU hosted that tournament in London in 1999.

The Secondary School Exchange Programme

British students, having completed their A-Levels, can spend two or three terms at a private prep school in the United States or Canada during their gap year. In return American students come to British schools. Originally known as the British and American Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Exchange, the programme was created in 1928. Former British ESU student exchange scholars include:

The US-UK Debate Tour Exchange

Two outstanding British student debaters are chosen each year to tour approximately 30 states over three months. In return two American debaters visit universities and institutions in the UK. The programme was established in 1922. Alumni of the British team include:

as well as a significant number of MPs, QCs and other notable figures.

Music scholarships

The ESU offers funding for places at top conservatoires for music students. Alumni include Tasmin Little and Nigel Kennedy, both violinists.


The Parliamentary Exchange Programmes

The ESU places approximately 12 British students in the offices of members of the US Congress and the Assemblee Nationale in Paris each summer, and in turn places American and French students in the offices of MPs at Westminster. The programme has been running since 1986. Alumni include Gordon Carera, editor of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, and Paddy O'Connell, broadcaster.

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