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Friday, August 08, 2008


Can learning a language be bad for self esteem?

The textbook used in my Thai class is in question-and-answer format. The teacher (Khoon Kroo) reads a question and each student takes a turn to read an answer. This has helped to develop my reading skills in Thai but doesn't do a lot for my confidence in speaking when I don't have the book. Sometimes I try to take it a step further and give my own answer rather than the one in the book.

Recently Khoon Kroo started doing something different. From time to time she would take a question and either use it as it is in the book or adapt it and ask each student individually for their personal answer to that question. I like this. If she keeps it up our spoken Thai should improve.

There was a range of new vocab for occupations introduced in the book. And she chose to ask each of us which job we would like to do. Each of the occupation words started with 'nak' which means person or expert. When it was my turn I answered 'nak gaa siian'. It wasn't in the book. I was being creative and saying 'I want to be a retired person' or perhaps 'expertly retired.' But no, she wasn't accepting that. I had to use an answer from the book. I looked down and saw 'nak khiian' expert writer. So that was the answer I gave.

Her response was 'naa beuah' boring. Mmmm.

As the class went on I realised that I was better off giving a frivolous rather than serious answer. We were asked 'What do you do when you are happy?'

'Yim' smile said one student. Each student gave their answer.

When it came to my turn I said, 'juup pheuan kong phom' kiss my friends.

'Pooying reu poochai?' Men or women?

'Mai bpen rai' It doesn't matter.

The next student was Jason, a New Zealander. We often have a joke together probably because we are the only ones in this class from our corner of the world. 'Khoon Jason, khoon bpen pheuan Khoon John?' Jason, are your John's friend? she asked.

'Mai bpen' no answered Jason.

I'm sure my Thai is improving but I wonder if this is good for my self esteem.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008


Working with kids—tips from a professional storyteller

I was recently asked for a few tips on working with kids. Here's some of what I've learned over my time as a professional storyteller.

Everyone is a storyteller. Don't think you can't do it. You probably already do but don't know that's what you're doing. When you tell your friends and family about some incident at work or from some other aspect of life, you might notice that they pay you full attention. That's because you are weaving an interesting narrative and they want to find out what happens next.

When you tell stories to kids you can use stories from life, folktales or contemporary published stories. The way to hold their attention is with a story that keeps them guessing about what is going to happen. If the story surprises them they are satisfied. If they can guess what's coming that's boring. Don't rush it. Draw it out and you'll keep them on the edge of their seats.

Reading to kids from books is great. It shows them that the good time they're having is coming from literature. That encourages them to turn to books for entertainment and leads them to literacy. However, if you can let go off the book and tell the story from memory, you make eye contact with the audience, you read them and from their feedback you know how to pace the story, what to emphasise, what to leave out. Storytelling with a book is great. Storytelling without a book is way more powerful. Try it.

When choosing stories, it's not actually wrong for a story to have a message but if the message value is higher than the entertainment value forget it. Even 'bad' kids will sit and listen for hours if you entertain them well but start giving out overt messages about what they should or shouldn't do and you lose them. If your message is so subtle that they don't even notice it, the story can do it's own work on their subconscious.

For all performers, remember the audience comes first. Don't get caught up in your own ego. It can happen so easily. You start thinking how cool you are and then you lose it. The trick is to make them feel cool about themselves and they'll keep coming back for more.

If you teach kids, look for what they're doing right, not what they're doing wrong. So called 'bad' kids have had people telling them bad stuff about themselves so much they've turned right off. To turn them back on find what they do well and let them know. The same applies to adults too. We all need a self-esteem boost from time to time. But don't be patronising. Even kids can see through that.

I've always found kids to be fun. I had a ball for nine years working as a full-time storyteller. Make sure you're having fun and they will too.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008


Why do we hate?

I've written before about the unfortunate need we humans appear to have—we must have someone to hate. I'm not sure why but it is unfortunately one of our traits. When I was growing up we were taught, perhaps in subtle ways, that we should hate the Catholics we walked past on the way to and from school. It seems they were also taught to hate us.

Australian Protestants and Catholics seem to get on much better now but unfortunately it seems Muslims have become the new Catholics. It is so easy to point the finger and say those Muslims are terrorists but we seem to ignore the fact that it was our Western alliance that invaded Iraq on a flimsy pretext.

I believe if we are to stop the bloodshed coming from each of our societies those of us who disagree with it should stand up and be counted. I'd like to think I'm doing that from time to time through this blog.

It is up to Muslim people to also stand up and say that they disagree with the killing that is done in the name of Islam. The reason for writing this blog is to share with you an example of just that. This is an inspiring poem written by a Muslim woman in India. I hope you'll read it.

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