Learn new words by listening to stories

ART OF THE STORYTELLER: The golden rule of a good storyteller is to never speak in a sentence that is too long, says Ms Kamini Ramachandran. Keep it short, clear and visual, adds the co-founder of MoonShadow Stories and vice-president of The Storytelling Association (Singapore).


    Aug 06, 2013

    Learn new words by listening to stories

    PROFESSIONAL storyteller Kamini Ramachandran's mission is to revive a dying tradition, and re-introduce the power of the spoken word to all through storytelling.

    The 44-year-old co-founded MoonShadow Stories in 2004, organising storytelling performances and workshops for both adults and children alike.

    In the fifth part of this series on role models in English, My Paper caught up with her to find out how listening to stories helps one learn new words and why one should always avoid speaking like a machine gun.

    How does hearing a text differ from reading it, and how can this help improve one's English?

    In storytelling, you hear the pronunciation, enunciation and rhythms of the spoken language, which you will not hear when you read.

    Sound effects - how something runs, how someone cries, how the rain falls - can reinforce learning and the acquisition of new words.

    There is a lot of interaction between the storyteller and the audience as well, so children and non-native speakers can easily pick up new vocabulary.

    Take this sentence: "She was shattered; her heart had smashed into a thousand little pieces like a broken mirror."

    If the listener doesn't know what "shattered" means, surely he can visualise a mirror breaking into a thousand little pieces. If I'm drawing blanks from the crowd, I will keep going with the analogy, and add gestures to explain the sentence. I can do that, but a book can't.

    What are some common language mistakes you find adults making in your workshops?

    Pronunciation. When people shorten the "e" sound or lengthen it inappropriately. The word "swimming" becomes "sweeming" and "sing" becomes "seeing".

    When you speak and you're trying to entice the audience to enter the realm of stories, pronunciation is key. The audience is looking at and listening to you so the responsibility is with you to convey the right idea.

    What is one of your best stories that have helped children and/or adults learn and improve their grasp of English?

    There's a story from Tibet about a boy who was given a very long name (Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo) to honour the fact that he was a first-born son.

    It sounds like a tongue twister, but the audience loves it.

    It's always memorable and this proves to members of the audience that they don't have to always write down something or refer to something from print to master a word.

    One of the tips for this year's Speak Good English Movement is "Don't talk like a machine gun. Speak slowly and clearly". Do you agree?

    I think of "machine gun" as staccato, abrupt speech, rather than speedy speech. Children, for instance, shouldn't be penalised for talking fast if it's not gibberish.

    Staccato speech, on the other hand, is horrible and makes no sense. There are no punctuation and appropriate pauses.

    The golden rule of a good storyteller is to never speak in a sentence that is too long. Keep it short, clear and visual. The responsibility of a good storyteller is to create the pictures so the audience can see. You can't do this in long, bombastic sentences.

    You have two sons, Kabir, 14, and Karan, 12. Are you a grammar nazi with them?

    I can be quite critical when I look over their humanities work.

    But I'm more a grammar nazi with magazines and newspapers, even billboards, signs and menus. Errors just pop out at me.

    I've seen too many shops put up signs that read "Close on Sunday", instead of "Closed on Sundays".

    Anything lined up in the upcoming months for you?

    I'm the artistic director for the annual Singapore International Storytelling Festival, which will run from Sept 2 to 8.

    As part of the Esplanade's Children's Day Festival, I'll be holding a parent-and-children shadow-puppet storytelling workshop on Oct 4.

    I also have something lined up for Halloween on Oct 31, called Tanah Pusaka: Haunting Stories of a Land Possessed. It's storytelling for adults, with a focus on Asian supernatural tales.

    You can also catch me at the Singapore Writers Festival on Nov 2 and 9, where I will bring to life poetry and prose from selected featured authors.


    The Say It Right series is brought to you by the Speak Good English Movement. For more information, visit www.goodenglish.org.sg