Happy New Year of the Gau!

animation of dog on a globe with a megaphone for Chinese New Year of the dog

Beware of the dog! The Cantonese word for dog is gau, but it can also mean 9, enough, to teach, old, lump, plastic, to stir, if said in a different tone.

As there are a limited number of syllables in Chinese, tones are used to differentiate words. Tone is one of the trickiest aspects of learning to speak Chinese and can lead to much bewilderment. This is demonstrated whenever Dave, my husband, tries out some Cantonese on my mum. It goes like this:

He annunciates a short phrase (usually food related). She looks at me blankly. I repeat it. She exclaims ‘Ah!’ in recognition, and he says, ‘That’s what I said! – I’m hungry.*’

‘No, Dave. You just told her you have diarrhoea!’ And so it goes on.

So even good pronunciation is hard to understand with incorrect tone.

It’s difficult to hear the tonal variation unless the words are spoken in succession, so here’s some absolute nonsense I made up earlier for the purpose of illustrating the point. This isn’t so much a tongue twister as a tone twister!

**Gau6 si4, gau2 zek3 gau2 hai2 gaau1 ngoi6 gaau2 gaau2 zan3. Ngo5 gaau3 gau2 zek3 gau2 gaau2 gaau1 seoi2. Dang2 keoi5 gaau2 dou3 gau3, gaau1 bei2 ngo5 lei6 gaau1 wun6 gau2 gau6 gaau1.

Translation: Once upon a time, 9 dogs were messing about outside. I taught the 9 dogs to stir glue. When they’d stirred it enough, they gave it to me to exchange for 9 lumps of plastic. 

16th February 2018 begins the Chinese New Year of the (earth) Dog. People born in Dog years are thought to be brave, loyal, independent and kind. If you were born in 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, etc, this is your year so make the most of it. For everyone else, you should just be more dog anyway!

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Wishing you joy and prosperity,

Mo and Dave


*ngo5 tou5 ngo6 = I’m hungry. / ngo5 tou5 ngo1 = I have diarrhoea.

**the numbers denote different tones in the Jyutping romanisation system for Cantonese:

1 high, flat / 2 mid, rising / 3 mid, flat / 4 low, falling / 5 low, rising / 6 low, flat

IATEFL and fear of speaking

Viv and Mo at the Macmillan stand at IATEFL 2015

It is said that people fear speaking in public more than they fear dying. That’s what everyone told me as I prepared to deliver my first talk ever! And, having spent my whole life managing to avoid both of the above, I can believe it.

But recently I spoke at the IATEFL 2015 conference, in Manchester, with my co-author and friend, Viv Lambert. We were there with Macmillan Education, speaking about storytelling as a way to explore critical thinking with children (the main feature of our course, Story Central). Viv has much more experience in speaking and had just returned from a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, giving talks and workshops. But she still gets nervous, and referred to IATEFL as the ‘biggie’ (not helping, Viv!)

As a bit of an introvert the prospect of this talk terrified me, and the only way to deal with it was to do everything I could possibly imagine to prepare for it. We wrote and rewrote, designed and redesigned – determined not to subject our audience to death by Powerpoint. We rehearsed together via Skype. I read a lot and asked people for advice (thank you Mark Trezona, of BridgeBuilders, for sharing fantastic tips and a wealth of experience with me). I walked, recited, meditated and even ironed some clothes (that’s serious!) By the time we arrived at the conference, in theory, I knew what I had to do and what I needed to say. What I didn’t know, however, was whether my body would disown my brain just when they really needed to cooperate with each other. Thankfully it didn’t.

OK I admit it, it actually felt quite exciting as it all came together on the day, and Viv and I had a lot of fun doing this as a team. The nerves I assumed would debilitate me manifested as a sort of heightened alertness. I was surprisingly calm, I didn’t lose the ability to speak or move, and neither of us threw up or died. Result!


Story Central by Macmillan Education


Oh, look what arrived in the post! Macmillan Education, you really are giving my postman a workout.

After more than 2 years of writing, and even longer in production, Story Central is now a reality. So now I can finally talk about it rather than just warbling on about Viv Lambert, my co-author!

Story Central is a 6-level EFL (English as a Foreign Language) course for primary aged children. It’s set in the context of a story centre and has storytelling and critical thinking at its hub. Aside from printed books, the course comes with huge amounts of digital content in the form of audio CDs, oral storytelling videos, American sign language videos, apps and online resources.

Viv and I developed the course for Macmillan Education, and wrote the core of it. I even came full circle and worked on the tail end of the project as a designer as well.

I showed a couple of the books to my 85 year old mum, in an attempt to explain what I do for a living, and told her (as best I could in my broken Cantonese) that it consists of all these different components: books, DVDs, CDs … ‘Oh, CDs are very popular these days aren’t they? Everybody’s using them!’ she said. (She’s never owned a CD player, or a CD for that matter!)


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