Posts tagged Shakespeare

Are Good Writers Born…?

That’s why I came to do the job I do, to train and develop potential writers in a “westernized university” in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Are any of my Kazakh or Kazakhstani students born to write?  I need to discover who they are and encourage them.  I think I have some very good candidates already. I asked my writing students yesterday to grapple with the nature vs. nurture question: “Are good writers born or can he/she develop her skills to become a good writer?”

In one of my groups, they took this question seriously and Abzal was the eloquent note-taker.  Of the five in his group, only one person believed that writing is inborn, the rest believed this is a skill that can be developed through a lifetime.  Sasha believed that writing talent is given by God, his examples were Pushkin, Shakespeare.  He claimed that these kinds of authors and writers are not born every day, and there is not any substitutes for them.

 Then Karlygash argued saying that it always depends on the social environment.  For example, Pushkin’s nanny raised him and developed his writing skills and there are a lot more examples. 

This group continued to discuss about modern authors such as Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, Stepnegae Myer [?] and others.  They probably developed their skills and writing talent came to them through their lifetime and their environment…Then Zhandos and Azamat added that it could be talent can come from you when born, like the famous philosophers Socrates, Aristotle and Al-Farabi, there were no educating environment, but still they are the best and most knowledgeable authors.

 So, finally we agreed that, it’s so true, there is no answer to this question.


In another group, they had this to write:

Nariman:  I believe that a good writer of words has to have some kind of talent and it has to be developed further.

Aigerim:  I think writers develop his work into a writer with his talent which was given him by God.  He uses his own experience and inspiration.

Nargiz: I think its important to be interested in this writing activity because then he or she can develop his talent and become the best writer.

Igor:  In my opinion, I think that every person who is interested in writing can develop his/her writing skills and become a good writer without any talent.

 Another group was split 50/50, this is what their notes read:  We think that everyone has good skills to write, some develop them, others not.  Golden rule:  The more you read, the better you write!”

 One group wrote unanimously: “Good writers are born.”  E.G. M. Sholohov who wrote “Silent Don” he graduated only from two classes in school but he became a good writer without any development.

 Viktoriya wrote for her group the following:  “Aina thinks that the good writers are born because usually there is a talent and passion to writing.  Ilyas doesn’t agree and states that good writers are not born but are developed.  You can always improve and gain new skills.  Madi agrees with Ilyas.  He says that talent needs to be developed, cause it can fade away easily if it existed before.  Pavel is also for writer development.  There are two types of writers:  the one who is born with talent, the other who develops it.  I, Viktoriya, can agree with the guys. I’ve met a lot of journalists who did not have any skills in writing at school but after gaining some interest and skills became excellent authors.  But I also have some friends who are born talented writers.

 Rustam believes a good writer is born (Pushkin)

Daniyar says they can be developed (Churchill)

Youngsu: good writer is born (Shakespeare)

Ainura: can be developed by reading

Aigerim:  can be developed but writer should have some talent

Conclusion:  good writing can be achieved by working hard, but excellent work is usually done by very talented people.


Our opinions are different.  We have two opposite sides:  One thinks that a person is born a good writer while the others think that a person can become a good writer.  Those who think that a person is born a good writer considers that one person cannot be good at two fields.  Meaning that if he is good a mathematics, he cannot be good at writing.  However, the other group thinks that a person can become a writer developing his skills.

We came to the conclusion that everything depends on the person, we cannot judge everybody in one way.  There are some exceptions as one person could be a good mathematician and a good writer.  Some are born good writers and some become a writer through hard work and time.


Finally, this group had the MOST to write from their discussion group about writing:

Jeon:  I think a good writer is born.  If someone wants to be good at something, t least they have an interest.  

Niyaz: I believe that a good writer is born to be a good writer…actually good writers just do not know about their skills, so in order to be a good writer, they just must develop it.

Galina: I think that a good writer is neither born nor develops his/her skills.  I believe that in order to be a good writer, one has to first be born with a certain talent and then has to work really hard to develop this talent.  There are a lot of “writers” out there but their writing is nothing but some words combined together.  In order to create something really outstanding, one has to involve his/her soul in the process. [YES!!!]

Azamat: I think that everyone can develop into a writer.  Moreover, it should be improved from earlier age, using some games which can improve verbal ability and skills.

Zhuldyz: I absolutely disagree that writers have to be born, because, in our life everything is possible.  If you really want to reach something or to become a better writer, you can do this. You have to think about this, and try to reach this every day.  As Napolean Hill said: “If you will do what you do, you will get what you get.”  You don’t stay in one position.  You are not a tree, if you dislike your position in this life or society, just change and everything will be perfect!!!

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Wisdom of Nations – Proverbs (Part IV)

“Some are wise and some are otherwise.” Ben Franklin turned this saying around with “Some men are weather-wise, but most men are other-wise.”

“Swim like a stone (brick).”

“The game is not worth the candle.” French (referring to gambling and the undertaking is not worth the risk or effort.)

“The wind cannot be caught in a net.”

“There is no royal road to learning.” (Euclid said this to King Ptolmey’s request about geometry)

“To be between the beetle and the block.” (Chinese – between you and me)

“To be wise behind the hand.”

“To go for wool and come home shorn.” (Many seek to better themselves and end up losing what they already have.)

“To pick the plums out of the pudding.”

“To plough the sand.” Arabic (insults should be written in sand, compliments should be carved in stone.)

“To stick like a limpet to a rock.”

“To throw a stone in one’s own garden.”

“Tread on a worm and it will turn.” Shakespeare (No matter how lowly a creature is, it will respond to ill treatment OR defenseless creature will attempt to defend itself.)

“True coral needs no painter’s brush.”

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.” (Austin Phelps an American educator and clergyman – 1820-1890)

“When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war.” (Competition will be particularly fierce when two people of similar caliber encounter one another.)

“When the moon turns green cheese.” Sarcastic to a person who is gullible

“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

“With time and patience the leaf of the mulberry becomes a silk gown.” Chinese

“You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.” Russian equivalent – When the wood is cut, the chips fly. This means in order to achieve something, it is inevitable and necessary that something should be destroyed.

“You must spoil before you spin.” (Making mistakes before becoming proficient)

“Zeal without knowledge is a runaway horse.” (Action without deep thought will fail)

All proverbs from the last four blog entries have been taken from “Dictionary of English Proverbs, Sayings and Idioms in Russian, Kazakh and German” by Sakina Akmetova, published by Mektel in Almaty, Kazakhstan 2009

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“Wisdom of Nations” Proverbs- (Part III)

Sir Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, recommended: “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations” I think Churchill’s quote applies to reading through puzzling proverbs and sayings. Some of these proverbs I don’t know the meaning to, maybe because they are of British origin as well as from other nations.

These proverbs and sayings were written up in “Dictionary of English Proverbs, Sayings and Idioms in Russian, Kazakh and German” by Sakina Akmetova, published by Mektel in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 2009

“A bad reaper never gets a good sickle”

“And what are proverbs but the public voice?” (Coined first and made by common choice, they must have impact and common truth.)

“As the people, so the proverb.” By Robert Christy

“Better be envied than pitied.” Herodotus, Father of History

“Borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Shakespeare

“Children are poor men’s wealth.” Danish

“Covetousness breaks the bag.” (take to much and you tear the container)

“Cunning is the fool’s substitute for wisdom.”

“Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.” OR “To teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs.” Spanish, (silly to offer needless assistance or advice to an expert)

“Don’t wait for dead men’s shoes.” OR “He goes long barefoot that waits for dead man’s shoes.”

“On a long journey even a straw is heavy.” Italian

“Envy has no holiday.” Francis Bacon

“Envy shoots at others and wounds herself.”

“He who has a tongue goes to Rome.” OR “The tongue leads you to Kyiv.” (able to ask directions to get to your destination)

“Homer sometimes nods.” Or “Even Homer nods” (Even someone who is the best at what they can do, can turn in a subpar performance.)

“Proverbs are the wisdom of the street.” Prov. 1:20 or Prov. 8:1

“Put not your hand between the bark and the tree.” (similar to put hand between hammer and anvil)

“Slow at meat, slow at work.”

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Restore Dignity to my Students’ Grandparents – Part II

Hopefully I’ve established in yesterday’s blog, the strengths of the Kazakhs’ oral culture which helps students learn to speak English fluently.  While at the same time, with little exposure to written literature there is obviously a weakness here at our “westernized” university in Kazakhstan.  As I write, I’m thinking that these same teachers who bear down hard on their Kazakh students’ grammar, also hammer into them about correct topic sentence and supporting sentences.  So much so that even as a native speaker and writer of English, I begin to second guess my own writing if they are reading this. Am I doing this essay correctly, am I thinking about those stilted mechanics and getting it RIGHT?  Probably not, according to their scoring grid.


When native speakers of Russian speak in English they carry with them the heavy intonation colorations that put the EMPhasis on the first SYLlable of the words and FIRST part of the sentence.  Example:  “WHAT KIND of a restaurant is this anyway?” would seem offensive to a native speaker of English because it sounds accusatory.  The waitress hearing this would feel the question implies that it is a greasy spoon and not a fit place to eat.  Whereas, a native speaker would put the stress such as “What kind a restaurant IS this?”  Suggesting you want to know if it is a Greek or Chinese, what have you.


Back in 1993 and 1994 when I was dating Ken and not answering “Yes” to his marriage proposal, my friend Tatyana who was actually of Polish origins but was born in Kazakhstan said the following in her forceful Russian clip. “YOU ARE AN IDiot, if you don’t marry Ken.”  Okay, I listened to her wise counsel, I probably weighed out my careful pros and cons for the 100 th time and finally capitulated.  Of course, no one wants to be called an idiot, I married Ken.  I’m glad I did. 


Back to assigning my students to write about the problems their grandparents encountered and getting direct quotes from them about how they solved those problems.  Entirely different content from teen pregnancy or traffic gridlock, but the major point is to get our students to WRITE on a subject they are hopefully invested in.  Often while I did the cross checking of my fellow Kazakhstani teachers, I would find that their spiritless students would have as a solution the government would solve the problem.  I didn’t see many journal articles to support that, in fact, academic writers are more adept at showing where the government is a fault and part of the problem!


What my Russian friend objected to vociferously was that she claimed I had my students writing simplistic, descriptive essays.  Also, she fears that I would create a kind of “Ukraine Effect” where currently the Ukrainians are in a crisis over oil with the Russians. This is after the Ukrainians have a new found nationalism by re-establishing their own Ukrainian history.  If I get my Kazakh students to find out what the Soviet government did to their grandparents and share that information in the classroom, well her logic is, no doubt the problems of Ukraine would be visited upon Kazakhstan. Apparently, she doesn’t want to see any antagonism against Russians, like herself.   I think a quote from Shakespeare’s play from Hamlet applies here, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  Act 3, Scene 2, 222-230


Certainly I have been reminded over and over again about how the white man who came to America took away all the land from the Native American Indians.  In a few cases I have friends who are 1/16 th Indian blood, there were a LOT of mixed marriages over the centuries. The supposed takeover of American land was gradual, however, the Soviet annihilation of countries, such as Ukraine, Finland or other “stans” was devastatingly quick. Granted, where I am from in northern Minnesota there is what is known as the fighting Sioux and I taught at the Sioux Indian Reservation close to my grandma’s house in North Dakota.  From that experience, I know some of the Indian’s rage against the white man. 


Back to my student-centered approach, when I taught my young Sioux Indian children art, I saw what a strength they had in drawing horses and things from nature.  These Indian children were incredibly gifted and I plastered their artwork throughtout the halls of our school.  Do you think that didn’t restore some of their frayed dignity, just a little?  That is what I am trying to accomplish here in Kazakhstan, restore my Kazakh and Russian students’ dignity in finding out what their grandparents or great grandparents went through during the Soviet period. One of my students, Aida, had a grandmother who survived 10 years in ALZHIR,  Another student Laura’s grandfather survived 15 years in Siberia.  One Kazakh girl’s great grandfather was the highly respected Abay. 


You don’t think I was busting with pride along with them about the problems their ancestors encountered and how they solved them?    This problem/solution formula worked as well for my Ukrainian and Russian students I had in my predominately Kazakh classroom.  One student’s grandparents were Jews from Ukraine who were exiled to Kazakhstan. Often it happened that the Kazakhs ministered help and food provisions to these castoffs who were deported and dumped on their soil. In another case I saw one blonde Ukrainian student, who cared nothing about history, become alive with her writing project after she talked to her grandparents about the problems they faced down.  The same could be said of my Korean masters degree students I taught last summer.


Bottomline, I’m a student-centered teacher and the outline my students used needed to be more fluid depending on what the students found out in their searching for articles about the era their grandparents most talked about.  I believe it is far more difficult to plagiarize about topics close to the heart of the students (and they DO respect their elders) than the suggested, overused topics such as obesity, high school dropouts, traffic, crime, drugs, etc. 


By the time I come to the end of any given essay assignment, I hope to answer the question “So what?” Why is this important in the grand scope of things?  And the second question is: “Did I enjoy reading this or did I learn something new from this?”  If I can answer YES to those questions, no doubt the students enjoyed looking up journal articles and reading about the cause and effect of the problem.  No doubt they came up with more of a background and the far reaching extent of the problem.  I did not use a restrictive outline for them though I gave them my own example and wrote an essay for them to see what I was hoping to read in their essays.  Also, I would not have used such an elaborate scoring rubric that was devised but that was for the benefit of the teachers who are not student-centered.


Apparently there is NO solving this problem about who is right and WRONG except to maybe try using a different kind of essay this spring semester after the students have cut their teeth on a discursive essay for their midterm essay.  There are many other essays to choose from:  compare/contrast; cause/effect; argumentative, persuasive, evaluation…


Noone likes to be told they are WRONG simply because they are different.  By being an American and teaching in a oral tradition culture heavily dominated by top-down Soviet mentality, I am going to be different.  As our enrollment at our supposedly “western university keeps plummeting and more Kazakh parents can afford sending their loved ones to U.K. or the U.S. and Canada, they will see that writing is very, very important.  These Kazakh students will encounter teachers who write in their native language of English and they are promoted or gain tenure based on this skill.  Maybe THIS should be my swan song.


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Proverbs and Sayings about Education – Part II

“You must be the change you want to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi. Also somewhat similar quote: “Give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.” By Madeline Bridges from Belmont University.

Motivational speaker Dr. Alan Zimmerman is credited with the following quote: “Some people dream of accomplishments while others stay awake and do them. Maybe analogous to the Russian proverb perhaps oft quoted during the Great Patriotic War: “One man cannot be a warrior on a battlefield.”

Kazakhstan suffered much during the Second World War, the following quote “Who has never tasted bitterness, knows not what sweetness is.” Another quote more hopeful about travelling abroad: “The world is a book, and the person who stays at home reads but one page.” This quote was either coined from Shakespeare or St. Augustine, I would guess the latter since he lived before Shakespeare did. Great quote in any case and I guess I have read several pages with my travels to different countries over the past 30 years.

Those quotes which concerned teaching and learning, a topic near and dear to my heart, is the famous one attributed to Socrates who admitted: “I know only that I know nothing.” Another by Joseph Joubert is: “To teach is to learn twice.”

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Servant’s “Bit Part” in King Lear

Braveheart comes to mind when I think of the valiant efforts of western foreigners who are trying to make sense of our duties as university teachers in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  For those who have watched the three hours starring Mel Gibson, the major role he plays of William Wallace has you saying aloud in your head what Wallace yells at the end as he is drawn and quartered.  “Freedom!!!” 


Perhaps Braveheart may be easier to watch than reading Leo Tolstoy’s monolithic masterpiece of War and Peace concerning marriage, unity and disunity.  Fortunately, I have the long holiday weekend to plow through all 1455 pages of Tolstoy’s writings.  Maybe I’ll come to a better understanding about our teaching situation by the end of it.  I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina while I was teaching in China from 1986-88 and understood my Norwegian grandpa better who gave it to me.  Reading Tolstoy will be a major event for me, I’m accountable to my blog audience to achieve this goal.


Reading C.S. Lewis and his interpretation of King Lear got me to think about our institution of higher learning.  My Mom sized up our situation the other day in her concise way: It seems to me that it is hard enough to get along with people in the education business here in America but then to throw in people from many different cultures and make the mix work must be a real problem.”  Yes, that is it in a nutshell, unfortunately we are interfacing with people from various cultures who do not cope well with our present reality.  They are either dealing with their own past dysfunction or have grandiose ideas (read visionary) about the future.  See if Shakespeare’s King Lear character with a “bit part” according to C.S. Lewis, casts some light on our troublesome situation:


“…the idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience.  And it is a myth which distracts us from our real duties and our real interest.  It is our attempt to guess the plot of a drama in which we are the characters.  But how can the characters ina play guess the plot?  We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience.  We are on the stage.  To play well the scenes in which we are ‘on’ concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it…


In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely ‘First Servant’.  All the characters around him – Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund – have fine, long term plans.  They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong.  The servant has no such delusions.  He has no notion how the play is going to go.  But he understands the present scene.  He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place.  He will not stand it.  His sword is out and pointed as his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind.  That is his whole part: eight lines all told.  But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.”


I’m reminded of Job’s words, along with Braveheart’s, from 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him, Even so I will defend my own ways before Him.”

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