Irish boy wins Chinese story-telling competition

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The Independent Online

An Irish boy has defeated dozens of native speakers to finish in the top five of the All China Storytelling competition for his performance in Mandarin Chinese of "Little Red Riding Hood" – complete with red headwear.

Tiernan Murphy, nine, managed the feat despite having lived in China for only three years. It is the first time a Western child has made it to the final of the competition. The boy from Galway was one of two representatives from the Yew Chung International School in Shanghai.

"There were a lot of spectators," he said. "I was nervous going on stage but I imagined there were no people there. The hardest part was doing Little Red Riding Hood's voice," he said. The criteria for the competition were storytelling ability, technical skills in Mandarin, and stage presence. Tiernan, the judges agreed, had them all in spades.

Chinese is a fiendishly difficult language to learn, largely because of the complex system of pictograms that make up the written script. But spoken Chinese is fairly straightforward, particularly if the speaker has an ear for the four tones that differentiate similarly pronounced words. But mastering the nuances of the language is much harder.

"It's amazing to be the first non-Asian child to reach the final in the history of the competition," said Tiernan's proud father, Eoin Murphy. "But he and his brother speak Chinese to each other when they don't want me or my wife to understand them. The ceremony was great, it was a cross between Eurovision and Swap Shop."

Other stories that Tiernan has tackled include "Goldilocks", and he has played Baloo in The Jungle Book. His ambitions, he says, lie in Bollywood or Hollywood – if his father lets him, that is.

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