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Why Are Indian Kids So Good At Spelling?

StoneLion posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-n-t-e-l-l-i-g-e-n-t dept.

Education 534

theodp writes "Slate's Ben Paynter looks into why Indian kids dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and concludes it's because they have their own minor-league spelling bee circuit (having the discipline to spell 7,000 to 8,000 words a day probably helps too!). Indian-Americans make up about 1% of the US population, notes Paynter, but this year an estimated 11% of the competitors at Scripps will hail from regional contests run by the North South Foundation. The NSF competitions function as a kind of nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans — there are separate divisions for math, science, vocabulary, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking — and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India. BTW, Strollerderby has the scoop on Whatever Happened to the Spellbound Kids? (RIP, Ted Brigham)."

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534 comments

According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazine (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444674)

It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all). If my parents and community had supported my academic interests as much as they supported my little league career, I'm sure I would have won a lot more spelling bees too. Much as I think Asians often push their kids *too* hard, it would be nice to be able to spell "necessary" consistently today without needing a spell checker.

Ah screw it, spell checkers have made spelling obsolete anyway. And I can still throw a pretty mean curve ball.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (1)

the_other_chewey (1119125) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444780)

Ah screw it, spell checkers have made spelling obsolete anyway.

True. And it'll get totally useless with software that can wreck a nice beach.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444990)

All very well until you try to talk about that little lamb named "Mary Had"

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (4, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444794)

What's wrong with sports? Sports teach leadership and teamwork, which are arguably just as important as being able to spell "necessary" without a spell checker. Some parents might need to find a better balance with regards to sports vs. the rest of the curriculum but that doesn't mean that sports don't have their place.

There's also the fact that 1/3 of this country is obese to argue in favor of expanded sports/PE instruction.....

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (3, Interesting)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444994)

There's also the fact that 1/3 of this country is obese to argue in favor of expanded sports/PE instruction.....

If you're already obese (and many kids are), sports like football, soccer or baseball are not really recommended.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445270)

Tell that to the linemen on my high school football team.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445008)

I don't see any implication of 'better' or 'worse'. Simply that in a culture where a certain attribute is favored and parents drive their children toward success in that area, it should hardly be suprising that these children excel.

See: american cultures in sports, Indian culture and spelling, East-asian culture and math, French culture and cooking, polynesean culture and fishing, etc.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (2, Interesting)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445294)

"Sports teach leadership and teamwork,"

Thats a myth. There can only be one leader in a team and most kids just want to play and have fun anyway, they're not interested in having an outdoors team building workshop with balls despite what some team coaches seem to think. When I was at school there was nothing worse than having some teacher take the sports too seriously as it just spoiled the fun. In the end I got sick of team sports altogether because of the borderline psychotic behaviour of some of the sports staff.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (1)

shinnie (989745) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444810)

I think you're on to something. In school I played on the hockey and ruby teams because that is what made you socially acceptable. I was much more interested in science but hid the fact. It helped me socially that I usually ended up sitting in the hall during math and science classes. The other students assumed it was punishment but it was actually because I aready knew all the material. The teachers would privately tell me to find something constructive to do. I grew up to be an engineer, my daughter couldn't believe it when she found out I was actualloy not concideed a geek in school.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32444918)

ruby teams make you socially acceptable? I thought nerds/programmers were outcasts in school. Ahh nvm, bad spelling in a topic about good spelling, carry on.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32444852)

It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all).

There's little point in an Indian parent driving their child to excel at sports. India has the worst Olympic history of any nation, per capita. They are a world power only in Cricket. It would make sense that they gravitate towards trivia contests.

[dons curmudgeonly hat] (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445190)

It would make sense that they gravitate towards trivia contests.

I never entered a spelling competition, but when I was a kid, we were routinely tested. I never had any difficulty with it (even though I am not Indian), but I put this down to the fact that I read a lot of books, not because I ever spent any time systematically learning how to spell. Reading was something we did for fun when we were being lazy, not because it was expected of us.

This was in the days when there was no internet to distract my attention with predigested snippets of text interspersed with other media, so I wonder if I would have turned out the same if I had to do my time all over again. Fortunately, I'll never have to find out, but given how much books have enriched my own life, I find it a bit sad to see how many kids have virtually no dedicated time spent reading.

Re:[dons curmudgeonly hat] (2, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445326)

But they -are- reading when they are online. And writing too. They just aren't reading books. I can guarantee you that kids today read -far- more then the ones raised on TV in the 70s, 80s and early 90s and they probably write a ton more too. Think about it, I'm sure you read about the same if not more now than you did back when you were a kid. Between text messaging, Facebook, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. we are all reading more than we probably ever had to as a child.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (4, Insightful)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444858)

Not just parents, peer group. I'm sure plenty of /.ers are more than familiar with the general anti-intellectual sentiment found in many schools, especially among the 'cool kids' and young-ish age groups.

However hard one tries, it's difficult to remain motivated when having a wide vocabulary or advanced mathematical skills singles you out as 'weird'. A competitive academic environment, on the other hand, not only keeps motivation up but if anything pushes kids to spend extra time on their work, to help them 'win'.

In either case, though, a balance is needed. Overly pushy parents and excess competition seem to lead to social problems and feelings of inadequacy.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (5, Interesting)

el3mentary (1349033) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445046)

Not just parents, peer group. I'm sure plenty of /.ers are more than familiar with the general anti-intellectual sentiment found in many schools, especially among the 'cool kids' and young-ish age groups.

However hard one tries, it's difficult to remain motivated when having a wide vocabulary or advanced mathematical skills singles you out as 'weird'. A competitive academic environment, on the other hand, not only keeps motivation up but if anything pushes kids to spend extra time on their work, to help them 'win'.

In either case, though, a balance is needed. Overly pushy parents and excess competition seem to lead to social problems and feelings of inadequacy.

There's a reason all my best friends are of Asian descent, they're the only ones who seem to compete against me for grades everyone else just shrugs.

A Different Reason (3, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444870)

It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all).

It's weird, I read the article and came up with a completely different reason than the summary. And that reason is right in this text:

Just as Kavya Shivashankar has inspired the next wave of Indian spellers, Kavya found her bee mojo during the post-Spellbound boom. Before Spellbound, the 2002 documentary that featured Indian-American Nupur Lala's run to the 1999 Scripps title, many first-generation South Asian parents saw NSF as a way for their children to assimilate—the best way to understand a culture, after all, is to learn its language. They used the North South Foundation events as a sort of SAT prep, teaching their children to use phonetics, etymology, and word roots to suss out answers. "Our focus is not on competition," says Chitturi. "Winning becomes an outcome of you focusing on learning. You are competing against yourself, not these other people."

It seems like it's about assimilation and success to Indian-Americans as well as a great competition against yourself instead of another human -- minor league circuit or no minor league circuit. Then introduce a documentary outlining how one Indian kid succeeded by doing this and parents start picking up on it on a large scale.

If my parents and community had supported my academic interests as much as they supported my little league career, I'm sure I would have won a lot more spelling bees too.

But it's not like you had to be good at only one thing. My parents encouraged me to just be well rounded but it turned out I was terrible at sports and I loved playing trombone, reading and participating in math league. I'm sure the Indian kids get pushed to excel in sports as well but it is obvious that the cultural assimilation is very important to their parents because they most likely consider that as necessary on the path to success.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32444884)

The Asian solution is to beat your kid until they'll do anything to avoid being beaten.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (4, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444962)

Stupid people worship jocks because it is easier to imagine being strong than being smart. This would be fine if it didn't have devastating consequences for society.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (1)

ehrichweiss (706417) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444978)

I was about to reply to you and give you hell for assuming these Indian kids were from other countries but then I realized the summary said "Indian-Americans" not "American Indians"...while that's confusing at least it's not the generic "native Americans".

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445152)

It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all). If my parents and community had supported my academic interests as much as they supported my little league career, I'm sure I would have won a lot more spelling bees too. Much as I think Asians often push their kids *too* hard, it would be nice to be able to spell "necessary" consistently today without needing a spell checker.

Is a spelling bee really an "intellectual pursuit" though? It's rote memorization, and does not necessarily equate to true intellectualism; if you read the original writings of a lot of great thinkers, you see a lot of spelling mistakes, and I say this as a naturally great speller.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (3, Insightful)

Oscaro (153645) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445178)

No, actually pretty everyone in the world is better than native english speakers at spelling, because they learn English mostly by reading it, instead of learning it by listening and speaking it...

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445196)

"spell checkers have made spelling obsolete anyway"

Your mistaken if you think that kid's spelling can be improved using there computers alone.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445230)

It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all). If my parents and community had supported my academic interests as much as they supported my little league career, I'm sure I would have won a lot more spelling bees too. Much as I think Asians often push their kids *too* hard, it would be nice to be able to spell "necessary" consistently today without needing a spell checker.

Ah screw it, spell checkers have made spelling obsolete anyway. And I can still throw a pretty mean curve ball.

Unlike inner city black kids, they know who their fathers are, their fathers live with their mothers in a tradtional nuclear family, and they don't have an anti-achievement mentality where studying means "acting white" and will get you ridiculed and abused. Does it actually surprise anyone that these things make a measurable difference in scholastic performance such as spelling bees?

By the way, the reason half of you need spell checkers in the first place is because you were taught to read using that atrocious and profoundly anti-educational "whole word" reading method. You might as well be using heiroglyphics. You should have been taught using phonics so you would understand why words are spelled the way they are spelled. Then it would make sense to you that it would be spelled that way and it's no longer some arbitrary arrangement you have memorized and parroted. That's kinda the point of a phonetic alphabet. For teachers and especially the teacher's union, phonics has the tremendous downside of equipping you to do your own reading and independently educate yourself instead of having to ask Teacher what this particular arrangement of symbols sounds like.

Re:According to the latest article in "Duh" Magazi (1)

e2d2 (115622) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445234)

Spelling bee champs don't go home with the prom queen. The pitcher on the baseball team does.

Don't forget (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445250)

Social skills are far more valuable than intelligence when it comes to getting promoted and landing high-paying jobs.

Geeks tend to hate this fact.

Cause they got a job working for bell canada? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445318)

/.

Colour (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32444724)

All well & good, but they can't even spell colour correctly so i'm none impressed thus far....

Very Sumple.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32444736)

You pot effurt in, U git resuld

Look at the parents (3, Interesting)

genka (148122) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444754)

I saw a statistics, saying that 90% of Indian immigrants have a degree- the highest rate of any immigrant or native group.

Re:Look at the parents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445076)

'Cause immigrant parents woop a$$??

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oA9O3hMDRbw

Re:Look at the parents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445282)

I saw a statistics, saying that 90% of Indian immigrants have a degree- the highest rate of any immigrant or native group.

Yes, and that is very important point, often ignored.

The Indians immigrated to US or other developed countries have already gone through a huge process of proving themselves with education, talent and other qualities. They may not be the best of Indians, but definitely far above average.

A realistic comparison would emerge with competition between kids of some random school here and random school in India.

Somewhat offtopic, but I am a great admirer of education system in developed world. I had a student of first year engineering from University of Waterloo in Canada to help us with the project. I learnt from her that they undergo these kind of assignment twice every year, most of the times ending up different companies and working on different technologies and different project leaders. This helps them big way to think about their career and probably a job offer lot before they are out of University.

Being an Indian, I know that the engineers coming out of University in India have no clue which direction they might go, or what the f*** happens in an organization. Most of companies in India end up giving some orientation training and may be couple of years down the road he/she knows what the f*** is going on around.

Life Perspective (1, Troll)

Bicx (1042846) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444770)

Some societies promote knowledge and mental discipline as keys to success. Others have come to prefer art, sports, and pursuit of whatever makes you feel good at the time. I'll let you categorize appropriately.


(Disclaimer: I know I'm overgeneralizing, but it's fun and it makes me feel good)

Re:Life Perspective (1)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444896)

Some societies promote knowledge and mental discipline as keys to success. Others have come to prefer art, sports

And neither art nor sports require knowledge or mental discipline to be successful.

pursuit of whatever makes you feel good at the time.

Because academic excellence doesn't feel good.

Re:Life Perspective (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444982)

And neither art nor sports require knowledge or mental discipline to be successful.

You are 100% completely wrong, IMO. To excel at sports, to be truly good at them, you HAVE to have the will to succeed, the will to get up at 4:30am and go run, hit the gym, go to the batting cages, run routes, etc. I can't speak for art, since I am completely talentless when it comes to artistic endeavors. To say there is no mental discipline required shows a complete lack of understanding about success at high-levels of sports.

Re:Life Perspective (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445150)

And neither art nor sports require knowledge or mental discipline to be successful.

Really? You think you could learn to make one of these [howstuffworks.com] without knowledge and mental discipline? You think you could learn to hit a 100mph fastball without mental discipline?

Re:Life Perspective (1)

Bicx (1042846) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445154)

For the record, I know you're being sarcastic. I meant it as a joke until I saw someone honestly take you literally.

Like I said, I knew I was overgeneralizing. I don't mean for this to be a diligent analysis of all pursuits. I am merely trying to make a point that many people have no respect for academic success despite the fact that well-educated engineers and scientists are what make much of our modern lifestyle possible. Other pursuits tend to be more socially acceptable, and to some people, social acceptance is all that matters. However, when you have colleges in the U.S. that would rather give academic departments the shaft rather than drop a sports program, you have a problem that goes beyond issues of social acceptance.

Re:Life Perspective (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445218)

"And neither art nor sports require knowledge or mental discipline to be successful"

For those with talent, particularly "primitive" artists, artistic knowledge and discipline may not be required at all. "Art" nowadays may be almost completely dismissed as popular shit (whose MARKETING requires knowledge and discipline).

Sports require some knowledge, considerable discipline, but not necessarily the kind that is transferable to anything else, which is why stories of jocks who ruin their lives despite wealth are legion.

Re:Life Perspective (5, Insightful)

blue_teeth (83171) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444964)

Indian here. By and large Indian society focuses on learning by rote and not on creativity.

What good does winning spelling contests achieve? Efficient secretaries?

Writing is better than talking. Thinking is better than writing. Deciding is better than thinking - William James

 

Re:Life Perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445068)

Indian here.

Cherokee? Comanche? Hopi? Iroquois?

Define your terms. The Latin for fuck is "fucare" which always reminds me of "fuck Carrie"...and I have been getting shit in that department lately...

and far too many (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445158)

think "that is what school is for" and sign off on their obligation as if that statement alleviates them of any responsibility.

Summary is gibberish (1)

IICV (652597) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444812)

Is it just me (and I am running a 102 degree fever, so it might be) or is the summary basically gibberish? It starts off talking about Indian kids being good at spelling, and ends with something about the "spellbound kids" (whatever the heck that is) and Ted Brigham who is apparently dead. I am very confused.

Re:Summary is gibberish (1)

fl!ptop (902193) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445052)

is the summary basically gibberish?

Not only that, but when I read TFA (yeah, I know), a lot of the links went nowhere.

Re:Summary is gibberish (1)

gront (594175) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445244)

is the summary basically gibberish?

Not only that, but when I read TFA (yeah, I know), a lot of the links went nowhere.

Kinda like customer service at a call center, cept they probably didn't repeat the same script 3 times. "Yes, how can help you?"

Re:Summary is gibberish (3, Informative)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445286)

Is it just me (and I am running a 102 degree fever, so it might be) or is the summary basically gibberish? It starts off talking about Indian kids being good at spelling, and ends with something about the "spellbound kids" (whatever the heck that is) and Ted Brigham who is apparently dead. I am very confused.

Spellbound was a spelling bee documentary. Ted Brigham was one of the kids in it. And he evidently killed himself in 2007. There's no cause of death listed, just a death notice, and families generally don't list the cause of death if it might be damaging to the person's reputation; suicide, death by erotic misadventure, really dumb accidents, etc.

Indian Parents (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32444822)

As an Indian, the most obvious answer to me is that their parents push them to try harder.

So Special (1)

Rallias Ubernerd (1760460) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444828)

I can spell too. I know the english language well enough to communicate my thoughts across, except in certain fields where few words exist and the reverse dictionary lookups don't work for me. Who cares that they have the ability to spell any word in the english language, no matter where it came from? Yes I know I can spell a majority of the language, but I have better things to do than study the fucked up book called the dictionary. I don't need spelling in my future career choices. I can write an essay (with 5 days notice), I can write a resume (no bull). What really counts in this world? Money. Being able to spell something is only a slight advantage. It astounds me that people are willing to work every day on learning words when they will only use 20-30 thousand of them on a normal basis.

Indian Americans (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444864)

Hold on, we're not talking about native Americans here?

Re:Indian Americans (1)

jgagnon (1663075) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445192)

It had me thrown for a moment at first, but the answer is no. These are Indian-Americans, not American Indians.

If you knew how to spell... :p

Culture vs Race (3, Insightful)

xzvf (924443) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444878)

The difference is the emphasis a particular culture places on an activity vs race. We notice these particular differences in sports and entertainment because it is in our faces most of the time, but academics, neighborhoods, food consumption, jobs, etc are all influenced by our culture. As a white male southerner, I'm introduced to gun use, Protestant church, pig based barbecue, college football, etc. That's what I do.

Spelling is for the bees (1)

Scragglykat (1185337) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444888)

Is immaculate spelling really a useful thing these days? There are so many online that spell words incorrectly, usually on purpose, and yet their messages still get across crystal clear (for the most part)... is this, like cursive writing, something that has outlived its usefulness? Should everything be truncated to shorthand abbreviations of the previous words in order to save time writing or conveying our messages? Will knowing how to spell 7000 words get you anywhere in life? I'm thinking no.

with small forums feeds / txts started the move to (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445004)

with small forums feeds / txts started the move to shorthand / abbreviations and spell check just makes spelling even more of thing of the past. The COURTS GOT that part right a long time ago.

When people are on tight call center metrics what makes you think they have the the time to spell 100% right? when they can just fail back to spell check and move to the next call.

Re:Spelling is for the bees (3, Insightful)

dward90 (1813520) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445026)

"Immaculate" spelling isn't necessary, but spelling well is useful. Language functions as more than simply a way to communicate ideas. The way we write and the correctness of our writing confers to readers the care with which we approach our endeavors. This is particularly important in business, where mispelling word can make one appear incompetent.

Kids who win spelling bees are better at spelling than will ever useful to them. However, even with spell-checking, being able to spell the entirety of your working vocabulary has real benefits and no disadvantages.

Re:Spelling is for the bees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445254)

As an Indian-American (what an asinine nomenclature), I'd say that "immaculate" spelling itself is not a big deal - but the skills you learn while getting good at spelling are invaluable. Growing up overseas (in England) I had to take Latin and thus was indirectly introduced to the concept of using the etymology of words to derive meanings and to use the proper words to clearly communicate to others. Unsurprisingly, THIS is what helps people succeed in business and in life in general. These spelling "geeks" don't excel by memorization - but because they internalize other skills that help them excel.

I'd like to see an article contrasting the communication styles of people who can spell well versus those who don't. I'd wager you see a marked difference in the way they communicate - the clarity of thought, how they organize ideas etc. These skills are enhanced by the shared goals of the spelling bee.

Re:Spelling is for the bees (1)

MontyApollo (849862) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445180)

After hearing some of the expert commentary during the competition, it does seem a lot more interesting than what I originally thought it would be. From what little I have seen, it looks like it is just as heavy linguistics as it is immaculate spelling. They use the meaning and origin of the word to figure out the likely way that individual parts of the word should be translated and spelled. It just seems like you would learn a lot about language in general and the different languages of the world.

LOL...let's re-do the headline (3, Interesting)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444894)

Why are African Americans so good at Sports? Why are Latin American kids so good at baseball?

Oh wait, those are politically incorrect, isn't it? We're not allowed to talk about that.

How is the article ANY different?

Re:LOL...let's re-do the headline (3, Funny)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444932)

I absolutely, positively LOVE the smell of burning strawmen in the morning. Smells like... trolling!

Re:LOL...let's re-do the headline (4, Interesting)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445010)

Please tell me how they're any different?

Think about it, instead of assuming I'm trolling, because I'm 100% not at all.

Indian kids do well in the highest levels of spelling competitions. Latin American kids do well in the highest levels of baseball. African American kids do well in the highest levels of basketball and football. Why is that any different from the headline?

Re:LOL...let's re-do the headline (4, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445036)

Different? Not at all. The strawman is the fact that "we are not supposed to talk about it".

Re:LOL...let's re-do the headline (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445134)

I'm glad you feel that way.

But TV commentators have been fired in the not too distant past for saying similar statements.

Re:LOL...let's re-do the headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445114)

What is it with Chinese parents and their kids Piano and Violin recitals? :-)

W

They are willing to do the needful (2, Interesting)

KingSkippus (799657) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444906)

Okay, I know this is a bit off-topic, but I'm a bit embarrassed to actually ask any of my Indian colleagues this to their face and thought that the faceless strangers of Slashdot might be able to help.

Is this phrase, "please do the needful," some kind of Indian colloquialism? Back in the day, I suppose that a lot of Indians learned English from the British and passed it down through the generations, but I've never heard a British person use this phrase. My Indian colleagues use it a lot. I mean, like all the time when they're asking you for something. It's a phrase that I honestly don't think I've heard anyone of another ethnic background use. I'm not racist; I don't really care if they use the phrase because I understand what they are saying, although it did catch me off guard the first few times I heard it used in conversation.

I guess I'm just looking for some insight because I'm genuinely curious what its etymology is. Is it a direct translation of a common Indian-language phrase? Is it just one of those idioms that develop over time in a region? Is it something that was popularized by one or a small group of people at some point in the distant past?

Re:They are willing to do the needful (4, Informative)

recoiledsnake (879048) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444998)

It was used in British and American English as early as last century.

From the Wiki:

"Do the needful" is an expression, now archaic or used humorously except in South Asian English (Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan), which means "do that which is requisite or necessary". Although sometimes parodied as a staple of contemporary South Asian English, the expression was current in both British[1] and American English[2] well into the early 20th century.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists examples of usage from 1709 (Richard Steele in the Tatler), 1771 (Samuel Foote in Maid of Bath), 1821 (Maria Edgeworth in a letter), 1831 (Walter Scott in his journal), 1929 (I. Colvin in his Life of Dyer), and 1992 (Jeff Torrington in Swing Hammer Swing!), the last likely used humorously.[1]

Re:They are willing to do the needful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445136)

It's an old English formal way of saying 'do what is needed', the British stopped using it long ago, but it has stuck on in India..

Re:They are willing to do the needful (4, Interesting)

dancingmad (128588) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445160)

I'm Bengali (we're all apart of the same culture group), but born and raised in the U.S. You're intuiting the right answer here (though a quick Wikipedia search would have helped you even more).

My original guess was one of your two suggestions; either it's an old British phrase or the Indian-ization of the English words. A lot of phrases died out in contemporary British English that still survive in India. One of my favorite authors, P.G. Wodehouse, for example, isn't widely read in England anymore, but remains popular in India; a lot of British literature from the Victorian era to perhaps the 1920s or 30s remains popular in India and until recently was most educated Indians' English literature (the growth of American popular culture in India and of Indian literature being written in English is probably changing this).

I read a joke somewhere that the last Englishman will be an Indian; there's a large element of truth to that; English manners, social norms, and cultural ideas from the Raj remain entrenched in Indian culture, even though they are no longer a major force in contemporary English culture.

Anyway, do the needful was in common use in the U.S. and Britain until the 20th century. [wikipedia.org]

Re:They are willing to do the needful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445194)

Im an indian (in india no less), and I honestly have never used that phrase (and I havent seen it being used either)..

Re:They are willing to do the needful (2, Informative)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445212)

Rent The Man Who Would Be King and you'll hear Michael Caine say it.

rj

Re:They are willing to do the needful (1)

billy8988 (1049032) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445290)

In high school English we had an exercise called "Letter writing". They teach you how to write (or kiss ass) your higher ups (be it Government officials, or Headmaster, or your boss). Every letter will have "kindly", several pleases, most importantly will end with yours obediently. When I came to US for grad school, I saw no one using those crap, I stopped using them.

Bees are nonsense (1)

DudeTheMath (522264) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444940)

I gave up on spelling bees in 6th grade when I lost the class bee because the teacher thought "atmosphere" was spelled "atomosphere" and refused to let me get the dictionary and prove I was right. I realize real bees are checked and double-checked both before and during the competition, but that episode so turned me off that I decided never to waste my time memorizing lists of words.

Perhaps it's the way they pronounce things (1)

kumma (1077987) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444952)

Perhaps it's the way they pronounce things. Dunno. In Finnish the words are said like they are written, and we do not have spelling competitions because that would be, well, silly.

Re:Perhaps it's the way they pronounce things (1)

raynet (51803) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445062)

That is one of the perks of using language with phonetic (kinda) writing system.

Re:Perhaps it's the way they pronounce things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445204)

All Indian languages are also written as spoken, so there's no special advantage there.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_language

Spelling contests (1)

mrjb (547783) | more than 3 years ago | (#32444984)

As a European, I never understood the big thing about the US spelling contests. I'm not against them, mind you; but even if you can spell perfectly, you'll still need to know the grammar to support your spelling. Otherwise, you're still going to get it wrong.

Yes, you'll still need too no the grammar too support you're spelling. Otherwise, your still going too get it wrong. My spelling is perfect means not I right English very good.

Re:Spelling contests (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445214)

As a European, I never understood the big thing about the US spelling contests.

As a foreigner living in the US I am coming to the conclusion that society here prefers pageantry and spectacle over form and substance. It also embraces parochialism (not sure if that is the best word for it) at a low level so that there always has to be an "us vs. them" mentality (this also works IMHO at multiple levels of their society - city vs country, state vs state and country vs country). And throw in a dose of parents living vicariously through their children. So to me the spelling bees are just a manifestation of the pathological state of the society as a whole.

Re:Spelling contests (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445316)

A spelling contest should be in written form. What's the point of having kids spell out words like weird little robots? I just don't get it.

It's not just spelling (3, Interesting)

Arawak (98728) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445000)

Educated Indian immigrants are generally much better at English than educated North Americans.... probably becuase they actually learn the language in school, including the grammar. Also, almost all Indian post-secondary education is done in English. It doesn't surprise me that they insist that their kids speak - pronunciation aside - and write English to the same standard they do.

It is pitiful how many North Americans (Americans and Anglo Canadians, that is) have a degree but cannot write or speak their language to a standard that would pass overseas English language competency tests.

Re:It's not just spelling (4, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445138)

The US is savagely anti-intellectual.

Unless you make an effort to live and work among superior people most of the country is a (Katzian definition) Hellmouth. Americans are brutish and willfully ignorant, most are superstitious (from religion to astrology), and they fetishize their stupidity and ignorance in their popular entertainments and choice of elected officials. Except for a very few people, the US has turned into a bad place.

It's really no surprise that business and government can't resist exploiting such people. Most of them deserve it.

Re:It's not just spelling (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445242)

The US is savagely anti-intellectual.

Right, that's why we don't reward professions that require a lot of education with money and prestige...oh wait we do. Well, that's why most kids say they want to be ditch diggers or work at Wal-Mart or at a slaughterhouse. Oh wait, they don't. Well, I guess it's like how we don't have a system of higher education that people come from all over the world to learn from...Oops, we do again. What was your point again? I'm guessing unlike a lot of the anti-US ranters here, you are actually from the US based on your criticism of US politicians and US TV shows, as if the rest of the world is any better on either of those fronts.

Religion (2, Interesting)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445056)

One of my colleagues mentioned this a while back. According to his religion, words are powerful. It's part of devotion to ensure that prayers are read and copied *exactly*. In some other cultures it's a different approach, where the meaning is more important than the words. I don't know if this affects how well their spelling ability, but I imagine that it does.

What do the kids get out of it? (1)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445090)

Motivations for hard work are usually pretty transparent.

As adults, we work hard to get money or status or personal satisfaction or, well, laid.

It's very clear that spelling bee winners work very, very hard. To me, incomprehensibly hard.

But what do these kids get? Do their peers look up to them? Surely no one would work that hard just for a scholarship or some cash. Or am I wrong about that?

Just wondering.

Nature not Nurture (3, Funny)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445120)

The Indian community does not go into spelling because there are many other successful Indian spellers as role models, nor because their parents value the exercise or because there is a supportive community of Indian spellers. It is Nature not Nurture at play here. this is not about the evolution of a culture through positive feedback, it is all about the Creator's wish. This is intelligent Spelling Design in action.

It definitely is all about culture (1)

csueiras (1461139) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445170)

I am puertorican, and in Puerto Rico many people want their kids grow to be famous baseball players or basketball, etc. I was in little league and apparently I was pretty good. But after some years I lost complete interest. Right now I am about to graduate from my Computer Science degree, with a really good job offer and I have during my academic career achieved a lot of really good things. But my grandmother is always saying how good of a baseball player I could have been and how many millions of dollars I could have made, all of this despite all of my success. So definitely things like this do depend a lot in the culture, some are focused on academic success, others in sports, etc. As someone said earlier, it is all about life perspective.

They are Americans! (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32445220)

They are Americans, not Indian-Americans. You racist liberals need to stop the segregation. It's E Pluribus Unum, not E Pluribus Pluribus.

Spellbound people (3, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445236)

I know two of the people who were in Spellbound as kids (Emily Stagg and Harry Altman), and I've a met a third. This makes me wonder if this is evidence the set of high-achievers in US society is a) much smaller than one might think and b) determined at a surprisingly early age. I know, tiny anecdotal evidence but still I wonder...

Seems obvious to me (5, Funny)

willith (218835) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445252)

Why is it so surprising that kids from a culture that produces names like "Sivasubramaniam Raveendranath" and "Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad" are good at spelling?

Crushing poverty is one hell of a motivator (2, Interesting)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445288)

meanwhile, American kids are at the mall buying fart spray. Adversity is key to motivation, which most American children never experience.

A refreshing article (1)

e2d2 (115622) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445320)

This is a refreshing article. We usually don't see comparisons of The World versus America, showing our weaknesses. Thank the maker someone took the time to finally come out and say something about our lack of spelling bee champs.

i'll go out on a limb and say... (1)

buddyglass (925859) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445322)

...because their parents are disproportionately willing, compared to other parents, to force their children to spend untold hours performing rote memorization tasks that have highly questionable utility. E.g. memorizing how to spell words.

Wrong question? (2, Insightful)

DavidR1991 (1047748) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445336)

Not to troll or flame the US here - but maybe this is wrong question. Rather than asking "Why are Indian kids so good?" we should be saying "Why are all the other kids not as good?

Answer: Ding ding ding! The education system! It seems more likely that with the (stereotyped) Indian parents that actually care about their kids education, they will 'fix' the holes that the education system ignores (and beyond a stereotype, this is also a cultural thing - education is highly valued - as it should be. If that means picking up the slack that the 'system' ignores, so be it)

And that 'slack' could be anything - like being able to spell. Or do anything, for that matter (this is the same in the UK, by the way - not just a troll at the US. Numeracy and literacy has become 'measure' obsessed rather than "Can these kids do basic skill XYZ?" - spell, count etc.)

So in essence, what I'm saying is: Maybe the education system is failing everybody else, and only these American-Indian families (who actually value education) are smart enough to 'fill in the holes' (where the education system fails)?

multilingual (2, Informative)

X10 (186866) | more than 3 years ago | (#32445366)

In India people speak a number of native languages and English. Assuming that parents teach their kids one or two of these native languages, Indian kids are multilingual, making them better at language. And probably multilingual parents are a better role model to these kids than the average American parent who speaks just English.

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