El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

“Star trek” Languages Inc.

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You know, after visiting hundreds of really bad schools of English in half a dozen cities in Mexico, I thought I had seen it all. What a fool I was. Tonight as I was walking past our local branch of the https://i2.wp.com/blogs.amctv.com/scifi-scanner/2star_trek_csg_031.jpgUniversity of Bugtussle (well, it actually has absolutely no connection with any university in Bugtussle, they just use the name “Bugtussle” because, well, I guess they use it because it sounds better than calling it the “University of Screw You”. This outfit has several buildings downtown and they are making money hand over fist by, frankly, cheating every poor SOB that walks through the door expecting a useful education. The main thing that students learn at this place is that there is no end to the number of ways that scam artists will try to steal your money.                 https://i2.wp.com/www.freeimageslive.com/galleries/buildings/london/pics/bigben01958.jpg

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Written by El Fomentador

November 13, 2008 at 6:54 am

“Gooseberries” by Anton Chekhov

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As an undergraduate at the university I had a favorite Professor of English who was a devotee of the French philosophers. After a few of his literature courses I became an existentialist for a couple of years. In my own defense, I never owned a beret or even a black turtleneck sweater. But I will admit it was kind of fun to live a life where I could “plunge to the depths of despair” while clearly separating myself from those around me that seemed oblivious to the true meaningless of life and the eternal suffering of our pitiful human condition. Even now it can sometimes seem comforting to view the natural forces that sustain our lives–the Sun, water, wind–as simply rotting our planet away in the midst of an uncaring and unforgiving universe.

Of course, eventually, I had to graduate and begin the time honored process of clawing my way into the middle-class. A family, a job, a home, even a station-wagon seemed to salve my sense that something wasn’t right. A life in the ‘burbs, surrounded by other families that were all building toward the elusive and perhaps, indefinable, “American dream” was easy to fall into and, to be honest, had its own rewards, I could say that I was happy. A life of “quiet desperation” was preferable to one punctuated by dark despair and Weltschmerz; and besides, I just don’t look good in a beret!

Well, now that former life is gone. I live in a tiny apartment, tucked into a very Mexican neighborhood surrounded by a dirty, often noisy, ramshackle industrial city thousands of miles away from family and friends. Man, talk about the potential for despair! Usually I am more frustrated by the injustice that I witness around me than despairing over my own human condition. In a way I consider myself very fortunate–I had a life I loved and now have a chance at a second life, a life with a purposefulness that I can define, instead of having a life that defines me. I’ve been allowed to join the ranks of the “reconstructed existentialists” that recognize a life of moping despair serves no one. And to walk with the Sun on your back or the rain in your face should not be oppressive but inspiring; the tiny, ephemeral joys of this existence are what we get and in large part are what we make of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t morphed into a Pollyanna, or a Sarah Palin. Life is still a very confusing and challenging condition, and to paraphrase the old bumper sticker: Mean People Still Suck. But that is what makes the hundreds of thoughtful, caring, intelligent people I have been privileged to meet and know and work with over the years all the more important. Gee, that does sound kind of “Pollyanna-like”. Regardless, imagine, if you can, my response when I recently rediscovered Anton Chekhovs’ short story “Gooseberries” tucked into an old paper-back edition of “The Best Short Stories of the Modern Age”. Certainly “Gooseberries” meets the criteria for inclusion in the book.

Chekhov lived from 1860 to 1904 and was born in Russia. His contributions to the modern short story include sharing a deep sympathy for his characters and their situations. He writes with an, often, stark truthfulness more focused on the flow of ideas than on formal plot lines. Obviously, I am not classifying Chekhov as an existentialist but his work can often give that same sense of despair.https://i1.wp.com/www.my-chekhov.com/images/foto/chehov_24.jpg
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Secretary of Education, Teachers Union and Normalistas Leave Students Out of the Equation

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The ongoing battle between the Mexican Secretary of Public Education, the national teachers union and the Normal School teachers is nothing new. The built-in deficits in the public education system have been evident for generations. The new initiative “Alliance for Quality in Education” is just the latest in a line of half-hearted, politically-motivated reform proposals to come down the pike.

Of course the idea of “reform” usually rings hollow when it is tossed around by politicos anywhere in the world. Protectors of the status quo aren’t interested in change that threatens to rock the boat. (For an example, just compare John McCains campaign speeches with his voting record for the last thirty years).

As I have said before, I like teachers. They are good people usually working under poor conditions. Those working in the worst conditions, rural districts and poor, urban neighborhoods, are often the first to be forgotten by petty bureaucrats.
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The “Harming-them All” School of English

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Another name-brand franchise patito. True-to-form, this one’s tucked into a junky-looking building on a side street across from a shopping center parking lot. Its cheap, back-lit sign is the only light on the block. The narrow one-way street in front serves mainly as a short-cut for harried commuters trying to skirt the afternoon traffic that piles up across el centro. https://i2.wp.com/katiejeffreys.com/ducky/ducky30.jpg

Yes, more than just another crummy, store-front patito, “Harming-them All” really lives up to its pseudonym. Of course the foundation of any patito is built on reams of useless, outrageously over-priced material. This place doesn’t even bother to have their crap printed anymore–it’s all just photo-copied (of course it is still over-priced).

“Harming-them All” is a real triple-threat: They throw poorly-prepared (and even more poorly-paid) “teachers” into classes of up to 30 students and then make certain that any student that can pay is passed up to the next level–whether or not they actually learned anything. The idea is that they don’t want the students to learn too much so they can keep them hanging on and hook them into the full course.

It works something like this: 18 levels–18 months. The students have to buy new material at different levels throughout the course. You can be bi-lingual in one and a half years. And if you’re not they will just “tweak” your test scores and present you with a certificate of completion that is pretty much worthless anyway. “Thank-you very much for giving us your hard-earned cash, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
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Written by El Fomentador

September 3, 2008 at 8:31 pm

Artificial Languages: Is There An Ideal Balance?

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An Ideal International Language?

There are several elements that would likely be required for any artificial language to be accepted into official status as an international language. There are also several reasons why it would be difficult. The following arguments both for and against the concept are drawn from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language by David Crystal (I’ve got an old copy I found at a used book store, it is really an amazing resource on world languages in general and on the Queen’s English in particular. I recommend it to anyone.)https://i0.wp.com/www.fromoldbooks.org/Dalziel-RecordOfWork/pages/000-front-cover-good-words-1872-title-page/000-front-cover-good-words-1872-title-page-q75-333x500.jpg

Generally, an ideal artificial language (AL) would be:

Easy to learn The grammar should be regular and simple; the meanings of words and compound words must be based on well-defined principles; the spelling should be phonetic; and there should be no difficult sounds.

Able to be translated Translations into and out of other natural languages would be made easier by the use of universal features of languages and root words that have a history of international use. There would need to be a flexible structure that allows for the expression of idiom from each speakers own language.

Wide-ranging in function Besides the ordinary daily uses of language in speech and writing, the AL would need to work for specialized language uses in: technology, business, politics, religion, medicine and more. And it would need to be used in international media from satellite transmissions to video games.

Standardized Ideally, there should be no regional variations or dialects. The idea is maintain control over intelligibility in the long-term. Some sort of governing group would decide on any changes.
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August 18, 2008 at 7:41 am

Simplified Spanglish; Donde es Doktoro Esperanto?

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Hey, how about that Esperanto? And no, I’m not talking about a first baseman from the Dodgers, or the latest coffee concoction from Starbucks (although it sounds like it might taste good), but that attempt at creating an international language, by Pole Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof (1859-1917). He first published his work in 1887 using the pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto” (‘Doctor Hopeful’). “Doktoro Esperanto”, what a great pen name, sounds kind of like some guy that el Santo el Emascarado del Plata might run into in the lucha libre ring.                                                           https://i0.wp.com/curiousexpeditions.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/639229040_19d841fb0a.jpg

Zamenhof began working on his idea as a teenager. Living in eastern Europe he had  variety in his language background. Russian was used in his home. Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew were used in the community. French, German, English, Greek and Latin were taught in the schools.

In his later life he proposed a world religion. He called it Homaranismo, which means “member of the human race”. This guy was full of good intentions, as his religion was predicated on peace, tolerance, and the unity of peoples. Not a bad place to start!
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La Adventura Americana or My American Adventure

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Hola Amigos, El Fomentador wants to thank-you all for your visits to the blog, muchas gracias. It is that time of year when el Fomentador hits the road–the road north. Three days in el autobus from central Mexico to Canada sounds like a horror story in itself. But I have gotten pretty good at riding buses. And the system in Mexico is actually better than in the states. There are generally two drivers, the bus is filled with Mexican families from little kids to grandparents, they show movies on the trip, and everyone is friendly and willing to put up with my poor Spanish; it’s good practice for me and I have met some amazing people. Of course they are all heading to the US to work or visit family. As an example, last year I rode next to a young Mexican guy on his way to North Dakota. He was a good example of the changing demographics of our countries–a Mexican guy working in a Chinese restaurant in North Dakota! Somewhere I am sure there is a Chinese guy working in a Mexican restaurant in Michigan. I like to say: Only in America!                https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Malta_01_bus.jpg
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June 9, 2008 at 9:01 pm