Writer condemned unjustly

Nelson Aguilera, a Paraguayan writer, was condemned for 30 months of prison for a crime he did not commit: plagiarism.

In April 2010 he wrote a children’s story about the Paraguayan independence (1811) with the purpose of teaching Paraguayan kids in a very simple way how they became independent from the Spanish crown. His main character is Karumbita (A tortoise) which belongs to a series created in 2005 by the author and published by Alfaguara (from Sapin). Karumbita, la patriota (the patriot) is the second book of the series, who travelled in time and met all the patriots who took part in the Paraguayan revolution which made them free.

 

On the other hand, Maria Eugenia Garay, sister of a member of the Paraguayan Supreme Court, also had written a book called “The Time Tunnel” in 2005. The characters are two boys and a their grandfather. They also travelled in time going to different parts of the universal history. They also went to 1811 and they were witnesses of the Paraguayan independence.

 

Historical characters, events, and dates cannot be changed in writing stories which main purpose is to teach History to kids. Moreover, travelling in time is a common ground. However, Mrs. Garay sued Mr. Aguilera saying that there were 43 coincidences between the two books. The prosecutor, Mrs. Cattoni, asked for teachers and experts to analyze the two books. Dr. Peiró (from Spain) and Dr. Méndez Faith (from St. Anselm – Boston), as Mrs. Fleitas Guriland, Mrs. Pirirs Da Motta (experts in Discourse Analysis), Dr. Rodríguez Alcalá (well known Paraguayan writer, historian and journalist) as Mr. Trinidad (expert from the Court) concluded that there was not plagiarism of any kind due to the styles of the two writers were very much different. But, the prosecutor did not accept these studies and preferred one written by an accountan and a Literature teacher who said that similarities in Literature are to be considered plagiarism.

The oral trial took place the end of October and finished on the 4th of November with the sentence of 30 months of prison for Mr. Aguilera. All the evidences were not allowed and 40 witnesses (Doctors in Lit., writers, journalists, teachers) were not permitted to testify for Mr. Aguilera.  When the sentence was published there was a big outcry in the Paraguayan society defending Mr. Aguilera who is a well known professor and writer and highly respected by the educational community.

Voices from different parts  of the world came supporting Mr. Aguilera (from Argentina, Italy, the USA, Uruguay, Spain) saying that this kind of injustice should not be tolerated. Justice has to be for everyone, not only for the powerful and influential people. The office of Human Rights in Paraguay had also raised its voice saying that they respect the analysis made by scholars who really understand what Literature is and that Mr. Aguilera’s rights should be respected and not violated as it has been done.

 

This Monday, November 25th, Mr.  Derlis Cespedes (Aguilera’s lawyer) will appeal to the Chamber of Appeals in Paraguay. However, Mr. Aguilera wants the international community to learn and to raise its voice not only against his case but also against all the unjust situations in which million of Paraguayan live. Corruption is the daily bread of the Paraguayan society in which the powerful people abuse of their power. Last week, for instance, senator Victor Bogado was covered by 23 senators not to declare of all the corruptions he was accused. The whole society made big demonstrations against this kind of acts. The 23 MP’s were even expulsed from restaurants, shopping centers etc. These measures are the way the society is finding to protest against so much corruption and injustice.  

THAT IS WHY…

Please write to these members of the Paraguayan Parliament asking for justice for Nelson Aguilera who was condemned for 30 months of prison unjustly, for a crime that he did not commit: plagiarism.

President of Senate: jcvelazquez@senado.gov.py

President of Deputies: jbramirez@diputados.gov.py

Complains for the Court: ed_escobar@pj.gov.py

Stereotyping

santiago-lrg

I have already met many, many students. Through the years, I got to see some kind of pattern concerning Paraguayan students of English who are studying to get a B.A. in the English language. This is definitely just my biased perception, but here it goes:

1. Students who love English. Their main motivation is their infatuation with the English language. They feel comfortable speaking in English, and speak it all the time, whether they are in class or out of it. In the classroom or in the college bathroom.

They like the Anglo culture, have a wider view of the world, see “the big picture” in terms of globalization. They love exchanging ideas and theorize with native speakers and dream of visiting English speaking countries. That dream usually motivates them to look for scholarships which they frequently get, to study abroad.

2. Students who like English. They like the language, they see a difference among our cultures, which they find interesting. They do not feel comfortable speaking in English though, since they never passed the intermediate level of proficiency in the language. I can observe that these students are neither highly proficient in the language nor do they know much about their target language culture. Even though these students do want to improve, in my opinion, the fact that they are so immersed into their own Paraguayan culture kind of restricts them regarding a more global view of the world. These students would use English solely for academic purposes, so when in class they ask each other for something non-academic, they would probably do it in Spanish. Of course, this habit has consequences, as the fact that they continue pronouncing English words using only five vowels, or that they still, after years of studying, say “Espanish”

I guess one of the reasons why this happens is partly because of what other students -who do not speak English- have written in the lady’s bathroom: “las de inglés son sobradoras” (the ones who study English are show-offs). This is a more Sociolinguistic point of view: apparently the fact that someone speaks English or Japanese or another language which is spoken far away from Paraguay is only allowed to “high class people”, and this fact makes this people “proud/snob”. Speaking Portuguese, on the other hand is OK. No one would consider a Portuguese speaker someone who brags because of the fact that he speaks it. Why is Portuguese allowed? Brazil is our neighbour. “More humble” people can have access to it.

Once my British boss told me “some Paraguayans act as if they believed that Paraguay is the world” I did not think through it at that moment, but years after I have come to realize that some do fit into that category. As Benjamin Whorf would say: “languages act as blinkers” they let you “see” just what the inventory of words of those languages allow you to see. I am convinced that cultures also act as blinkers. And sometimes we feel so identified with our own culture that prevents us from “seeing” what is going on around us, past the border lines.

 

The idea of sharing this with my readers is to encourage my students to always look for excellence. If a person decides to become an English teacher in this case, let them be the BEST English teacher ever! They need to know that they will have support from their teachers. I am one of them.

Tips for Raising a Bilingual Kid

Wanna bring up your kid bilingual? Well, I can say I have a some experience in such matter, and I would like to share some tips with you all. Four years and two kids ago, I started noticing a pattern concerning my behavior as a parent-language teacher. This pattern became into the following suggestions:

Mother Tongue: Know what you are getting into. Research says that the most influential tongue for children is the language of their mother. This fact would restrict the amount of English my children would speak up to a certain level. Even though I knew this, I did not get discouraged, and kept talking to them in English.

Be consistent. Since early stimulation is key in language matters, I decided to speak to my children in English before they were born. We, as a couple, agreed on this. My wife would speak to them in Spanish while I would speak in English. I have spoken in English to them since we knew we were pregnant.

Assign a “language-face”. My wife says languages have faces: she says she cannot speak in Spanish to her father when she sees him. It sounds too formal and hence, distant to her. She speaks to her father in Guarani, our official language here in Paraguay. Therefore, she assigns a language to people surrounding her. Interesting fact: our children have a Spanish face to her, not a Guarani one, even though Guarani is my wife’s mother tongue.

Do not get frustrated. Many times, after stimulating my kids in different ways, they wouldn’t produce the language expected. Never mind. I know they will eventually do it. So, I let time do its perfect work.

Have fun! The most enjoyable part of witnessing your kids’ language learning process is to learn with them. Virtually everything we do is surrounded by language, so, enjoy!!

Following, enjoy watching two-year-old Max speaking  jopara /ʒɔpɑˈrɑ/Guarani word for “mixture”

 

 

Psycholinguistics: Language Acquisition

Linguistic principle: in order for someone to learn a language, that someone should be exposed to that language. That is where language acquisition starts.

I have always (well, since I learned it) been amused by this principle. I found the idea of exposing someone to a certain language and suddenly, this someone has the potential of experiencing restricted communication in another language, captivating.

My four-year-old daughter has been exposed to the English language since a few months after her conception. Interesting fact: even though her mommy does not speak English, my wife is highly proficient regarding listening comprehension. So my daughter linguistic context is the following: daddy speaks in English to her and her little brother, but in Spanish to everyone else. Mommy speaks in Spanish to her and occasionally some Guarani is introduced as well. Most of the children surrounding her speak Spanish and TV does it as well.

Nevertheless, even though my daughter’s linguistic context is mainly in Spanish, this English input by one of her parents does influence in her language development. I’ve been collecting sample expressions of the jopara (Guarani word meaning “mixture”) my daughter produces:

“¿me podés dar agua cool? (Can I have cool water?)

“voy a poner jabón en mi tummy” (I’ll soap my tummy)

“¡¡vamos a hacer bubbles!!” (let’s make some bubbles!)

“no quiero apple, quiero jugar con el ball” (I don’t want apple, I want to play with the ball)

In these examples we can see that she produces a whole Spanish sentence, but replaces one specific word in English. An adjective in the first example, followed by nouns in the other three examples. But this is not always the case. For her, the “peek-a-boo, I see you!” expression or the whole “humpty dumpty” song are so “natural”, so part of herself since she has been exposed to these English classics all her life. The secret? be consistent. I had decided to talk to my children in English way before they were born. I see results now, which make me very happy.

Following, English nursery rhyme “this little piggy” for you to enjoy

Implementing Virtual Learning in Paraguay: A New Challenge

“Change” is a word usually with more negative connotations than positive ones. Switching from attending classes to off-site virtual ones is taking place more and more lately, and it shows its  negative as well as its bright side.

My first experience as a “virtual teacher” is very rich. I can say that I am grateful I was given the opportunity to lead a 10 academic hour class split in two days, and 20 virtual ones. The subject: Applied English Phonetics. Quite an ambitious challenge!! For the first time I do not know all my students. 39 were enrolled and although I worked with them in two different classes, I do not remember them. I can conclude then, that virtual classes do  provide time flexibility, but are less social in a way, than attending classes. I say, in a way, since the virtual contact way is a new  social form of having teacher-student ties.

There is a phenomenon I would like to talk about: as we all know, there are different kinds of learners, different personalities, different learning styles. Regarding this virtual teaching experience, I group my learners as follows:

1. Desperate. this kind of student is the kind that is eager to go back home (even though they are required to be in class only twice a month). They are either not interested in the subject or do not just get it. They are normally too tired because of responsibilities other than attending classes.

Regarding the reasons why they do not get it, I guess they are:

a. Poor study skills. (what is it what I am going to ask?) non-existent or poor questions, absence of note-taking (or rote copying from the board), lack of discussion of a given topic with a partner, lack of attention when instructions are given (what is it that we need to do?)

b. Poor English. (I can barely communicate!! I do not understand the teacher and cannot articulate a proper question)

c. Cultural aspects. (believing that not knowing is wrong, so no questions should be made)

What I have noticed is that these students most of the time have pending appointments and need to leave earlier. A pity since the subject I teach is extremely technical, requires lots of clear explanations, modelling and practice, and it is condensed in a two-Saturday class.

I’d rather not have these students in this class format specifically. They need to take certain steps first, learn study skills, deal with their timetable, etc. I’d love to teach them in a different class setting, not an virtual one. Hopefully they manage to get organized and eventually succeed

But not everything is gloomy, there is another group:

2. Survivors. the students who follow my explanation in class, and maybe take some notes, but once they get home they are completely lost. They get immersed into their family issues and work load. When asked to do an exercise: blank! I guess this is due to poor (or non-existent) study skills, plus the usual problems: time management, family, work and other priorities.

3. Brilliant! my students make me so proud! there were students who complied with all the virtual tasks, asked the right questions in class, and found the subject fascinating and even indispensable. They were immediately able to spot its importance and find practical ways of applying this knowledge in their classrooms

Therefore, I can conclude that being a 21st century teacher is a big challenge. Changes everywhere: the typical class model is dying out. Lessons are approached differently, even the way to assess has changed.

All this forces me to get updated, and make an effort to be an inspiring teacher, one that motivates his students even when the subject he teaches is too technical and requires patience, practice, practice and more practice.

Teaching Reading in Paraguay

Amazing how bad school habits plus possibly bad school methodology can mark students’ lives for a long time!

Paraguayan public schools are not as efficient as they should be due to many different factors. Unfortunately, this sad reality can again be seen once students barely pass a university’s entrance exam and attend classes.

They usually have problems with reading comprehension and writing. It is said it is due to the strong influence of Guarani -our native language-and its culture. Since Guarani is heavily oral (meaning, most aspects of our culture are based on oral skills), there is apparently “no need” to read. Consequences? students do not turn in their homework -which was carefully planned months ago, to be submitted in a specific date-because “they were not told to do it“.

Once a British friend who has lived in Paraguay for many years now, told me that she could not understand how can it be possible for our students to say “I saw the sign, but I just did not read it”

I have seen this pattern over and over again for the last couple of years. What I usually do is talk to them about our Paraguayan oral culture to create awareness. Explain them how it sometimes clashes with academic habits -especially in the field of language, my area-show them the syllabus at the beginning of the classes, with the information of what to do and when to submit it.

The result: it works!! but perseverance is extremelly important. We have this “oral habit” in our bloods.