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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Desperately Seeking Loved Ones in Chile

Twitter and Facebook messages through Ustream chat Saturday 3:00 p.m., translated from Spanish.

We're watching from France, it looks really bad.

I need to know if my mom in Concepción is OK!

I need to know about Silvia and Paulo Ruiz in Maipo.

Somebody from Concepción Please!!

Your sister is OK, she got in touch with me.

I'm in Scotland and I need to know about Chiguajante.

Cobquecura is 80% destroyed.

News from Temuco please!

Messages pour in every few seconds. Worried relatives around the globe are casting their pleas onto the waves of social networks in the hope of getting a scrap, a clue, a fragment of information about loved ones. Google launched for people who are looking for relatives.

Hearts are turned toward the people of Chile.

But hydro is out, phone lines are down and infrastructure has taken a huge hit. The 8.8 magnitude quake (8.3 according to Chilean media) has meant deaths, chemical spills, broken bridges, flooded hospitals, homelessness and high anxiety. The Chilean minister of housing is saying many buildings will have to be demolished to prevent further injuries and says she will launch an investigation into why some newer buildings faired pourly in the quake. Search and rescue teams have started their efforts are seeing their first successes.

Any nation hit this hard will be reeling from the impact--and the physical, social and emotional aftershocks. But this is a nation that's much better prepared and organized for this kind of disaster than Haiti, for example. Chileans have dealt with deadly upheaval before, most notably the huge earthquake of 1960 which claimed thousands of lives, and the tremendous societal quake brought about by the military coup in 1973.

On a personal note, my wife and I are on edge waiting for news from the Region 8, the area hardest hit and home to many of my wife's relatives in Concepción. Scenes of crushed cars, demolished buildings and streets full of debris stoke the frustration of the information vacuum. No word yet.

We're hoping that when communication comes it will bring relief, not pain. We know the importance of family. When it comes right down to it, folks--that's all that really matters.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hope for 21st Century Education

A recent post by Tom Whitby on his My Island View blog explored the issue of standards testing. It was a great springboard for Andy Marcinek's launch of the #onecom chat associated with his growing One Comment Project ning.

Tom's post and this little video--inspired by the Lost Generation video of the same format--bring hope and a refreshing point of view to the debate.

If you're looking for great professional development, start your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) by joining thousands of colleagues from around the world on the Educator's PLN. Then join us on Twitter every Tuesday afternoon and evening for #edchat.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Who Really Taught Me Spanish - Was It My PLN?

Business 2
I've been blessed with being able to speak Spanish for a long time now. It's a real kick being a gringo and knowing my way around this wonderfully exotic language. And it may not have happened if it weren't for The Midnight Special.

Back in 1975, there were two Friday night concert shows on TV--The Midnight Special, first hosted by Wolfman Jack, and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.

One night, two extraordinary acts hit the screen. One was David Bowie back in his glam rock days--the other was a British-American, flamenco-rock group called Carmen.

These days, you'd probably call Carmen's style world music or worldbeat. All I knew at the time was that they sang in English and Spanish and their sound really rocked.

So, I enrolled in Spanish lesssons at the International Centre and met Soñia Amaya, my Spanish teacher. Sonya taught us hapless Canucks how to trill our Rs and do various other pronunciation gymnastics which anglos have such difficulty with.

During the coffee breaks, I would sit myself down at a table full of Chileans--this was three years after the coup in Chile, so there were lots of them around--and test my halting Spanish. I'd ask if they had the time or invent any other excuse to start practising my rudimentary Spanish skills.

Well, I had a ball.

I got such a warm reception and made so many good friends that things snowballed from there. Setting foot into the Chilean world made mine so much bigger. They fed me and helped me learn their language. I heard their stories and grew to love them pretty quickly.

There were other Canadians who were just as adventurous and who were rewarded in the same way. And right about that time, I discovered that there was a small Spanish-speaking branch in my church.

I had hit the jackpot.

I was so excited. In fact, the first talk I gave in church was in Spanish, after I had spent eight months reading Condorito magazines, buying Chilean newspapers, listening to Radio Havana Cuba on the short-wave and working through a book called Spanish Made Simple.

Because of my association with Chileans, I learned all about the coup in '73, saw the movie Missing many times and tried to understand what my friends were telling me when they said they were in Canada as refugees--that they were forced to leave their country.

What an eye-opener.

The benefits of speaking Spanish have been extraordinary. But first, let's be clear. The language itself is not hard to learn. People talk about having a universal language and sometimes point to Esperanto. Well, Spanish has Esperanto beat hands down.

It's easy to learn, the grammar makes sense--I don't even have to know the meaning of a word to pronounce it properly--and it's already spoken in 21 countries. I love keeping a foot in each world--the Canadian and the Chilean. They really do complement each other.

I know my wife, who was born in Concepción, Chile, wouldn't have married a gringo who couldn't speak a word of Spanish, so I was lucky there. And that's the biggest blessing.

But it has enriched my life in other ways, as well.

I've learned that there are other ways of looking at things, other ways of thinking, other points of view. That the North American way of doing things is not the be-all and end-all. That has been a major benefit to me.

I like to think I'm more tolerant, more sensitive to racial issues, less patient with racial slurs, and more understanding of other people and cultures because of it.

I love this quote from anthropologist Wade Davis:

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality.
Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you;
they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."

I owe a lot to this ability to speak such a warm and inviting language, to rub shoulders with such wonderful people, to have my world view broadened and my life enriched.

But my question is, who taught me Spanish? Am I really self-taught?

I could say I spent countless hours listening to La Voz de Los Estados Unidos on short-wave and many more dedicated to working through Spanish lessons on LPs, cassettes, and in manuals. I could give a nod to the excellent PBS sit-com Que Pasa USA--and to the many newspapers and magazines I pored over. Surely my own hard work combined with media and technology (such as they were) played a big part.

But even more important was the friendship of wonderful people in the early years. Recent immigrants who had little but shared their hospitality, friendship and their homes with me. Instructors who really cared about my success and the way I sounded. Church members who reached out to the Chilean wannabe in their midst. The Columbian woman at the Cosas Lindas Boutique who ran the local Hispanic radio show. My good friends Ivan and Victor. Later, my wife and my in-laws. All were huge influences.

In short, I had a large social network that adopted me just because I showed an interest in them, in their culture and language.

So, did I really "teach myself" Spanish?

Far from it.

I had a lot of people who mentored me, guided me and cared about me. People I enjoyed being with and who enjoyed being with me.

And even though we didn't have Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Livemocha--or any other social media tools to study languages with--we all shared and learned so much from each other.

To me, that wonderful network of friends sure sounds a lot like a pre-web PLN.

Your comments?

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Future Without -Ed — Closer Than You Think

Imagine a future without "-ed." Where the simple past tense is discarded.

Where canned pop vanishes from supermarket shelves--only to be replaced by "can pop." Bottled drinks suddenly become "bottle drinks"--and iced tea permanently morphs into (shudder) "ice tea."

It's happening, folks. Just look at popped corn, iced cream and waxed paper. All were once perfectly servicable handles. Where are they now?

Sure you can go to Wal-Mart and buy a "box set" of CD's, but just try to find a boxed one.

Corned beef runs the risk of becoming "corn beef," "scramble" eggs may soon become the norm, and for many folks everything is "cut and dry," but never dried.

Personally, the saddest example came last night as I watched MSNBC, completely unprepared for a news ticker that announced, "Mix reaction to buy-American rule." Huh?

This orthographic tragedy is a blight on sensitive eyes and ears, but shows little sign of abating.

Where will it all end?

Certainly, it's enough to make a person long for a more formal and civilized past: a time when chicken was roasted, corn was creamed, and "-ed" got the respect it deserved.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Another 5 Essential Tips for New iPhone Users

So, you're absolutely enamoured with your new iPhone. You've learned so much since you first lifted it out of the box. And you know you're poking through a miniscule portion of the 140,000 apps while trying to familiarize yourself with all the phone's features.

Well, learning is all about exploration, isn't it? And something new pops up every day.

Here are five cool things you may not have stumbled upon yet.

Redial - Looking for a redial button? You won't find one. Tap the call button twice to call the last number dialed.

Voice Control - Yes, it's easy to dial with your voice. Just hold the home button for two seconds. The voice control screen will pop up and you'll hear a chime. Just say "call" or "dial" and the name of any person or business in your contact list--or say the numbers one by one.

Save Any Web Photo - If you like any picture you come across while browsing, simply tap and hold it. A four-item menu will pop up. Click "save image" and the picture will be added to your camera roll.

Webclips - Tired of looking up your favourite websites in Safari? Place icons for them on your home screen. Go to the site in Safari first, hit the "+" sign at the bottom of the screen, then tap "add to home screen."

Google Maps Streetview - This feature gives you a 360 degree view of any address in cities that have been photographed in this way. After you look up an address, tap the little orange circle (with the generic head and shoulders symbol) to the left of the address flag. You'll love what you see.

Missed some?
5 Essential Tips for New iPhone Owners
5 More Essential Tips for New iPhone Owners