August 26, 2013

Patrick Chew felt devastated at his grandmother's funeral 27 years ago because he had never learned her mother tongue, Toisanese, a dialect in southern China. Today Chew, 44, uses two to 10 languages every day as the international-community manager for, a website that conducts online advocacy campaigns in 196 countries. Before that, he traced the source of spam in 33 languages at a network-security firm in San Bruno, Calif.

An initiative by the Colombian government to teach Spanish to international tour guides is due to start on Monday. The initiative is the result of a collaboration between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Presidential Agency for the International Cooperation of Colombia (APC); the Colombian Institution of Educational Credit (ICETEX) as well as eight universities in locations throughout the country.

Every day thousands of Indians leave their small towns and look for big cities to work in business outsourcing. Andrew Marantz spent a summer at call center in India and wrote about it for Mother Jones magazine. He details the reaction he got when he showed up, the accent that is encouraged - a neutral one, he says - and the classes offered to work at there.

Forty teenage girls from the Middle East are visiting P.E.I. as part of a special language and cultural exchange program. It's a partnership between UPEI, the International Language Institute, and the Abu Dhabi Education Council. The 16- and 17-year-old girls are from the United Arab Emirates, and are living in residence at UPEI. Serena Lambert, academic advisor for the International Language Institute, said the program is highly competitive.

Have you ever tried teaching classic literature to language learners? Teacher trainer Chris Lima explains how 19th century language and culture are less of a hindrance in relating literature – and Jane Austen specifically – to language students than one might assume. I suppose most teachers’ first reaction towards working with Jane Austen in the English language classroom is not very different from the reactions we have when people mention Shakespeare or Dickens, or literature in general.

In a recently televised broadcast of Chinese Character Dictation Conference — China’s equivalent of a spelling bee — the nation’s best and brightest were asked to write, in its traditional form, a word that stumped 70% of the teenage contestants and a startling 90% of the grown-up audience (who, as voluntary spectators at a spelling bee, were probably no literary slouches themselves). The word that eluded this extremely well-read crowd was toad. Pause and consider that for a moment.

“Cuba Libro” is Cuba’s very first English language bookstore. It opened its door to customers last week. Conner Gorry, a New York City native living in Havana, first came up with the idea. She envisioned a comfortable place for book lovers to leaf through English-language books. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Gorry about “Cuba Libro” and the complexities of operating a small business in the island.

Cuba's first English-language bookstore offers a selection that would just about stock the lobby of an average Vermont bed and breakfast. Next to what's available in English elsewhere in Havana, it might as well be the Library of Congress. The brainchild of a longtime U.S. expat, Cuba Libro launched Friday as a bookshop, cafe and literary salon that offers islanders and tourists alike a unique space to buy or borrow tomes in the language of Shakespeare. Cuba Libro also gives customers an occasional glimpse of opinions hard to find elsewhere on the island.