Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, April 02, 2007

English is the Key to Upward Mobility, Even in Mexico

A retiree living in Mexico is trying to remake Mexican society by teaching English.

[W]hile Latin nations such as Costa Rica and Chile have seized on English fluency as a key to their global competitiveness, Mexico has done little to prepare its youngsters. The state requires just three hours a week of English instruction for three years during Mexico's equivalent of junior high school, often by teachers who don't speak the language well.

"Pencil. Window. Door. It was useless," said Jose de Jesus Alcantar Delgado, a Puerto Vallarta workman recalling his rudimentary lessons. Lack of fluency has kept him from higher-paying employment in the city's air-conditioned resorts.

Experts blame scarce resources, an inflexible teachers union and widespread resentment of U.S. hegemony. Puerto Vallarta mom Kenia Salazar Torres isn't buying it. English is standard in elite academies where the children of Mexico's wealthy matriculate. Salazar wants the same chance for her three boys.

Her oldest son, Jose Rodolfo, 9, has a partial scholarship to Colegio Mexico-Americano. Salazar earns the rest by rising daily before dawn to prepare refried beans to peddle to local markets. Her husband, Arturo, is a ticket seller at the bus station. He's trying to land a better job to earn tuition money for their twin 5-year-old sons.

Jose Rodolfo helps out by collecting cans to earn recycling money. Fidgeting in a chair in the family's tidy home on a recent afternoon, he was too shy to practice his English with an American visitor. But the serious, handsome child knows what's at stake. "That's how you get a good job," he said softly in Spanish.

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