Level 2 Conversation….What are they getting?

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IMG_1783 Yesterday I went to the last class of Rocio’s Level 2 Conversation/intermediate Conversation.

I was able to sit and talk to the class for a few minutes and they expressed their feelings about their progress with Spanish and there frustrations.  These students have just come from Level 2, Preterite and Pronouns.  This class focuses on the use of the simple past tense.  Students tell each other what the did yesterday?  and do a lot of activities where they read, write, and talk about what they did. All this is done only in Spanish of course with Rocio’s energetic guidance and with Antonieta as her assistant.

This is what people told me.  They are frustrated that they cannot understand and speak better.  The felt that they had improved their ability to talk about past events but native speakers still sounded like a jumble.  They all agreed that the greatest improvement was in their reading and pronunciation.  Being asked to read their stories a loud and discussing them helped them to gain more confidence in their speech.  Some felt frustrated and others quite pleased.  What we discovered is that adult learners seem to learn to read and write first, then reading a loud helps to connect the brain with the mouth and they begin to grasp concepts instead of individual words.  This is the purpose of this class and it is working. Here is a testimonial from on of the students.

“I took the class from Rocio and she was far and away the best instructor I’ve ever had. The class was fast and fun and I learned a great deal. The combination of solid instruction, class interaction, reading and writing meant that the concepts were strongly imprinted on my aging brain! I intend to take it again in the fall.”
Carolyn Patten

I had to remind the class that they have only taken three Spanish classes, Level 1, Level 2 and now Level 2 conversation.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Poco a poco.

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I love San Miguel More that EVER

Tuli and I came to San Miguel de Allende on our honeymoon in 1990 completely by accident.  We were married in Dana Point in May and had been travelling down the Pacific Coast.  Now it was September and we were in Puerto Vallarta.  One evening at a gallery opening we met Dan Reuffert, an artist from San Miguel.  We hit it off and he suggested we visit San Miguel if we really wanted to see the best place in Mexico.  We couldn’t imagine anything being wonderful if it wasn’t on the beach! 

Anyway, a couple of days later we drove over,,, Sept. 11, 1990,,, We arrived late and slept in our van on the Mirador overlooking the city.  We awoke and saw the city below and the expanse of the lake and the mountains to the east.  It was beautiful.  We excitedly drove down the hill and parked near the Jardin.  I remember the air was crisp and clear like in Santa Fe.  We arrived at the Jardin and sat down in front of the Parroquia.  Silence.  Then,  how awesome.  Then, we gotta live here.  We got an apartment that day.  The rest is history.  It has been a wonderful ride.

We have seen lots of changes in this city.  People ask me all the time if I like San Miguel as much today as I did back in the day.  I enthusiastically say yes.  Over the years San Miguel has improved.  The city is cleaner, better managed.  The relationship with the two communities has improved. The foreign community continues to provide services to those challenged in our community.  There is very little poverty.

Since becoming a World heritage City, entire neighborhoods have been refurbished.  Our sewage system and other services have improved.  Our security forces have grown and are better trained. Life is much more comfortable and we feel  safe and connected with the world.

The thing I have enjoy most is how the menu of foods and entertainment have improved and skyrocketed into the cosmos.  Tulis first business in San Miguel was Tuli’s Dulces.  Non of the restaurants had any good deserts.  She imported her products and made cookies, chocolate covered peanut butter balls and other sweets.  She was the only game in town.  That is hard to believe when you look at the variety of pastries, breads, and sweets available in San Miguel today.  Our restaurants have improved every year bringing on a foodies wonderland.

Tuli is a masseuse. When we first came here she was the only masseuse in San Miguel.  Now look at all the healers, spas and the Life Path center in San Miguel.  This has become a Mecca for healing and for healers from all over the world.

Plays, writers, music, festivals, filmmaking, theatre, education, food, art and entertainment abound at the highest levels.  It is better than ever before and seems to get better every day. 

And what surprises me most is that the same cool people keep showing up here, from the same tribe,  and we keep making friends with more and more interesting people.  Life is  rich        DSCF0142 here.  I love San Miguel MORE THAN EVER.

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Soap Opera de Carolina…CUT, ….otra vez mas fuerte.

THE SOAP OPERA DE CAROLINA…..LAST CLASS….LOS FINALES

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  Do these look like Thespians having fun?   It was hilarious.. Atonieta is a taskmaster director.  IMG_1773 IMG_1752IMG_1754IMG_1761 IMG_1774 IMG_1759

Each student takes a role in the play and reads their parts out loud.  Students say that when they are forced to read out loud and with emotion; they overcome their inhibitions and they greatly improve their comprehension and pronunciation.   They think in Spanish.  Lots of fun.  Just ask Rodney, Robert, Flora, Lilly, Clay, Beth Ann, and Antonieta. How is it that Rodney was Caroina?????

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Story telling with Rocio Ruiz

Warren Hardy Spanish is excited about our new "Storytelling" course.
This is a transitional course from Level 2 before moving into Level 3.
This is a great course for comprehension  and conversation as it is taught mostly in Spanish by Rocio Ruiz, one of our WHS teachers. The first part of the course has a grammar component that teaches the Imperfect tense and reviews the Preterite tense. Students learn to combine the Preterite and the Imperfect. Then we converse using the Preterit and Imperfect correctly and with confidence by writing and telling stories about our lives, travels and adventures.
We are offering this course for the rest of this year at a discounted cost of $150US. Materials needed are the VerbCards and Level 3 Workbook. Class size is limited to 8 students.
Enroll now for the July 19-August 4 course.
Call Tuli at 154 4017 (9-12noon) or 152 4728 afternoons and weekends.

I want to offer a personal testimonial for the Warren Hardy storytelling course, which I took with my husband, Cedric, a few weeks ago. We had finished Level II of the Warren Hardy program and currently use functional Spanish to meet many of our (simple) daily needs. In our case, the class was very good for several reasons: (1) the teacher spoke primarily in Spanish and had class members ask questions/comment in Spanish. (You are encouraged to converse in English to clarify more difficult concepts); (2) you have the opportunity to write personal narratives (e.g., aspects of your life story, an important vacation) in Spanish, which gives you the opportunity to use other important linguistic channels (reading, writing) that enhance second language learning; (3) you learn to distinguish the preterite and imperfect past tenses and moreover, practice using these tenses in the storytelling written exercises; (4) you also have opportunities to use the preterite and imperfect past tenses during exercises where you share your stories orally with other class members; and (5) you practice, in Warren Hardy style, using the tenses while generating sentences with a partner (this will be familiar to those who have taken other classes from Warren).  The teacher, Rocio, is EXCELLENT. She is enthusiastic, focused, encouraging, clear in explaining concepts, supportive, and she made the class fun. She is one of these people who was born to teach. You will leave each class inspired and encouraged. Finally, I want to say that I made a significant leap in understanding conversational Spanish through taking this class. I’m not sure why, but it worked for me and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to take the class. I hope this helps others in trying to decide whether or not to take the class. If you’re on the fence, take it! You can’t go wrong!

another good testimonial:

Absolutely agree with the other two comments. I took the class from Roscio and she was far and away the best instructor I’ve ever had. The class was fast and fun and I learned a great deal. The combination of solid instruction, class interaction, reading and writing meant that the concepts were strongly imprinted on my aging brain! I intend to take it again in the fall.
Carolyn Patten

 

info@warrenhardy.com
www.warrenhardy.com

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Mexican Democracy, Even Under Siege

News Analysis

Mexican Democracy, Even Under Siege

 

MEXICO CITY — Campaign offices had been bombed, candidates had been threatened and killed, and dead bodies were even hung from bridges on the morning of the polling.

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Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

Workers counted votes during local elections in Ciudad Victoria in Mexico on Sunday.

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Jorge Valenzuela/Reuters

A federal police officer stood guard on Sunday outside a polling station in Durango, in northern Mexico. Many defied drug violence to cast a ballot.

But Mexico’s voters still turned out in relatively large numbers to choose new governors, mayors and state representatives over the weekend and managed to send an inspiring message amid all the violence: Mexico’s democracy, flawed as it may be, endures.

One of the nation’s most powerful factions — the country’s drug lords — had attempted to hijack the process. Through bloodshed, they managed to keep voter turnout down in some states and scare off many poll workers, prompting one former president of the Federal Election Institute, Luis Carlos Ugalde, to lament that this was the first Mexican election in which drug dealers played a visible role in interrupting the process.

But the polling went on and the results were accepted, with voters appearing to steer away from candidates with perceived links to traffickers. In the border state of Tamaulipas, the populace seemed particularly intent on declaring that drug lords should not decide elections, voting in the brother of a candidate who was murdered less than a week before Election Day.

Political analysts had predicted a huge victory for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the P.R.I., which ruled Mexico for 71 years before voters broke its grip on the country’s politics a decade ago. And the P.R.I. did take 9 of the 12 governorships that were up for grabs on Sunday, including in Tamaulipas.

But the clearest messages that voters seemed to send were that no one party rules Mexico anymore and that entrenched party machines no longer have a lock on power. Voters were clearly frustrated with the violence Mexico has experienced, interviews showed, and the fact that they turned out at all in some particularly dangerous areas was noteworthy.

“I’m voting with hope, but also fear,” said Christian Licona, an unemployed high school graduate voting for the first time in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas. His brother, though, decided it was too risky and stayed home, even though soldiers guarded many polling places to keep the drug traffickers from interfering any more than they already had.

The P.R.I. — a party that represented autocratic rule and is attempting to remake itself as an efficient pragmatic one — hung onto six states and gained three more from the National Action Party, known as P.A.N., of President Felipe Calderón, and the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party, or P.R.D.

Zacatecas, which had been in the left’s column for 12 years, is now a P.R.I. state. So is Aguascalientes, which had a dozen years of rule under Mr. Calderón’s party, and Tlaxcala, which the P.A.N. and P.R.D. have traded back and forth since 1998.

But the P.R.I. was also handed its hat in the states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, where its rule has been as sure a thing as the market opening for business and the tortilla makers opening their stands.

Some considered the results a stalemate. “The results don’t display a victory or a strengthening in positions,” a Mexican political analyst, Fernando Dworak, told Reuters. “We are being reserved on the outlook for 2012, as many things could still come into play.”

But others saw the process as the victor. “Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Sunday’s elections is that democracy is surprisingly healthy in Mexico,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

It took an unusual coalition of P.A.N. and P.R.D. candidates, ideological opposites if ever there were any, to knock the P.R.I. off its pedestal. The two parties fought an electoral battle for the presidency in 2006 that was so vicious that both still claim to have rightly won.

It is unlikely, analysts say, that they will join forces to field a single candidate in the run-up to 2012, when the P.R.I. will attempt to move back into Los Pinos, the Mexican White House.

Each state in this election had a different dynamic, Mr. Selee noted, with voters in Oaxaca and Puebla appearing to rebel against P.R.I. governors who were considered corrupt and authoritarian. In Sinaloa, the cradle of Mexican drug dealing, the people withheld their support for a candidate perceived to have links to organized crime, he said.

“Mexico remains an imperfect democracy, like all, but there do appear to be some mechanisms of accountability at work that allowed these elections to be meaningful referenda on local political performance,” Mr. Selee said.

Given how deeply drug traffickers infiltrate many of Mexico’s institutions, it is not unlikely that a candidate was probably elected somewhere in the country on Sunday who has links to them. It might have been a small-town mayor or a local representative. If it was a governor, it would not have been the first time.

Still, analysts said, that corrupt leader is now more likely to know that the people are watching.

David Agren contributed reporting from Ciudad Victoria, Mexico.

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Mexican Middle Class

Narcos, No’s and Nafta

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Published: May 1, 2010

Mexico City

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This is a strange time for U.S.-Mexico relations. The Mexican government just issued a travel advisory warning Mexicans about going to Arizona — where they could get arrested by the police for no reason — and the U.S. government just issued a travel advisory warning Americans about going to northern Mexico — where they could get shot by drug dealers for no reason. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart de Mexico is expected to open 300 new stores in Mexico this year, thanks to growing Mexican demand for consumer goods. And Mexico’s drug cartels will probably open just as many new smuggling routes into America thanks to our growing demand for marijuana, cocaine and crystal meth.

We take the Mexican-American relationship for granted. But with the drug wars in Mexico turning into Wild West shootouts on city streets and with our own immigration politics turning more heated, what’s happening in Mexico has become much more critical to American foreign policy and merits more of our attention. Mexico is not Afghanistan, but it also has not become all that it hoped to be by now. Something feels stalled here.

Three groups are now wrestling to shape Mexico’s future. I’d call them “the Narcos,” “the No’s” and “the Naftas.” Root for the Naftas.

The Narcos are the drug cartels who are now brazenly attacking each other in turf wars and challenging the state for control of towns. The success of U.S. and Colombian efforts to interdict drug trafficking through the Caribbean and north from Colombia have pushed the cartels to relocate their main smuggling up through the spine of Mexico. President Felipe Calderón is bravely trying to take them on, but the Narcos have bigger guns than the Mexican Army — most smuggled in from U.S. gun stores.

The Mexican daily Reforma reported last week that “the recent wave of insecurity in Mexico has made businesses related to public security, automobile armoring, insurance, satellite positioning systems and bulletproof vests grow at an unprecedented level.” Companies in Mexico, it added, now invest between 1 percent and 3 percent of their sales in security. In 2006, it was just 0.5 percent.

While the Narcos are the rising bad-news story here, the rising good-news story is Mexico’s burgeoning middle class — sort of. Mexico has two middle classes. One lives off the oil pumped and exported by the state oil company Pemex, which funds 40 percent of the government’s budget. That budget sustains a web of salaries and subsidies to teachers’ unions, national electricity company workers, farmers unions, state employees and Pemex workers.

I call this group the No’s because they are the primary force opposing any reform that would involve privatizing state-owned companies, like Pemex, opening the oil or electricity sectors to foreign investors or domestic competition, or bringing best-practices and accountability to Mexican schools, where union control has kept Mexico’s public education among the worst in the world.

Fortunately, though, there is another rising middle class here, which the Mexican economist Luis de la Calle describes as the “meritocratic middle class.” It’s people who came from the countryside to work in new industries spawned by Nafta. This rising middle class has a powerful aspiration to dig out of poverty. Mexico has standardized school achievement tests, so you can see how well schools in one neighborhood stack up against another. Some of the best results, said de la Calle, can now be found in small private schools in poor Mexico City neighborhoods where the Naftas reside.

What is also striking, he added, are the names of the private schools in some of these poor Mexico City districts — like Iztapalapa: “They are called John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Carlos Marx, Van Gogh and Instituto Wisdom.” Why such names? They are appealing to the aspirations of Mexicans, about 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line but 75 percent of whom identify themselves as “middle class” in polls.

De la Calle also studied the top 50 Mexican baby names in 2008. The most popular for girls, he said, included “Elizabeth, Evelyn, Abigail, Karen, Marilyn and Jaqueline, and for boys Alexander, Jonathan, Kevin, Christian and Bryan.” Not only Juans. “We have two middle classes,” he said. “One comes from teachers’ unions and Pemex and power companies, who milk the Mexican government. These are the middle-class conservatives, and they want to preserve the status quo. But there is a rising and far larger Mexican middle class coming up from the bottom who send their kids to the Instituto Wisdom and who have a meritocratic view of the world.”

So here’s my prediction: When Mexico’s steadily falling oil production meets its rising meritocratic middle class, you will see real political/economic reform here. That is when the No’s will no longer have the resources to maintain the status quo, and that is when the Naftas from the Instituto Wisdom will demand the reforms that will enable them to realize their full potential.

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Mexico’s Economy Growing

Often considered NAFTA’s weakest link, the emerging market is coming on strong

David Pett, Financial Post  Published: Saturday, April 10, 2010

April is turning into another impressive month for North America’s hottest market … Mexico.

On Monday, the Mexican Bolsa index, the country’s top equity benchmark, hit a new high, only to soar even higher yesterday. The Mexican peso, meanwhile, reached its highest level since early October 2008 yesterday and remains the top-performing currency among emerging markets this year.

But that’s not all. The month started with Citigroup Inc., saying the country’s bonds are eligible to be included in its world government bond index, making it the first Latin American country in the closely watched index.

Not even Canada and its parity-busting loonie can top that kind of economic momentum. With the U.S. recovery only now starting to find its groove, there seems little doubt among analysts that Mexico will continue to move in the right direction, despite the violence that regularly grabs international headlines.

"Mexico has become an interesting place again for investors and we are confident there is more money to be made in this market," said Claudia Medina, a senior analyst with Banco Itau S.A., an asset management firm based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Last year at this time, investor sentiment toward Mexico could not have been more different.

Like most other countries around the world, its economic growth suffered greatly from the collapse in trade and the global financial crisis, falling 6.4% in 2009. However, Mexico’s economic troubles also lasted much longer than its Latin American peers. While Brazil’s economy was bottoming in the second quarter of last year, Mexico’s huge dependence on a still-fragile U.S. consumer, an escalating drug war and the swine flu outbreak continued to weigh heavily.

Then in the latter half of 2009, Both Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings downgraded their credit ratings for Mexico’s foreign currency debt following congressional elections that failed to produce meaningful fiscal reform.

"The year 2009 seemed to confirm all the fears put forward by the bearish camp," said Pierre Fournier, a geopolticial strategist at National Bank.

Today, Mexico’s economy is expected to grow roughly 4% in 2010, representing a trough-to-peak increase of 10% in just one year. The only other country expected to grow that quickly is Turkey.

Nick Chamie, global head of emerging markets research at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, said the problems that slowed the recovery last year have largely come to pass, leaving Mexico free to play an effective game of catch-up through the first quarter of this year.

"The economy has certainly rebounded nicely following last year’s disastrous results," Mr. Chamie said.

The strong recovery is being led primarily by Mexico’s manufacturing sector as it benefits from the improving U.S. economy.

The U.S. market represents 80% of Mexico’s total exports, which accounts for 27% of the country’s gross domestic product.

As a large exporter of oil and home to a burgeoning mining industry, Mexico has also gained from the increase in commodity prices over the past six months to a year.

Another advantage is the country’s strong fiscal situation. Despite the political noise about fiscal reform late last year, Mexico’s government debt-to-GDP ratio hovers in a very acceptable range of 35% to 40%.

"That leaves it in very good stead in comparison to almost any other major economy," Mr Chamie said.

With a good chance that Mexican markets will pull back following such a strong run in a very short period of time, Mr. Chamie is predicting a more modest pace in gains over the next year. Over the next few months, he believes Mexico will remain attractive assuming growth remains positive and economic fundamentals continue to shine through.

Specifically, he sees good value in the country’s fixed-income market and recommends investors take an overweight position in Mexican bonds.

The peso, which remains almost 25% below its 2008 high, also looks relatively cheap compared with its Latin American peers, he said.

How markets in Mexico will perform six months to a year from now will depend largely on U.S. growth and the trajectory of commodity prices, Mr. Chamie said.

Less of a concern is the country’s protracted drug wars, which have destabilized the northern region of the country.

"To the extent that everyone is aware of the drug wars it is already priced into markets and is not a huge barrier to investing," he said.

As for the country’s stock market, Vincent Delisle, a strategist at Scotia Capital Markets, said there also appears to be more upside in store. He told clients this week that corporate earnings in Mexico will jump 23% in 2010 and 16% in 2011.

By comparison, he forecasted Canadian earnings to rise 29% for 2010 and 10% the following year.

Already up more than 90% since the March lows last year, Mr. Delisle has a Bolsa target of 36,250, a 7% increase from yesterday’s closing price of 33,840.85.

Reiterating a North American preference in his asset allocation, the strategist recommended U.S. stocks over Europe, Canada over Australia and Mexico over Brazil.

Ms. Medina’s firm, which manages the Excel Latin American Fund in Canada, is currently 5% overweight Mexican stocks, favouring the industrials and materials sector over consumer and telecommunications stocks.

"We continue to believe that growth in the Mexican economy will come more from manufacturing exports than from domestic consumption, and hence our strong position in industrial companies with high exposure to the United States and Brazil," she said.

Her top picks include steel company, Ternium S.A., a major supplier to the U.S. automotive industry with operations in Mexico and Argentina, and Alfa S.A. B de C.V., an industrial conglomerate that produces high-tech aluminum auto parts.

The firm boasts significant holdings in petrochemical company Mexichem S.A. B de C.V., and Grupo Mexico S.A. B de C.V., the country’s largest mining company.

Investors can buy ADRs of Ternium and Mexichem in New York. Or, for broader exposure to the Mexican market, iShares offers the MSCI Mexico Investable Market ETF, priced in U.S. dollars.

Alternatively, there are several Latin American ETFs and mutual funds.

With new consumption taxes taking hold in January, Ms. Medina said Mexico’s beleaguered consumer will remain stressed over the short term, but she believes that, eventually, success in the manufacturing sector will lead to better domestic consumption.

While Mexico surely faces serious challenges ahead, including an economy too dependent on the U.S. consumer and a political environment that has been dogged by ineffective government and corruption too often in the past, Mr. Fournier said those risks, on balance, are outweighed by Mexico’s positive long-term fundamentals.

With an increasingly competitive manufacturing sector, a strong resource base and superior corporate growth prospects, he expects Mexican stocks to outperform U.S. indexes over the long term.

"Sentiment about Mexico is clearly and finally beginning to turn," he said.

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Tourism Improving In Mexico

By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez, Associated Press Writer Tue Mar 2, 10:54 am ET

CANCUN, Mexico – Mexico’s spring break king — Cancun — is rebounding quickly from last year’s triple blow to its tourism industry caused by the country’s swine flu epidemic, drug violence and a global economic crisis.

Those worries couldn’t compete this year against Mexico’s cheap airfare from the United States and phenomenal package deals that include the popular all-you-can-drink enticements.

Tourism officials say they expect about 25,000 spring breakers to descend this season on Cancun’s newly rebuilt beaches and turquoise blue ocean, compared to the 20,000 spring breakers who visited last year. That’s in addition to tourists of all ages who visit throughout the year. And not only is Cancun drawing them back. Destinations across the country are seeing tourists return, despite a U.S. travel alert warning Americans to stay away from some parts, mostly in the northern border states, because of drug violence.

Lonely Planet’s U.S. staff’s top-10 list for 2010 put Mexico as the No. 4 destination for the new year, declaring that "H1N1 is so 2009" and that Mexico is "still a good bargain, easy to get to for most Americans" — giving a much-needed endorsement for Mexico’s third largest source of foreign income.

Tourism all but came to a halt in April 2009 when fear over the swine flu epidemic virtually paralyzed Mexico, forcing the closure of schools, restaurants and archaeological sites and restricted air travel to Mexico from some countries. Mexico’s revenue from foreign tourism dropped 15 percent to $11.3 billion from $13.3 billion in 2008, according to the Tourism Department.

The world has since learned that swine flu is treatable if detected in time, vaccines are available, and death rates have dropped in Mexico and elsewhere.

Mexico has had a tougher time fighting off its bad image from drug violence, which has left more than 15,000 people dead since President Felipe Calderon declared his war on cartels in 2006.

To counter the bad news, the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco in drug-plagued Guerrero state paid MTV $200,000 for the network to host its spring party there this year. The city expects to draw between 7,000 to 10,000 spring breakers despite the resort’s sporadic drug killings and gun battles, one of which took place near an historic tourist hotel last year.

Some U.S. universities last year warned students headed for Mexico of a surge in drug-related violence south of the border prompting some to cancel already paid for spring break trips.

Mexican government officials have gone on the offensive and made clear every chance they get that the violence is concentrated in a handful of states, most along the Mexico-U.S. border, like Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua, and in the Pacific coast state of Michoacan — all far from the country’s popular beach resorts.

That message appears to be working: Travelocity’s senior editor Genevieve Shaw Brown said bookings on Travelocity.com for spring travel to Mexico have shot up 25 percent compared to last year. Cancun is No. 5 on Travelocity’s top 10 spring break bookings list for this year, up from the No. 10 spot last year.

She said the swine flu epidemic, violence and an unhealthy economy forced Mexico to lower its prices.

"Now Mexico is reaping the benefits of cheap travel costs with the return of spring breakers who are looking for deals," Shaw Brown said. "It’s been communicated very well that Mexico is an outstanding value."

Those who risk it are also reaping the benefits for doing so: The federal, state and local governments have invested $80 million to rebuild Cancun’s world-renowned powdery white beaches that have been suffering from erosion.

Calderon on Tuesday was scheduled to inaugurate the recently completed project along Cancun’s 8-mile (13-kilometer) long strip that extends the beach to 85 meters (280 feet) wide. The rebuilding, which took a year to complete, is the second attempt to rebuild the sandy playground since Hurricane Wilma devastated the area in 2005. An artificial reef off was also built off the coast to help contain the sand.

Elysee Burgess, a 21-year-old nursing major from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., had only one complaint: She has to get up from the beach every time she wants to get another drink from her hotel bar.

"The beach is great, there are some awesome parties," Burgess said, while her friend Kristen Fleming took a picture with a monkey. "The only thing that sucks is that you can only get one drink at a time.

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Building a Better Brain

Today in my Level 2 class we were doing timed exercises striving to get a gold star.   In a three minute period one student delivers a cue in English and the partner translates it into Spanish.  There are 40 cues and they all have to be translated in three minutes.  When I do this exercises, even though I know the answers perfectly, I find my mind starting to melt down after about 25 cues.  I have to stay focused and the three minutes seems like a half hour.  It is intense and requires a strong brain to get a gold star in this exercise.

What amazes me is the number of people that can do this successfully who are between 60 and 70 years old.  Who are these people?  They are my students, people who are engaged in life long learning, people who are reinventing themselves right before my eyes.

These folks have completely changed their paradigm of reality.  They have moved to a foreign country and are learning a new language.  They are actually building a better brain.

On page 67 in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge, Doidge says, “Learning a new language in old age is so good for improving memory generally. Because it requires intense focus. Studying a new language turns on the control system for plasticity and keeps it in good shape for laying down sharp memories of all kinds.“

The experience of learning a new language and creating new memories using is is one of the best ways to build a better brain and a more youthful life.

A language is a mind made up of patterns called sentences. The mind map of these patterns are what create the neuron connections in the brain.  Your mother language is a mind map and the longer you speak it, the more rigid it becomes. 

Doidge says that “unlearning” the mother tongue map we have in our brains is an important first step. The longer, more eloquently we speak our native language in old age the more stubbornly we cling to those maps.

Learning Spanish creates plasticity and stops rigidity by building new brain maps. The brain is plastic and the more plasticity the better the brain. 

The Warren Hardy Method was designed to build a better brain.  Over the 40 years of working with adult learners I have developed a method that takes into consideration the learning modalities of older brains. Here is why it works:

The “cross-training methodology” develops both an understanding of sentence structure and the ability to speak and understand at the same time.

It builds power of focus because you are engaged in a different activity almost every three minutes.

Repletion is spaced and there is plenty of it.

There are filling the blank/self grading workbooks with plenty of exercises and flashcards that develop visual links in the brain.  Finally, these materials are carefully integrated with audios that develop speaking and understanding skills.

I acknowledge my students and am inspired by their enthusiasm for continued growth.  Do you want to build a better brain?  Come join us at Warren Hardy Spanish.

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Mexico is Less Deadly than Ten Years Ago

Mexico is less deadly than ten years ago

A study reveals tourists as well as locals are safer than many believe

Monday, February 8, 2010

BY ALEXANDRA OLSON

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY – The drug war-related violence in the country has obscured a significant fact: A falling homicide rate means people in Mexico are less likely to die violently now than they were more than a decade ago.

It also means tourists as well as locals may be safer than many believe.  Mexico City’s homicide rate today is about on par with Los Angeles and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C.

Yet many Americans are leery of visiting Mexico at all. Drug violence and the swine flu outbreak contributed to a 12.5 percent decline in air travel to Mexico by U.S. citizens in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, a blow to Mexico’s third-largest source of foreign income.

Mexico, Colombia and Haiti are the only countries in the hemisphere subject to a U.S. government advisory warning travelers about violence, even though homicide rates in many Latin American countries are far higher.

“What we hear is, ’Oh the drug war! The dead people on the streets, and the policeman losing his head,’” said Tobias Schluter, 34, a civil engineer from Berlin having a beer at a cafe behind Mexico City’s 16th-century cathedral. “But we don’t see it. We haven’t heard a gunshot or anything.”

Mexico’s homicide rate has fallen steadily from a high in 1997 of 17 per 100,000 people to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, a year marked by an unprecedented spate of drug slayings concentrated in a few states and cities, Public Safety Secretary Genaro García Luna said. The national rate hit a low of 10 per 100,000 people in 2007, according to government figures compiled by the independent Citizens’ Institute for Crime Studies.

By comparison, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates of between 40 and 60 per 100,000 people, according to recent government statistics. Colombia was close behind with a rate of 33 in 2008. Brazil’s was 24 in 2006, the last year when national figures were available.  Mexico City’s rate was about 9 per 100,000 in 2008, while Washington, D.C. was more than 30 that year.

“In terms of security, we are like those women who aren’t overweight but when they look in the mirror, they think they’re fat,” said Luis de la Barreda, director of the Citizens’ Institute. “We are an unsafe country, but we think we are much more unsafe that we really are.”

Of course, drug violence has turned some places in Mexico, including the U.S. border region and some parts of the Pacific coast, into near-war zones since President Felipe Calderón intensified the war against cartels with a massive troop deployment in 2006. That has made Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, among the most dangerous cities in the world.
“The violence, homicides and cruel and inhuman assassinations, which fill the pages of our media, make us feel that there has been much more violence since this war against drug trafficking,” said Bishop Miguel Alba Díaz of La Paz, a vacation city at the tip of the Baja California peninsula.

Mexico’s violence is often more shocking than elsewhere in Latin America because powerful cartels go to extremes to intimidate the government and rival smugglers.
Authorities say the vast majority of victims are drug suspects, but bystanders, including children, sometimes get caught in the crossfire.

Mexico has the same problems with corrupt police, gang violence and poverty as other Latin American countries with higher homicide rates. So why the decline in murders?
Experts say while drug violence is up, land disputes have eased. Many farmers have migrated to the cities or abroad and the government has pushed to resolve the land disputes, some centuries old.

De la Barreda attributes the downward trend to a general improvement in Mexico’s quality of life. More Mexicans have joined the ranks of the middle class in the past two decades, while education levels and life expectancy have also risen.

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Can an old brain learn?

Can an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns? Put another way, is this a brain that should be studying Spanish?

As it happens, yes. While it’s tempting to focus on the flaws in older brains, that inducement overlooks how capable they’ve become. Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.

Many long held views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.

One explanation for how this occurs comes from Deborah M. Burke, a professor of psychology at Pomona College in California. Dr. Burke has done research on “tots,” those tip-of-the-tongue times when you know something but can’t quite call it to mind. Dr. Burke’s research shows that such incidents increase in part because neural connections, which receive, process and transmit information, can weaken with disuse or age.

Recently, researchers found some positive news. The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, learn Spanish much faster than a young person can.

The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them.

“The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding,” says Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, who has studied ways to teach adults effectively. “As adults we may not always learn quite as fast, but we are set up for this next developmental step.”

Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.

“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Move to Mexico, learn Spanish, or just take a different route to work.

Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired.”  Moving to a Mexico and learning Spanish will challenge your assumptions!

No wonder we see people in San Miguel de Allende studying Spanish and running around town who are in their seventies and eighties.  These folks are jiggling their synapses!

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Learn Spanish – Stages of Development in Learning Spanish

If you wonder where you are at in terms of your Spanish development, this blog will help you to understand.  Below are the descriptions used by Spanish teachers worldwide.  Take a look and decide where you are and where you would like to be. These descriptions are fairly academic but worth the time to look over.

Warren Hardy Spanish offers four levels of instruction designed to take you to a High Conversational Level.
This course will prepare you  to practice Spanish with native speakers, so you may develop Fluid speech.
By doing the coursework and practicing with native speakers, you will develop your skills through the
following stages. These guidelines are set by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

FUNCTIONAL
-    You can manage straightforward social protocol.
-    You can communicate your needs and wants in short,
      often incomplete sentences in present time.    
-    Your vocabulary is limited to basic objects.
-    You have difficulty formulating questions.
HIGH FUNCTIONAL
-    You sometimes appear fluent with social protocol.
-    You can create short sentences with difficulty in present, past,
      and future time.
-    Your vocabulary is limited to basic information such as  time, numbers, months, home, directions    and immediate needs.
-    You still have difficulty formulating questions.
CONVERSATIONAL
-    You are fluent with social protocol.
-    You can handle predictable situations and personal needs in
     present, past, and future time.
-    Your conversation is reactive and there is a struggle to answer
    direct questions.
-    Your speech is filled with hesitancy and inaccuracies.
-     You can be understood in spite of frequent misunderstandings.
-    You are capable of asking a variety of questions to obtain
      information about basic needs.
-    You are able to self correct.
HIGH CONVERSATIONAL
-    You are fluid in straight-forward social situations.
-    You can discuss personal information, family relations, home,
      daily activities, interests, personal preferences, physical and
      social needs.
-    You usually communicate reactively responding to direct questions.
-    You are able to link ideas using the nine Spanish tenses.
-    Your speech contains pauses, reformations, and self corrections while searching for adequate     vocabulary     and appropriate
     language forms.
-    You are able to converse with ease and confidence when dealing with most routine tasks and social situations.
-    You are able to narrate and describe in all tenses using discourse of paragraph length.
-    You sometimes have hesitation going from tense to tense but you can self-correct.

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