Why Greek?

Greek tablet

Some of you might be wondering why the story has Classical Greek in it. In fact, this kind of Greek is used in Homer’s IliadOdyssey, a testament to the enduring quality of this language.

Greek was the lingua franca of the 1st century A.D. Due to the conquests of Alexander the Great, the language was the means by which different cultures could communicate, much like English is today.

However, many of our writing conventions had not yet been established.  This tablet shows that in ancient Greece, letters were often written  without spaces in between words. This is primarily because nothing was written that was not meant to be read aloud. Principally, the reader would be able to sort out the sounds and then speak the words aloud.

No punctuation was put into words until reading silently became important, which developed for English in Victorian England. Of course, this happened at different dates for different cultures.

I consider Classical and its later counterpart Koiné Greek ( the language of the New Testament) to be a magical language that has since been forgotten by a generation of English speakers who have forgotten in large part how important this culture has been in shaping our own.

My current Greek textbook calls Christianity the “last great achievement of classical civilization.” I think this is true in large part. Although this language is very hard for young people to learn, I do think it is possible. My son has learned the Greek alphabet by replacing the Greek characters in the ‘abc’ song.

The love lost ( part 2)

Dr. Unne and Poxig traipsed up to the dilapidated old cottage at the end of Melmond. There were feral cats around everywhere, and suzukibs in the tree. They knocked on the wooden oak door thrice.

“Is anyone home?” asked Poxig.

“No one could be sure.” said Dr. Unne. “Milly! Open the door!”

“Maybe she is out,” said Poxig.

“It is not possible, since the old widow never leaves.”

They waited for what seemed like 20 minutes, and then Dr. Unne was convinced that there was something wrong. They decided to break down the door. They found a sturdy tree trunk from a fallen one. Then, they began to slam into the door.

“Heave, ho!” exclaimed Poxig.

The door was not bolted, and  easily gave way. Inside they saw Milly Conrad, who was lying motionless in her bed. Dr. Unne approached her cautiously, and then checked her pulse. There were no vital signs.

“She’s gone,” said Dr. Unne. “It must have been natural causes.”

But nearby, Poxig spotted a note on the bureau. It was written in green ink and stamped with a red stamp. Here were the contents of the note:

“To whom it may concern:

I could not go on living without Carl. I decided to take arsenic and end it. But I want to say one thing. Carl is not dead. He simply was transformed into an evil being by the dark orc-wizard Darxon. He is now known as the vampire of Melmond. He had tried many times to take me with him to his lair in the church vault, but I would not go, for the man I loved was gone. I tried to rehabilitate him but failed. But remember the man he used to be. Tell Carl that I love him, and he may yet be saved from the horrible fate that awaits the wicked. Please save my Carl and bring him back to life, so that I may enjoy eternity with him in the hereafter, where I am now.

Milly Conrad”

“So that’s how he became  the vampire who terrorized this town for so many years,” said Dr. Unne. ” I never knew the truth.”

“Well,  now I know what we must do. We must try to find Carl in the vampire and restore him back to his old self,” said Poxig

“You must go alone,” replied Dr. Unne. ” I am no warrior, and I am no match for the vampire’s evil magic.” But Dr. Unne handed him a pendant, that was blue and gold with a Latin cross on it.

“This will protect you from the vampire’s fangs,” said Dr. Unne. “But tread carefully, the vampire has a way a dazzling his enemies with his dark power. He may convince you to give him the pendant, and then you will surely perish.”

“I will take your advice to heart,” Poxig thought. But he knew that he could not face the wicked magic alone. He would need someone who was able to understand the vampire’s weakness. And that was the town’s vendor of black magic, whose name was Lakfi. He went to the purveyor of magic just outside Melmond.2016-04-29 15.18.07

The lost love

“Nauta puellam amat.”

Poxig read from the stone obelisk that was at the entrance to the town of Melmond. It must have been some kind of a gravestone. Melmond was known for its lugubrious atmosphere. Broken gravestones littered the town, which was almost deserted.

“Go to the lowlands,” shouted a shadowy figure. “Necessary items will have to be jettisoned.”

“What?” Poxig retorted. “Who’s there?”

But the figure disappeared into the woods.

There was no telling what Poxig would have to do in order to make the situation bearable.  The wizard who dwelt in the land would help him through the next item on his journey. Perhaps like this lonely voice from the wood, he would find the purpose of his lowly journey. Perhaps he would be like the forgotten sailor who made this stone to his lost love.

Poxig wondered what the shadowy figure could have meant. It was not altogether obvious. He had heard from a villager in these parts that a vampire had been terrorizing the town. As the prophecy had read, “the earth begins to rot,” he realized that their town was in grave danger.

Perhaps Poxig, with the help of a hero of old, would be able to vanquish this host of night. But he knew that his guitar would not be of much use in destroying the vampire. In order to do this, he would have to find a stake to drive through the heart of this unholy beast. But he knew he could not do it alone…

He came upon a house with a thatched roof with the letters ‘DR UNNE’ on them.

“This must be the residence of Dr. Unne, the linguist!” exclaimed Poxig. “Maybe he can help me end this misery of Melmond for good!”

He knocked on the door, which opened. A man of studious appearance and thick glasses appeared. He wore a white lab coat and had bits of papers shoved in his coat.

“Dr. Unne, I presume…” said Poxig.

“Yes,” he replied. “And you are…”

“I am Poxig, the elf, from Marginalia.”

“No elves live in Marginalia.” he said. “Good day.”

“No wait!” he stopped the door from closing shut. “Can you help me translate something?”

“What is it? That is my scientific speciality.”

“It is a phrase on an obelisk near the entrance to Melmond.”

“What does it say?” Unne asked.

“Nauta puellam amat.”

“This is a Latin phrase from our ancestors,” the doctor replied. “Our alphabet is closely related to theirs. The phrase means ‘The sailor loves the girl.’ It is the sailor from Melmond by the name of Carl Conrad, who fought in the wars of religion and died to defend our religion from the apostasy of the elves.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Poxig. “But may I ask just one more thing?”

“Go ahead.”

“Does the girl still live in Melmond?” Poxig asked.

“She does. She’s an old woman that lives down the road by the name of Milly.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Let me ask you one question, Mr. Poxig,” replied Dr. Unne. “What brings you to this desolate town?”

“I am on a quest to become one of the light warriors. One of the stages of my quest is to find the cause behind the earth’s rot.”

“A noble cause!” he said. ” You know that it is connected to the vampire that terrorizes the town, looking for fresh human blood when the sun goes down.”

“I had hoped that Milly might be able to give me some information about how the town used to be before the vampire’s curse settled here. Then, I might be able to find a weakness.”

Dr. Unne grabbed his overcoat. “Let me go with you. Perhaps together, we can end this evil, and restore the earth.”

The two new friends walked down the road to Milly Conrad’s place.

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Comprehensible input?

I just read an article in Language magazine that argued for Stephen Krashen’s theory of comprehensible input. (For you language teachers out there, it is often referred to as ‘n+1’) While nobody would disagree with Krashen’s basic premise, (given that Krashen has rock-star status in ESL and Applied Linguistics) the article was immensely frustrating. It suggested that pleasure reading, more than any other skill, provides comprehensible input to a larger degree than anything else.

Anyone who has been teaching ESL for more than 5 minutes knows that to get your students to ‘pleasure read’ in a second language is about as easy as pulling a tooth from a crocodile’s mouth. Anyone knows that the slightest bit of text that is ‘read in class’ (not pleasure reading) has to be scaffolded with an immense amount of vocabulary building. The one thing that ESL learners are unable to do is pleasure reading.

This is why I wrote in an earlier entry that teachers must make methods ‘work.’ Most of the research does not actually boil down to useable stuff in the classroom. For this reason, teachers constantly have to be adapting their material to the realities in the classroom. The only research based trope that I’ve been able to use in the classroom is Diane Larsen-Freeman’s ‘Form-Meaning-Use’ chart in the “Apple book” edited by Marianne Celce-Murcia.

It makes me furious that this sort of stuff gets published in major magazines! ‘Pleasure reading’ is what native speakers can do with their L1, nobody can read for pleasure in an L2 that’s being acquired. The statement “all horses are purple  with blue polka dots” makes more sense than the article by this anonymous author.

Ah well! ESL is like a blue and purple polka dotted beast! You can claim to understand it, but then we might ask how many articles you have published in TESOL Quarterly. None? Oh, that’s what I thought. So you’re not a researcher. I hope you’re a good teacher.blue and purple horse

Poxig and the evil orc

He  moved slowly down the riverbank, penknife in hand and his guitar strapped to his back. He had just lost his friend Jancuis in the evil swamp, and all around him he heard:

‘Ο Ποταμος, ‘Ο Ποταμος.

The talking trees were chanting again, and this time it was the Greek word for “river”. He had heard of a huge beast called the ‘hippo-potamus’, which meant ‘horse of the river.’ This beast had huge jaws and was very dangerous, but this was the least of his worries.

Poxig had yet to find his father’s friend’s house, Emissary Seljuk, who had known him before he disappeared. If he made it through the forest, he would be able to at least get to that small hamlet in the woods called Renfro, where the Emissary lived.

“These woods are spooky,”  he said. “I had better get out my guitar and start singing, and that way, the imps would be scared away. If I run into an orc, there’s no chance that I could defeat him. If only I had not lost Jancuis in the forest!”

The sun was setting as he got out his guitar and began to sing to the elven god, Releven.

‘O Releven, Releven,

You are the shining star

Bring us back to our senses,

Show us eternity from afar.’

As he began singing, the talking trees seemed to sing along with him, as if he were bringing life back to the forest. Just then, as he was smoking on his pipe and taking a small rest, he spotted a sinister figure through the underbrush. Poxig quickly hid behind a tree, for his friend, who was a skilled warrior, would have been his only protection from this beast.

It was an orc, of that much he was sure. The he-beast ambled through the underbrush, searching for forest creatures to devour whole.  He had a huge pig-like face, and three ugly horns emerging from his chemical green face. His jaws were dripping with blood. The beast was pregnant with evil, looking for more ways to trap his innocent prey like a poisonous spider.

Fortunately, Poxig successfully concealed himself behind the tree. Then, strangely, the trees began to shriek loudly. They were protecting him! The orc held his ears and then dove into the river. He swam down the river and disappeared out of sight.

Poxig wondered if this had been Trink-Zelfo, the orc who was formerly Sir Belhomme the dashing prince. He was sure that it was possible, for the descriptions of him fit the likeness that he saw. He had just missed certain danger and sudden death. The orc would have beaten him to a pulp, since Poxig did not have a weapon strong enough to repel him.

He would have to make sure to bring his bow and quiver next time he came to this evil wood. But Poxig’s luck was about to change. He would soon meet his confidante  and closest friend, in the most unlikely of places.

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Dedicated to…


Poxig is based on my son, Gabe. As understood from the prequel of the adventures of Poxig, he is a troubadour of sorts. Indeed, my son is also pretty good with a guitar. Of course, he loves baseball more, but Poxig lives in world in which baseball would be anachronistic. In all honesty,  these perfunctory literary efforts are all dedicated to him. All illustrations are colored by him.

I was reminded that a great vocabulary is the hallmark of an educated person. This is essentially true of the misanthrope, as well as the scholar. I only wish that my son would develop a better vocabulary, and that is the focus of my literary efforts. It is understood by most parents that it is always a work in progress. I would definitely concur.

Any parents out there know that we imagine heights that our children may never reach. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t dream.  It just means that as they grow up, we should prepare them  for reality as best we can. That magical time which is called adolescence should be a time of character development. These are tender years, nonetheless.

ESL journeys

cartoonI’m taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to make a few insightful comments about teaching ESL.

Erving Goffman once wrote: “Not then, men and their moments. Rather, moment and their men…” (Goffman, 1967) I wholeheartedly concur with regards to teaching ESL.  Any day, you never know what semantic rigmarole you are going to get involved in.

In grad school, I had a great teacher named Carolyn Fuchs, and she always said that prescriptive grammar has its limits in the ESL classroom. Better to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Better to do bottom-up rather than top-down instruction.

I’m not sure this is always the best approach, however.  There are some times when the students are just not saying anything. Many or most of Asian learners are going to be in the silent period for a while, and that has a lot to do with the fact that they were subjected to top-down for a considerable period of their education. (No one can argue that the scarves that Chinese girls must wear to school is aimed at having them express their individuality!)

So back to Goffman, the teacher is merely a conduit for the moment.  It is not about “him” or “her” exactly. It is trying to create the right moments for learning. And all of the lesson planning is going to try to make the right conditions for that. Like building a fire, it is better to get kindling to set it ablaze. You have a better chance  at getting a roaring fire that way. You just really can’t shove the lesson plan down the students’ throats. (If it isn’t working, it isn’t working.)

Some of my readers may wonder why I think there is any overlap between  my comments on “eslteacher576” & YA fiction. Actually, I think this stuff stimulates the creativity that is so vital in the classroom. If not for them, then at least for me. I am well-aware that it is not about me. It is about student learning. I am often humbled with how little I can actually get my students to do.

If there is any takeaway, this is it: “Methods mork; teachers work.” Unless you’re ready to put in the work, the results are going to be harder to get.

We have a long way to go…

The wind whistled through the trees. There were many reasons to be upset, since the Naxos had been overthrown. He was a dragon who helped rule the nether kingdoms, and actually persuaded King Charles to avert his war with the Elves of Elvira. Did they have enough gumption to follow the dragon’s advice? He would have to go alone, & nobody knew whether this would lead. This was the last stand of dragons against the forces of darkness and black magic.

They decided to take Carr along for the journey. He had a red three cornered cap, with a feather in it. Carr was a master of red magic, & he could wield a rapier. They were still trying to understand the prophecy, & many or us were still puzzled. What would be the outcome of this omen? No one could decipher what was written on the obelisk:

“The earth is rotting, the sea is wild…”

They could not understand why this would apply to our country, Marginalia, but we were struck with terror. What was the reason of the earth’s rotting? No one could be certain, but the sage Sarda would know. Tefl drew his sword and made an ‘X’ in the sand. “This is Nitla pass,” said he, ” and we will go no further. We will camp here for the night.” Every one of them, including Carr,  gathered wood for the fire, while Tefl folded up the map. The sun was setting, and the sky was crimson red and burnt orange. The wind was dying down, and they could hear the jeweled scarabs making noise as they unfolded the sleeping bags.

Poxig talked of the fool on the hill that night. It was well known that on the top of Mt. Crump, the Jongleur lived, with his massive library. It was no secret that the imps had been trying to torch the library, but King Charles protected the great library with soldiers from the elite guard.

“We thought he might be nuts,” said Lakfi, “but he is actually intelligent.”

“I didn’t know, ” said Sheila Nesta, the translator and healer. “But I knew he tells riddles.”

“Won’t you tell one, Poxig?” said Lakfi.

“Ok. Here it goes. What flies but has no wings?” asked Poxig.

“That’s easy,” he said.

“Oh, then what is it?” she asked.

“Well, my money seems to fly away,” Tefl rejoined.

“Time.” he said.

“Ah, yes.” said Nesta.

“Well, there are many others, but I’ll let Jongleur tell you himself,” Poxig said.

Tefl grunted in assent. Due to the warrior code, he didn’t say much. He would only speak when he had something meaningful to say. Tefl was shining his metal helmet with a rag. As he cleaned his sword to get the imp blood off of it, he said:

“Sic Transit Gloria…”

“Glory fades,” said Nesta.



Poxig exits

There were so many reasons to have trepidation, since Poxig and his companion Jancuis were entering the evil swamp. They saw through the maw of hades, for all the imp-beasts had overtaken the swamps. Returning to the path, the talking trees began chanting.

”∑ομα, ∑ομα”

The Greek word for bodily personhood was not immediately lost on  them. They knew that the magic that surrounded them was of an evil nature. The trees were bending under  the weight of the dark magic that oppressed all living things. Poxig tried to keep focused on his courageous self, for the light magic that could dispel the gloom was far from them.

“When do you think we will reach Wyckham Hall?” asked Jancuis.

“We aren’t far from it,” Poxig replied, “but I can’t hear anything beyond the screaming trees.”

“Why are they chanting?” he asked.

“They mourn for the dead that the imps have slain,” Poxig grimly remarked. “The imps feast on the swamp animals. They leave nothing in their wake but ruin and destruction.”

“For this reason, we must make it to Wyckham Hall and restore order to this place overrun by imp-beasts.”

They journeyed further into the murky wasteland looking for signs of life. The wind whistled through the tops of the ancient trees. One misstep would bring them further from the path that led to the dark mansion. Poxig could himself no longer be persuaded of the virtue of venturing further into the evil swamp. It was likely that the muck all around them, and the shrieking imps with their blood-curdling cries would overcome them.

“We will need the help of the ancient spirits tonight,” Poxig mumbled.

They had despaired of ever getting through the wasteland, and then appearing through the midst of a fallen tree, they came upon the dark shadow cast by a decrepit old mossy manse.

“Wyckham Hall!” Jancuis said.

“At last!” Poxig returned.




Nitla Pass

Poxig came to the edge of the waterfall. He looked over the side, and viewed the abyss below. He knew these falls because he had been here as a boy. Underneath the waterfall was a grotto where he used to bring his wooden action figures. Now, as a man, he had a different view of Nitla Pass. It was a place where Manichean forces would fight for supremacy.

There was only another hour until the Orc-Wizard Darxon and his armies of darkness would arrive. He had been responsible for the fall of Wyckham Hall, and the soul-possession of Sir Belhomme, who had become an orc himself. The cruel magic of Darxon could only affect those who had turned to the dark side of magic, which the once great knight had done. Poxig had known him many moons ago. His new orc name was ‘Trink-Zelfo.’

It would be only a few short minutes before the demonic hoards would take over this region. All the trees in Nitla Pass would be chopped down and burned, and the vegetation would be stripped. As for the waters of Nitla Pass, they would turn to blood-red. And with all of this havoc wreaked on his favorite place to come as a boy, Poxig could only think of retreat to the armed forces of King Charles I, whose army was the only worthy adversary of such an evil force…

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See a sample here:  the great journey