During the school year, as part of his job, Carlos teaches English to a group of Hispanic adults and children and one of the areas that can provide a bit of trouble is homophones; you know, words that sound the same but have different meanings and sometimes different spellings: be and bee, through and threw, which and witch, their and there.
I never knew, though, that the mere mention of the word ‘homophones’ could get a person fired but, apparently, in Utah, it can.
Tim Torkildson, the social-media specialist for Nomen Global Language Center, a private Provo-based English language learning center, realized that, for people to whom English is a second language, homophones can be very confusing, wrote a blog post to explain homophones.
He was fired because, well, homo.
No, silly, he’s not gay, but he was fired because he was creating the perception that the school promoted a gay agenda. His employer, and Nomen owner, Clarke Woodger, called Tim into his office and told him he was fired because he could not be trusted and that the blog about :::gasp::: homophones was the last straw.
"Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality." — Clarke Woodger
Torkildson says he knew that the ‘homo’ part of the word might be kind of a lightning rod, so he was very careful in his post about homophones, knowing that an explanation of them might be useful to people learning English.
For his part, Clarke Woodger says his reaction to Torkildson’s blog has nothing to do with homosexuality but that Torkildson would "go off on tangents" in his blogs that would be confusing and sometimes could be considered offensive … homophone. Nomen is Utah’s largest private English as a Second Language [ESL] school and caters mostly to foreign students seeking admission to U.S. colleges and universities. Woodger says his school has taught 6,500 students from 58 countries during the past 15 years and, in his words, most of them are at basic levels of English and are not ready for complicated concepts like homophones.
You know, because they don’t speak English so they cannot understand anything, I guess.
"People at this level of English … may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex." — Clarke Woodger
Um, no, Clarke, I think it’s just you, and maybe a few Neanderthals. I tend to think that a person who wishes to learn English might just want to learn English and not find homophones a bad thing.
But I’d be careful about synonyms, lest people think bad thoughts about them.