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Paul Rolly: Blogger fired from language school over ‘homophonia’


| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jul 29 2014 08:44 pm • Last Updated Jul 29 2014 09:32 pm

Homophones, as any English grammarian can tell you, are words that sound the same but have different meanings and often different spellings — such as be and bee, through and threw, which and witch, their and there.

This concept is taught early on to foreign students learning English because it can be confusing to someone whose native language does not have that feature.

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But when the social-media specialist for a private Provo-based English language learning center wrote a blog explaining homophones, he was let go for creating the perception that the school promoted a gay agenda.

Tim Torkildson says after he wrote the blog on the website of his employer, Nomen Global Language Center, his boss and Nomen owner Clarke Woodger, called him into his office and told him he was fired.

As Torkildson tells it, Woodger said he could not trust him and that the blog about homophones was the last straw.

"Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality," Woodger complained, according to Torkildson, who posted the exchange on his Facebook page.

Torkildson says he was careful to write a straightforward explanation of homophones. He knew the "homo" part of the word could be politically charged, but he thought the explanation of that quirky part of the English language would be educational.

Nomen has removed that blog from its website, but a similar explanation of homophones was posted there in 2011 with apparently no controversy.

Woodger says his reaction to Torkildson’s blog has nothing to do with homosexuality but that Torkildson had caused him concern because he would "go off on tangents" in his blogs that would be confusing and sometimes could be considered offensive.

Nomen is Utah’s largest private English as a Second Language 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. Most of them, he says, are at basic levels of English and are not ready for the more complicated concepts such as homophones.

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"People at this level of English," Woodger says, " … may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex."

He says Torkildson had worked at the center for less than three months before he was terminated in mid-July.

Interestingly, he was hired on April Fools’ Day.

Generous dog lovers » I wrote recently about Brigham City firefighter Tyler Petersen, who responded to a serious accident on Interstate 15 and later paid for the medical treatment given to three injured dogs.

I wrote a follow-up story about readers of my column and contributors to the Justice for Geist (the dog killed by a Salt Lake City police officer) Facebook page who wanted to help offset the Petersen’s costs.

I noted in that column that Karol Johnson, who volunteers for the Brigham City Animal Shelter, set up a website, www.gofundme.com/bjb9is, where folks could donate.

That column ran a week ago. Johnson tells me that within 24 hours of publication, $1,020 was donated to the account, enough to pay back Petersen’s out-of-pocket costs.

Johnson says any excess funds will be used for deworming medication for cats at the shelter.

Correction » I gave kudos in Friday’s column to the state Division of Motor Vehicles for the kind treatment an employee in the Hurricane office gave to a woman who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had to take a test to renew her driver license.

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