Education


Photo of chart showing katakanya characters, on my fridge door

Katakanya has joined hiragana on my fridge door

Fifteen days, usually one ‘lesson’ a day, further down the duolingo Japanese course from my post with beginner’s comments, I can say that the claimed “5 minutes a day” is optimistic, certainly for me. I did complete each of the first ten ‘lessons’ in 5 minutes or so but as they became more difficult that extended considerably; I did not time this morning’s lesson but it certainly took me 30 minutes or more. On the other hand, I thought long and hard about each question and made only one mistake.

In my previous post on the subject I wondered whether I should compare the Japanese course with one for a language In which I am reasonably fluent. Let me clarify that: I can read it without a problem, understand it spoken with few problems, but have many difficulties attempting to write it. So, I decided to do the Romanian course alongside the Japanese. In four days I have completed many ‘lessons’, certainly more than 40, with very few mistakes. And I have begun to understand the complexities of Romanian articles, singular and plural, and the use of the diacritical marks, for the first time. So far so good. I’m hoping that soon I will not be asking Petronela “is it ă, â or a in …?”

Romanian on duolingo

Romanian prăjituri

Romanian prăjituri

Cupcakes. Good for children

Cupcakes. Good for children

What is clear is that the Romanians constructing this course are heavily influenced by American English so that there are some bad, misleading translations (eg, ‘prăjituri’ is said to be ‘cup cakes’; the wonderful small Romanian cakes and pastries bear no resemblance to those silly over-decorated buns (as we would call them) which have become fashionable. In fact there is no good English word for the Romanian creations (there’s probably one in German or Austrian as they have similar things). The best I can come up with in British English is ‘fancies’ but it would be better to describe them.

As far as grammar is concerned, the Romanian course developers seem never to have heard of ‘present continuous’, which would often be a more appropriate translation than the present simple given. Admittedly, correct use of simple and continuous was usually difficult to grasp for my Romanian students as they don’t make the difference in Romanian.

Back to Japanese

I wonder if the lack of explanations is deliberate in the Japanese course. If so I think, as a former language teacher, it is rather misguided as when I first began the course many things were totally confusing. I mentioned in my previous post the overall title of the first lessons being ‘hirigana’, with no explanation of what hirigana is, was confusing to me.

Even more confusing was, having completed the hirigana lessons, I was suddenly confronted with the title ‘intro’. Only after I completed a few lessons did it become clear that the ‘intro’ was to a totally different writing system ‘katakanya’. Rather late in the day I’ve realised that ‘intro’ is probably not ‘introduction’ but ‘introductions’.

Then there’s the wonder of large and small characters and diacriticals, which change the pronunciation, meaning or both.

And I haven’t got to the kanji, the Chinese characters, yet! Or I don’t think I have. In fact I don’t really know what I have got to as I have no idea  what some of characters introduced are. But, at last, some kind of logic has begun to appear and I made only one mistake in this morning’s lesson, by deduction. As I said last time, a really good thing about duolingo is the collection of forums, populated with people who are only too willing to help. Without them I would probably have given up.

An important word of warning

Beware of the advertisements. There are all sorts of inducements to view advertisements but some are hiding some well known ‘scams’. Avoid particularly those offering ‘free trials’. They will usually eventually ask for the cost of postage and packing, thereby obtaining your bank card details, and lock you in to automatic reordering of the product at a ridiculous price. At the end of each lesson you are invited to obtain some advantage by watching an ad. I now never do. Duolingo would do itself a great favour by excluding the ‘scam’ advertisements.

 

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Finding 3 VHS tapes featuring aspects of my teaching of English in Romania a quarter of a century ago (post on 8th August), together with meeting two of my former pupils, were definitely the highlights of this summer’s visit to Romania. If another project comes off there will be another highlight but ‘Murphy’ being as he is I will only post about that if it comes to fruition.

However, after finding the tapes while clearing my parents-in-law’s attic I was disappointed not to find two books I had hoped were there. After clearing the attic we set about a store room at our small apartment nearby and another couple of ‘gems’ emerged from 14 years of dust.

Enlarging English vocabulary

A picture of the opening pages of the book, generously inscribed by Gheorghe, “To my friend Roger Livesey. My greatest thanks. If you had not helped me this book would not have appeared. Iași, May 21st 2000.One was one of the books I hoped to find in the attic. Titled Everyday topics it was written by my good friend Gheorghe Stan, Head of English at Liceul National in Iași when I taught there. Its declared aim was to  provide a larger vocabulary for intermediate and advanced learners of English. I may well have been able to find a copy of this book at a second hand book dealers which abound in the university city of Iași but, not teaching English any more, I wanted only the copy Gheorghe presented to me with its generous inscription. I was delighted to find it.

An ecumenical English course

Picture of A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

Another ‘gem’ was a complete English course I wrote for an ecumenical project set up by the then Archbishop Daniel, now Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The students came from many different east European countries. Mostly beginners, the idea of the course was to enable them to describe their church, both in a spiritual and a physical sense, in English, quite a tall order as they came only with their own languages (or some also with Russian) – Albanian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Kazahkstani, Kyrgystani, Latvian, Russian, Slovakian, Ukrainian and, of course, Romanian – from many different backgrounds and several different churches. It was a wonderful few weeks with many social events between lessons.

I had taught on a similar course two years previously but in 2003 I was course director and wrote all the lessons, so finding them (around 50 overhead projection transparencies) was particularly interesting.

Love letters and all

A final collection of ‘gems’ was cards, photos and letters to Petronela from the beginning of our relationship, including the first ever letter I wrote to her, before our relationship began.

Well worth choking on the dust of so many years of hibernation!

Romanians are wonderful people but as far as the authorities are concerned if  there’s the most difficult solution to a simple problem you can be pretty sure they will apply it. Being in the European Union has given the bureaucrats another million reasons to make almost anything as difficult as possible. After a week of wrestling with this amazing bureaucracy, to the point where I was tempted to give up and go home early, along comes a young man who arrives when he says he will, does the job quickly and efficiently and the cost at the end, very reasonable, was at the bottom of his estimate range rather than the top. Details at the end of this post.

Missing books

It began with a search for two books in the attic of my parents-in-law, where some 14 years ago I had stored a lot of ‘stuff’ and hardly approached it since. The books: proceedings of a conference in, if I remember correctly, USA and Mexico simultaneously, on using internet in English teaching, at which I presented a paper from Romania, Bucharest, at around midnight – very unusual in the mid 1990s; the other book was about English idioms, by George Stan, head of English at Liceul National in Iași where I was teaching at the time – a great guy who gave me a really generous acknowledgement in the book for my editing of it.

Sadly, neither book was there. Most of the ‘stuff’ was now junk but I was excited to find three ‘gems’ – three VHS tapes, one labelled ‘An English Nativity Play’, another ‘Școala nr.1 (School no.1) Suceava/email project’, the third was a recording of a show celebrating 8th March (1998) at a different school.

First tape

Petronela’s parents have a working VHS player and with some trepidation I put in the first of the tapes and pushed ‘play’. I was taken back to Christmas 1994 and the nativity play was as I hoped, that performed by my students at School No.1 in Burdujeni, Suceava; it was also broadcast by a local tv station on Christmas Day itself. The angel who brought the good news to the shepherds I met about a week ago though she is now a lawyer in Baia Mare – Anca, who I wrote about in my previous post. Other former students who I hope to meet over the next 2 or 3 weeks also feature in the play.

Second tape

The second tape was a presentation of some of the email projects (my conference paper was about these) done by the same group of students, who eventually named themselves the ‘Allstars’. The presentation was to an American couple who delivered ‘obsolete’ IBM laptops to Romanian schools. I used one, eventually two, in email projects as part of my English teaching, linking up with, eg, schools in Vancouver and Northumbria, UK – no Windows, but using MsDos.

Third tape

The Allstars also formed themselves into a Leo Club, 'adopting' a special needs class (the Bunnies) in another school. Here they are shown on a picnic the Allstars organised for the Bunnies


The Allstars also formed themselves into a Leo Club, ‘adopting’ a special needs class (the Bunnies) in another school. Here they are shown on a picnic the Allstars organised for the Bunnies

The third tape, the recording of an 8th March Show, I will not try to insert here as it is almost 1 hour long and only a small part towards the end is a performance for which I was responsible. This performance is by a special needs class in School No. 11 which became ‘The bunnies’ and incorporated the song ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. They did their own email project with a special needs class in the USA and were ‘adopted’ by the Leo Club formed by some of the students at School No.1. When I get back to UK and on my Mac I should be able to extract the relevant part and do a post about that.

The efficient Romanian

I’ve been able to post the recordings on Youtube, and so hopefully within this post (I’ve never attempted such a thing before – it seems to be working). I cannot cut out the ‘rubbish’ at the start of each till, again, I get onto the Mac at home but after a few seconds the actual film should appear.

I’ve been able to do this only due to the great service from one Romanian young man. Following a phone call he collected the VHS tapes Monday lunchtime, transferred to DVDs and delivered them early Tuesday. The cost? About 1/25th of the cost of transferring the one tape of our wedding (also VHS) to DVD in the UK.

The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

Looking for misplaced documents for our forthcoming drive to Romania (mostly proof I had paid a speeding fine last summer in case stopped at the border) I was really excited to discover the tattered remains of a notebook from my earliest time in Romania in 1993/94.

Not only did I not know I had it, I don’t remember keeping any kind of diary but there it is, a daily handwritten journal of my first two months in Romania, from early March to late April 1993. Unfortunately I did not record my first three days, but I remember some experiences of those few days very well: snow inside the train; breathing stopped by climbing out into -22degC; meeting with the Zaharia family with which I was to spend 6 wonderful months; a walk to the Ukrainian border from which I was escorted the 7km back to the town of Siret, having taken a ‘forbidden’ photograph’, by two armed (but friendly) border guards.

Teaching English

The journal stops abruptly on 27th April but the handwritten pages jump to November 1993 by which time I was teaching English and, more excitement, records working with some classes VI (12-13 year olds) at school no.1 in Suceava, to write a ‘21st century fairy tale’ for a competition in a British magazine.

Rambunctious

Recently I posted on this blog about discovering a new word, rambunctious.

https://wp.me/pkm0h-1Kt

and suggested this as a theme for the meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, on 7 July. My contribution was not a fiction but a true story, about teaching the classes VI. Here’s part of what I said:

… …

As I say often, ‘now for something completely different’. The only link to the word ‘Rambunctious’ is that had I known it then I would certainly have applied it to class VIa at School Number 1 in Suceava, Romania, which I taught for a while in 1993/1994.

Here’s the story class VIa submitted though eventually the story they wrote had to be edited down to 500 words for the competition.

A 21st century fairy tale

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

Once upon a time there was a handsome young man called Mihai. Although he was only 22 years old Mihai was a very clever computer programmer and he worked in a radar station near to his home near to his home town of Putna, in northern Romania.

One day he saw a strange object on his radar screen. It seemed to come from nowhere and land deep in a forest nearby. Mihai went to investigate.

When he came to the spot he saw not an aircraft or spaceship but a strange machine which was surrounded by bright beams of light. Mihai knew they were laser beams. But his attention was captured by a very beautiful young girl who was standing completely still, also surrounded by laser beams.

Are you alright?” asked Mihai.

Yes, but I cannot move at all,” said the girl. “I am Irina. I was walking in the forest when suddenly the machine you see there appeared. A terrible man got out of it. He said his name was Zod. He said he lived at the end of the 21st century but he had seen me on his time scanner and wanted my beauty for himself for ever. He came to our time in that machine; it’s a time machine but something happened and he cannot go back. So he has trapped me here and looks at me every day. The laser rays will kill anything which tries to take me or enter the time machine.”

As Irina spoke, Mihai knew he had fallen in love with her and must rescue her.

I will come back for you,” said Mihai.

He returned in his latest invention, a large transparent globe which could fly, powered by light could transport him as energy to another place, and could deflect laser beams.

However, Zod’s protection was not just the laser beams. He had powerful robots which could transform themselves into anything they chose. When they saw Mihai’s globe they immediately changed to a black slime and coated the globe. Without light the globe was powerless. 

Thinking that Mihai was dead inside it, Zod ordered it to be thrown in the forest. It lay there for days and Mihai was almost dead when along came a bear.

He smelt the globe. It smelled sweet. He licked the black substance. It was sweet – like honey. Soon he had licked it all off.

Light entered the globe and soon it was active again. Mihai returned to the time machine and beamed himself into Zod’s machine.

Zod was a big, powerful creature but, thought Mihai, the bigger the better. I will transform into energy then transport him far away but not materialise him.

This he did. The giant burst of energy burned out all the circuits of the time machine, the lasers were destroyed and Irina was free.

Will you marry me?” asked Mihai.

Of course,” said Irina.

They returned to Putna where their families arranged a big feast.

Mihai and Irina were married and they all lived happily ever after.

THE END

Rambunctious

As I said, if they were excited to produce the story they were beyond control when they learned they had won a prize. We might say they were absolutely …

… rambunctious!

However, in my notebook, I had also written a letter to the editor of the magazine running the competition, before typing. Here’s an extract:

Letter to the editor

What is remarkable is that at the time they had been learning English for only two years – with me only a couple of months.

First each class was given the structure of a fairy story (see my sketch which I had recorded in my notebook) which was copied onto the blackboard (no computers then, so chalk on a real blackboard).

… the class was divided into groups of four and each group wrote their own story then read it (to the whole class). This was followed by a discussion during which I tried to suggest some improvements in the plots to get closer to a fairy story (the boys particularly tended to produce ‘Star Wars’ type science fiction tales).

At the following lesson I held a ‘workshop’ when again the structure of a fairy tale was explained and the vocabulary of the structure relearned. The outline plot and characters were defined.

The children were so keen they asked to come to school on a Saturday morning to produce the final entry. Again this was organised as a ‘workshop’, one pupil writing out the story as it was developed using many of the best ideas from the various groups.

Finally, after typing, a further lesson was used to give the opportunity to recognise and if possible correct any mistakes in English. Any mistakes they could not correct themselves have been left in the final entry.

The story production sequence has been of enormous benefit. Their already high motivation has been even further increased. They have considerably extended their vocabulary and they have had to explore different grammatical structures to reduce the number of words (to meet the competition criteria of 500 words).

RL

There’s more on teaching classes VI at school no.1

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here am Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here an Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

I have many fond memories from my time – 11.1/2 years – in Romania but none more fond than my time ‘teaching English’ to a class in an industrial high school in an industrial area of the city of Suceava, an area therefore depressed after the destruction of industry following the collapse of Communism.

A few days ago someone from this class contacted me, see below. I cannot begin to write how exciting this is but I just had to blog about it.

Not the Mafia

The story behind moving to Suceava to teach was all due to my misunderstanding of a Romanian word – ‘Marfă’. I began in a ‘top’ high school, Liceul Ștefan cel Mare, when my intended 6 months stay working in a voluntary humanitarian project in nearby Siret ended. How this happened has been documented on this blog in the past. However when I suggested I wanted to teach less advantaged students there was considerable opposition from the authorities. The overall view was ‘why bother with them, you’re wasting your time, concentrate on the best schools and the brightest students’, an attitude I met in Romania many times then, to the point of causing me many personal problems at the time. Foreigners could then be given a hard time. That is changed now and followers of this blog will know I have spent substantial periods in Romania most years since I left in 2004 and have many friends there.

However, the problems were a contributing factor in my moving to Iași, where I then taught in an ‘industrial high school’ and a couple of ‘top’ schools.

A different way of ‘teaching English’

I didn’t ‘teach English’ in a conventional way; I tried to do it in a way from which my students would not only learn some English, enthusiastically, but build confidence to believe they could achieve anything they wished. This was by involving them in projects with classes in English-speaking countries, UK and Canada if I remember correctly, and subsequently helping them to get involved in volunteering, leading eventually to formation of the third Leo Club in Romania. The projects were on email, beginning with one donated ‘obsolete’ IBM laptop. No Windows – everything was done with MsDos; does anyone remember that? Eventually the class involved in the email projects called themselves the ‘Allstars‘ and went on to form what was the third Leo club in Romania and probably among those with the youngest membership anywhere – the Suceava Burdujeni Leos were then 12-14 years old. Late teens early twenties is more usual.

A ‘Messenger’ request answered

A few days ago I had a request on Messenger from Anca … (the family name I did not recognise). Usually I ignore such requests (my dislike of Facebook except in small closed groups has been well documented) but for some reason I opened the message and was delighted to see it was from my former student in the industrial high school mentioned above. The class have a Facebook closed group and Anca posted that she had ‘found’ me and asked if anyone else from that class remembered me.

What happened as a result was humbling. The general response was “How can we possibly forget?” accompanied in some cases by thanks to me for what they had achieved since, eg a lawyer, an IT specialist, an English teacher, even a tattoo artist! (I didn’t tattoo them, honest!). One was particularly amazing; she said that only a day or so previously she had been teaching her daughter a limerick I wrote for her almost a quarter of a century ago. I didn’t remember it but she had and sent it to me. I remember all the names though I knew them only by their given names (I’ve generally not put them in the photograph captions).

Last year during a short visit to Suceava I did try to find some of these former students but without success. In a way not surprising as I’ve now learnt that many of them are now in other parts of Romania and it’s quite likely some have moved abroad – so many Romanians have. Now I’m hoping that my health will allow me at least one more visit to Romania, when I’ll do my best to meet as many as possible of them in person. Meanwhile, somewhere I have the documentation for the Leo club and will try to find it, together with more of the photographs taken during activities of this wonderful group of youngsters.

I wasn’t able to post here for a couple of days but I must have a grump on a couple of themes, one from UK news on Friday, the other ‘news’ from the school in which Petronela is teaching. Those themes? The continuing treatment of women as second class citizens; the disgraceful state to which education in the UK has been ‘allowed’, or forced, to fall.

Women’s pay

The ‘news’ that, beginning this weekend, women are effectively working for free till the end of the year is a generalisation, a simplification, but it makes the point very well I think.

Women in the UK are, in general, paid so much less than men for doing the same job that half way through November men will have earned the amount that women will have to work till the end of December to achieve.

How on earth do we accept this over a century after Emily Davison was killed protesting at the Epson Derby?

Children in UK who cannot read or write at 11

On Friday Petronela began to teach a ‘low ability class’. Of course some children may be ‘brighter’ than others; whether they should be ‘streamed’ as such is an argument I will not get into, it’s basically the same argument as whether grammar schools should be reintroduced. I have mixed feelings about both. However, she was ‘warned’ there are children in this class 7 who cannot read or write. This after being at school, primary school, for six years.

I’m not suggesting that all parents should, or could, teach their offspring to read and write before they go to school – at five years old in the UK (as my mother did for me, for which I’m eternally grateful). What I am suggesting (not a strong enough word) is that children should not be moved from primary to secondary school without being able to read and write at some basic level at least.

That they are gives the high school teacher an impossible task and disrupts the learning of other students.

UK lowest literacy among developed countries

Way back in 2012 there was an article in ‘The Independent’ newspaper giving some reasons why the UK is lowest for literacy in developed countries (confirmed in recent OECD survey and report) which is still relevant.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-obvious-reasons-why-uk-literacy-and-numeracy-skills-are-among-the-lowest-in-the-developed-world-8871402.html

It is almost the same with numeracy, but I will not get too much into that, except to say that I completed the first five questions in a recent GCSE maths exam paper in my head in a very short time. I could not have done that with a GCE ‘O’ level paper, despite all the assurances that standards have not dropped.

I remember well when Petronela was studying English for GCSE so she could teach in UK (at the time she was working as a teaching assistant) she came home with the question “How do you spell ‘read’?” I was surprised as I thought she knew very well. She told me that a teacher had written something on the board with the instruction to students to ‘Reed this’! Since then we have had letters from school, doctors, hospitals, the local council, etc, with basic spelling mistakes and appalling grammar.

C’ grade is not, in my opinion, a high enough grade in the GCSE English exam to teach any subject, as is the case now. Again, I do not believe all the assurances that this is the same level as was needed to get a pass at GCE ‘O’ level. I am sure that it is not.

I sometimes, as a writer/blogger, indulge in some passages which are not grammatically correct but I know I am doing it, for effect. I sometimes indulge in some ‘journalese’ for similar reasons. I may well have done it in this post. But I would not do it if I were teaching a lesson in school.

I used to tell my students in Romania that you cannot learn to use correct English fluently in the classroom, and vocabulary almost not at all. To succeed with these you have to read, read, and read. What chance do those who cannot have? Little.

To add fuel to the fire libraries are being closed, or threatened with closure, across the UK. Our local village library has been rescued by a team of volunteers.

As I said, reading from an early age is one of the many things for which I am grateful to my mother.

Double espresso and flames

Back in the wonderful Keighley library again; similar sequence to yesterday, coffee in Wetherspoon, quick diversion into the shopping area for some ‘chores’ then back to this great building, built in 1902 as a Carnegie library. This morning it was buzzing with a group of primary school children. I just love that.

First job, with a helpful librarian, Amy, trying to track down a comment from John Galsworthy mentioned by my blogger friend Iulia in response to my post about Sunday. We couldn’t find it so back to Iulia. Later note: Iulia came up with the answer and although the book is not in this library it is in another so will be sent to my village library – fabulous library system we have here in the UK though a combination of Government and Local Authorities are doing their best to destroy it. Volunteers have taken over many, including that in my village, to ‘save’ them.

Well patronised

This one seems well patronised, a steady stream of visitors to use the computers, or just the free WiFi using their own, to read the newspapers or borrow and return books. There are many displays on a variety of subjects which would merit a happy hour’s browsing. There’s even a designated ‘cafe’ area with a drinks machine and another with ‘snacks’. There are also printing and copying facilities. I haven’t been upstairs yet; maybe a subject for another day.

My Latvian blogger friend Ilze has demanded some photos of Wetherspoon so I may well make this interesting building the subject of a post before this week is out.

Wrong impressions from principal thoroughfare

I haven’t really been in ‘the town’ of Keighley (by the way, for non-English readers this is pronounced ‘keeth-li” – crazy!) since I was at school here though I’ve passed by the centre many times on the way to somewhere else. Going along a principal thoroughfare, North Street, on which this library stands (picture in yesterday’s post), the once majestic, now largely run down or plastered with inappropriate signs buildings, mostly now banks, give an entirely wrong impression of the town – rather depressing. Venture a few paces to the covered shopping malls and it feels a happy, lively place. These bright covered areas are so much more appealing than the architectural nightmare of the ‘new’ shopping mall in Bradford city. The people also appear ‘alive’; not so in Bradford where they usually appear downtrodden and miserable. The Keighley ‘mall’ does of course, suffer from the same disadvantage as that in Bradford, almost completely flooded with major chain stores which offer nothing for me.

Memories

It’s good to see that the majority of shops under the glass canopy in another major thoroughfare, Cavendish Street, are in business but what a pity they have been allowed to put up the most atrocious selection of signs; only one in sympathy with this magnificent terrace dating, I would guess, from about 1900. Above the canopy the past grandeur is obvious. This terrace has fond memories for me; my grandmother occasionally came to the town and took me into a little upstairs cafe for tea after school. We always ate the same thing – mushrooms on toast.

Right at the bottom of the street is another building full of memories for me. The Victoria hotel was run by the parents of a schoolmate so I was often there after school. It has been derelict for many years, a sad sight, but it looks as though it might be going to be restored. I hope.

Red sun

Red sun (bleached out here) with an even more intensely red halo, in a strangely coloured sky

Nothing to do with Keighley but I must mention the red sun which broke through a strangely coloured sky yesterday. The picture, taken with the iPad, cannot do it justice but it does give me an opportunity to mention a great poem which captured the essence of this strange sight. It was written and posted by a blogger who calls herself ‘the cheeseseller’s wife’; she assures us she is.

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