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Repeat after me: Hello, my name is.

Chileans love to toss in English words but they struggle to master the language. The government is trying to change that.

A Chilean student walks inside a public school in Valparaiso city, about 75 miles northwest of Santiago, May 27, 2009. It is now mandatory for students in fifth grade and above to study English. (Eliseo Fernandez/Reuters)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Popular myth has it that in the port city of Valparaiso, a woman had a fleeting romance with a U.S. Marine and ended up pregnant. When her beau left Chile, she named the baby in honor of his ship. The baby was christened "Usnavy."

Chileans love to name their children after their idols or anything that sounds exotic enough. There are hundreds of Scarleth, Jhonatan, Lizbeth, Brayantan (Brian+Jonathan), Dayana (Diana), and Maikl, Maikel or Maicols (Michael) signed up at the civil registry.

Chile’s posh business and academic elite pepper their conversations with terms in English that have perfectly good equivalents in Spanish: “marketing,” “break,” “performance,” “accountability,” “offshoring,” “holding,” “leasing,” “clusters” and “joint venture” are regularly thrown around at business meetings.

Common in everyday language is a long list of anglicisms, among them: smog, camping, living (for living room), closet, parking, spot (as in TV ad), “walking closet” (as in walk-in closet). The most popular: “water” (from water-closet, to refer to the toilet). More recently, they have incorporated “bullying,” “grooming” and “making off” (yes, with double “f”), as in movies.

While “shopping” at a “mall,” they will come across flashy signs announcing a “Sale.” The problem is that in Spanish, “sale” means “get out.” So what are Chilean consumers to do? Go in and buy something cheap, or make their way out the door? Chileans really want to appear to be the “British of America” — as goes another popular myth — but most just can’t get it right.

In a country whose fate is so tied to foreign markets, learning English has become vital — yet well into high school, many students can barely get beyond naming the colors and conjugating the verb “to be.”

There is no precise data on how many Chileans actually command the English language, but, according to Rodrigo Fabrega, director of the Education Ministry’s “English Opens Doors” program, only about 5 percent of public high school graduates have good levels of English.

A few years ago, the government made English mandatory for fifth-graders and up in public schools (most private schools start teaching English from kindergarten). The ministry has been promoting scholarships for teachers and students to study abroad and a foreign volunteer program to assist local English teachers in class. It has launched a free online English learning program for children called “Mingoville,” as well as a week-long intensive "English Camp" for high-schoolers.

“Chile is a small country with an open economy, and its participation in the global economy requires learning English as a second language. English is a tool that opens work or business opportunities, increases access to state of the art technologies, expands and improves the use of internet, allows Chileans to study abroad and improves comprehension of information published in English,” Fabrega said.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/chile/090908/lack-english-proficiency