Education: By the Numbers

Ivan Petelka was tired of teaching Canadian immigrants to speak English. It was too tough—making Hollanders, Poles and Italians study a new language from scratch, especially one with such senseless spellings, impossible pronunciations and irregular conjugations. Petelka, an ambitious, 46-year-old ex-Ukrainian who had no trouble mastering eight languages himself, thought he could cook up a simpler system.

Last week, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Petelka was looking for converts to his "Numbered Words," a code language that would probably have more appeal for mathematicians than for poets or orators. Whether it would achieve any more practical success than several thousand other international...

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