Monday, August 10, 2009

Taiwan teaching stories: Swimming in English

This was another Lily story – the one who had me teach the dying woman. This time she had me teach swimming in English.

Lilly was always late so you either: sat waiting uncomfortably outside her office smiling at your prospective student, or, stood around on the street somewhere, time already past appointment, waiting for her to take you to a student another half-an-hour away. On this occasion it was the latter.

“It is a swimming pool,” I said as we pulled up. “So the kid’s mother works here?”

“Yes,” she replied.

Lilly paid the entry fee and a young mother came to greet us with her eight-year old son.

I love this country, I thought to myself: kid can’t even be assed to change out of his swimming trunks.

“So what size for shorts?” asked Lilly. “Try on a hat.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You can teach swimming, yes?” But her tone said he didn’t care either way. “His mother say, he want learn to swim, but doesn’t like study English. This way if he wants to swim, he must - ”
“What is his level of English?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I think he knows a little.”

Yes, it seemed it had only occurred to me that urgent, life-or-death instructions should be shouted using a language he understood.

“You don’t disappoint,” I told Lilly.

The kid started tugging my arm, smiling and expectant. It was a super hot day and the water looked really inviting. I was actually I good swimmer so I figured I could at least make sure he didn’t drown. I went to get changed and put on a swimming cap. This was an odd cultural point: in Taiwan it was okay, perhaps mandatory, to spit and empty the contents of your nose in the water at the end of every length, width or dive, but letting your recently shampooed hair loose was a public health crime

One hour later and the boy was still alive and I had actually enjoyed myself.

The English aspect was problematic: if the kid ever found himself hanging round swimming pools in an English speaking country, then the phrases: ‘kick your legs’, ‘breath’ and ‘move your arms’ from today’s lesson would be invaluable.

I was actually looking forward to the next lesson but it was not to be: the mother wanted her son to learn to swim with American English.

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