October 04, 2005

Case Study #12 The Thin Line -- by Bruce Lin

Mat* was sitting in the corner of the conference room – as far away from me as possible. The company hired me to teach them English tests. Some students had great desire to learn; others, like Mat, were attending the class because their bosses told them to.

I walked over to Mat and asked him to read a paragraph for me. He looked at me with those eyes, begging me to give him a break. “Well…,” I said, “…maybe we can do it…some other time.”

During class recess, I saw Mat outside the conference room. He looked away avoiding eye contact. I did not even have the chance to bid him hello. Then, I realized that I was not an English teacher; I was, at least to Mat, an English monster.

After the class, I went right to the company's restaurant and ordered something to eat. An NBA game was on TV; it was the final playoff game between San Antonio and Detroit. Mat was a few tables away – he was also watching the game. He headed toward me and started to talk about NBA games: his favorite players, teams and all that. I listened attentively, not wanting to miss a word.

I thought, This is another Mat. Just a few minutes ago, this guy seemed to have hard time speaking English, now he was pronouncing basketball stars' names such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Richard Hamilton in fluent English. He should have good basics to practice English if he wanted to.

What stopped him then? I don't know. It seemed there was this thin line between his love and hate for English – see how beautifully he pronounced those NBA stars' names. Was it possible for him to cross the line to the love side? Can he apply his NBA passion to English learning? Very likely, I think. If regular textbooks are difficult to digest, he can try to learn the language from NBA games. Why not?

*Mat is not his real name

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