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English for Swimming back with a splash!

By Fiona West | October 6, 2022
Swimming success: Michelle Cowans (front second from left) with the proud and happy group of English for Swimming participants.

Two summers after the award-winning English for Swimming Program last ran, it has returned to the pool, bringing water skills and confidence to a new group of migrant and refugee women.

The first week of the September school holidays saw seven brave new swimmers from Navitas Skilled Futures’ Cabramatta College take the plunge to learn swimming, as well as the associated vocabulary, over five straight days.

The students, originally from Iraq, Ukraine, and Vietnam, had low-level English and little to no swimming experience. Trainer Michelle Cowans, who designed and taught the program for NSF, said it was wonderful to see the participants go “from nothing to something” in five short days, “and they had a lot of fun doing it”.

“I’m always amazed by how quickly non-swimmers learn; how they go from fear to determination, particularly when they see their peers progress as well,” Michelle said.

“I love the look of steely determination that crosses their faces when they see a classmate do something that they want to do just as well. These students were no exception. And although five days is never enough to learn any skills, it was a joy and a pleasure to be able to provide this introduction.”

The English for Swimming program was launched by Navitas Skilled Futures in 2019. Last year it was turned into a teaching resource to be shared across Australia to introduce the joy of water to adult migrants and refugees, and to help reduce drownings in this over-represented group. The interactive book continues to be distributed free to other adult education providers in the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community.

This five-day program was a collaboration between NSF and Different Strokes Swimming and was supported by Belgravia Leisure, which provided free use of its training room and lane hire at the Auburn Ruth Everuss Swim Centre.

Participants practise techniques in the classroom every day before getting in the pool.

The classes included two hours of English lessons, where students learned specific vocabulary associated with swimming,(like “exhale, blow bubbles, kick, push off from the wall, hold your breath”), they learned instructional language (“wait, watch me, take turns, relax, slow down, breathe”), and transactional exchanges (such as “I’d like a swim please”).

A progress chart allowed students to move their names from “I can’t … yet” to “Getting better”, “I’m good at this!” and “I’m amazing at this!!”.

“It was motivational and fun for the students to move their names each day,” Michelle said. 

Kari Baynes, swimming instructor and founder of Different Strokes, said it was lovely to be partnering on this program with Navitas Skilled Futures again after two previous successful sessions: “It’s fabulous to see non swimmers become excited about learning water skills. And what fun we all had!”

Cabramatta College Academic Team Leader Grace Nabhan said, with many of her students unable to swim and the warmer months approaching, she initiated this iteration of the program, trialling it for the first time as a “holiday” course, rather than one day a week over a college term.

“All students said they enjoyed the course and have gained more water confidence and awareness as well as improved their language skills,” Grace said. “Those with no swimming ability have learned to float, kick, tread water, and blow bubbles to breathe under water. All students said they would like more opportunities to learn to swim in the future.”

Navitas Skilled Futures is planning to run a similar two-week swim course as a Holiday Module in January 2023.

For more information about the English for Swimming Program see: English for Swimming.

Watch the video of the program, created by Michelle Cowans, below:

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