Natación. Nuoto. Natation. Swimming. No matter the language, it's a universal sport. But not everyone has access to instruction in their native tongue.
One Chicagoland YMCA is hoping to change that.
On November 2, the North Suburban YMCA in the Village of Northbrook hosted an Open House for the growing Korean population in the region. It was its first in a series of multilingual instruction to be offered in the coming months.
"We thought it would be a great resource," said Aquatics and Adventure Guides Director Don Enger. "That's what the Y is all about. It’s for bringing people together and fulfilling the needs in the community."
The Open House included two hours of free access to the facility for swimming assessments and lessons, as well as a free two-hour family swim. All told, 40 people participated in the event, twice as high as attendance on a typical Sunday, Enger said.
In the last ten years, the area has experienced tremendous growth in the immigrant population, particularly in the Korean community. Between 2001 and 2011, the Asian population spiked 38.6 percent alone. Other demographics, including Russian and Latino, also are on the rise.
To address this diversity, Enger recently hired three new staff members, all of whom speak another language in addition to English. He realized the staff already consisted of two others who spoke multiple languages. And the idea for the open houses quickly was born.
The goal of the open houses is to encourage members of these communities to overcome obstacles that may be preventing them from learning to swim. During the event, a staff member that speaks the language of the targeted audience will be on hand to assist with instruction.
"People can be afraid of the water for many reasons and if water has been a barrier to them and language is a second barrier to them, that’s going to keep them from wanting to come," Enger said. "If they are hesitant about water but know, 'If I go to that Y and someone is there that can understand me, it's going to help me out. ...' They can handle one thing but if it’s two, it's basically a door slamming them in the face."
Currently, the NSYMCA employs swim instructors who speak English, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Persian, French, and Italian. Enger anticipates hosting additional open houses to target each of these communities in the near future. The next one on deck is Spanish and tentatively is slated for mid-December. Additional languages may be offered at a later date should the community express an interest, Enger said.
Enger plans to spread news of these events by word of mouth and local campaigning vis-à-vis the staff and community organizers. Afterall, that's how the NSYMCA began. Founded in 1960 by Kenneth A. Thiel in the basement of his home, the facility has grown to offer more than 500 activities, including roughly 225 aquatics classes a year with nearly 2,500 participants.
Following in the spirit of the YMCA, which has an inclusive mission to build "healthy spirit, mind and body for all," Enger hopes the open houses will help increase immigrant participation. While the classes will still be taught in English, Enger says the staff members are available to offer assistance for patrons who need it.
Having only one person on site during the open house or general class times that speaks a specific language other than English can pose some challenges, especially as the community response to the offering grows. However, Enger notes that once some initial translation has been made, there is a way to communicate in the water with non-verbal cues such as specific hand motions.
"Even in English, you may need to use non-verbal cues," he said.