My mummy has been raving about one of her students to me.

She had been getting relentless calls from a guy asking for a place for his younger brother in her English class.

My mum told him repeatedly that there was no more room, but he kept calling, insisting that “my brother is very skinny and won’t take up a lot of space”.

Now my mum is usually quite firm with her cap and usually does not heed pleas like that because no matter how skinny a child is, he or she can grow in the next few years (:.

But he kept calling.

“Mrs Yow, you know when I studied overseas, I suffered because my English was so poor. People laughed at me. I don’t want my brother to suffer the same fate!”

Eventually I think my mother realised he wasn’t going to give up and gave the nod.

The first day he turned up at the class, my mother was quite aghast.

“I thought you said your brother was skinny.”

“YES! He is skinnier than me!” was the brother’s reply. (:

Now most Mandarin-speaking children who do not use English at home struggle with verb tenses in the English language. When to use present? Past? Past participle? And why are some verbs quite different from their root word in the past tense?

Many of us simply have to rely on memorisation: the part participle of bring is brought, not bringed.

And this boy struggled!

My mum told the brother sternly that he had to help the little boy with his English, otherwise he simply wouldn’t be able to catch up. She gave him a list of 100 verbs for him to drill into his brother.

The next week, my mum was pleasantly surprised to find that the boy had made great improvements. The brother had been helping him alright.

It was the same the week after. And the week after next.

It is not all that often you find a brother like that, I think.

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