There’s plenty more fish!
I was scrolling through Linkedin yesterday and noticed that there’s so many wonderful short pieces to read about the usefulness of a second language and it’s effect on the brain that it rang a bell somewhere in the depths of my memory. What was it?? Then I started to have little sweet nostalgic scents and sounds bouncing around my cranium, there was a beach smell, salty water, coconuts and… fish?.. I remembered!
My best friend Maria and I had decided to go travelling. Like grownups! We were around 21 I think. We had planned the flights and packed unnecessarily large bags and stuff, took in most of Australia, Bali and Canada and decided to end the trip with Hawaii. Sounds pretty posh now I’m writing about it but it was a trip we had saved up for.. for ages! We both worked hard. I worked possibly a little less hard in a snowboard/surf shop cleaning Oakley sunglasses and pretending I could surf. I also coached skateboarding on the weekends, which I loved, so it wasn’t really like work I guess. I can’t remember what Maria did but I bet it wasn’t as much fun.
So the point is I now remember! We were on the beach with two travellers we’d met at the youth hostel. David and Swiss Tom. I called him Swiss Tom because I’d never met anyone from Switzerland before and I was over excited about it. Anyway, we were walking along Waikiki beach and a little dude came over to us and asked us if we had seen the fish in the shallow waters. We said no but we’ll have a look. So we did. The kid then started trying to catch them with his bare hands. We were all really excited when he got one.
“Put it back quickly though in case you hurt it” someone said.
“Ok” the boy replied. He threw it gently a metre or two away.
He had a curious accent. It was like a Chicago gangster from an old film. Italian American maybe. He was around 11 I guessed. We all started talking and he introduced us to his mother who was sitting a few metres away. She told us they had been travelling for many years. The boy and the mother spoke several languages including Italian, Spanish, French and German! 11 YEARS OLD! Incredible! Everywhere they went they learned the customs and the languages of the native people. Hawaii was just a stopover to visit family who lived there. They were German and both incredible language learners, picking up languages with apparent ease. The son had the ability to speak like he was from wherever he wanted to be. As I said before, I thought they were from Chicago.
In the days that followed we went to meet them a few times on the beach and the boy started to get really good at catching the fish. He was amazing! This kid could catch any fish whilst speaking 5 languages. I was a little jealous in fact.
I was jealous of having to work in England while this nice little family unit travelled around the world learning new skills and languages. So as the kid got better at catching the fish, people along the beach would start to say “I’ll give you 50 cents if you can catch another” and so on. Well, he started making quite a bit of cash and we saw so many transactions we knew he was doing well. He was working hard for his rewards AND speaking to all his customers in their own languages! What a kid!
A week or so later, the sun was setting on our time in Hawaii and we all said our goodbyes at the hostel. We went to the beach to see if the magic kid gangster was there. He was, as expected, catching and releasing fish for cash.. What a work ethic! He battled and bubbled and struggled and gasped, but always came up with the goods. We shouted goodbye because he was in the sea and we were in our miserable ‘going home’ clothes. His mother was a sweet lady, she raised herself from the suntan position and came over to say goodbye.
I told her I hope she was very proud of her son. His language ability and his go get ‘em attitude. She thanked me and said “yes I am very proud of him. He learns languages like a sponge sucks up water. But he’s smart in so many other ways too, for instance, every few hours he goes over to the store on the other side of the street and buys 10 small fish for a dollar”.
That is a TRUE STORY, I promise. I guess learning other languages does make you smarter, well, smarter than me anyway. He took me for 10 dollars in 3 days. I bet he’s LOADED now!
There’s no telling where a new language may take you, but it could be to earn a living doing the thing you love on a beautiful island in the sun! Who knows.