Some people spend months in language classes without becoming fluent, but the Daily Mail recently published an article about John ‘Jimmy’ Mather, a Lancaster milkman who became fluent in Gujarati just from listening to his customers talk.
Mather has been delivering milk since 1960. When he began his route, he actually used a horse and carriage to make his rounds. The first wave of immigrants from India had begun to settle in the region, and Mather made an effort to learn their language so that he could communicate with them. He told the Daily Mail:
“All I did was listen carefully to what they said and then make a mental note in my head. Next time I just repeated the words. I don’t know how long it took me to learn. I’ve known the language for about 30 years and once you pick up words you remember them. I’ve got a very good memory, once I’ve been somewhere I never forget it, it’s the same with language.”
That’s quite a feat, even more so considering how different Gujarati is from English in terms of both syntax and the sounds used.
In addition to learning Gujarati, Mather also made an effort to provide his customers with the specialty products they needed to prepare traditional foods. His customers obviously appreciate his efforts. He gets invited to weddings and festivals, and has made many friends in the community. He has no plans to quit, telling the Daily Mail:
‘They want me to quit now but I want to carry on because I love my job and the people I serve. I think my Gujarati is alright. It gets me by. I’ve made friends with it and that’s the most important thing. I’ll keep going as long as I can and my Bengali’s not so bad so I’m having a go at that.’