Landing in Naples, and hearing the recorded passenger announcement first in Italian, I thought for a moment that I really understood that language. Never having studied it in my entire life, I seemed to catch on to everything...about remaining in my seat with my seatbelt fastened, returning my tray table to its upright position, and watching out for items falling from overhead bins. And the recorded announcement didn’t even gesticulate!
It was all about context. It was all about hearing what I already knew.
My mastery of Italian remains a delightful illusion.
Even in our native language, how many of us also keep to a familiar context and to what we already know? Of what use is our language then? Is it just an instrument of cognitive programming that traps us into a lifelong pattern of beliefs and habits? Is it just a means to affirm what we already believe, using the same words?
That is a question worth asking, regardless of our particular set of beliefs, because it determines our ability to create a future different from the past. Breaking out of the lexical matrix is a small step towards emancipation.
Learning a foreign language triggers variations in our routine thoughts. New words, with their particular connotations, invite subtle shifts in thinking.
Thanks to the smallest crack, the entire edifice of who we think we are may finally come crumbling down.
Here in Napoli, thanks to my French, I am experiencing dépaysement: the excitement and wonder of being in an unfamiliar land. Thanks to my hit-and-miss Italian, I know that I will never be pantofolaio. The purpose of travel, like language, should be to expand our thinking rather than fortify our comfort zone.