Sometimes it takes a little while to forget.
This past week I flew back to Australia from Milan in order to spend Christmas with my family. It’s the first time home in nearly 18 months, and with the exception of my brother, the first time I had seen any of my family since moving to America. It was an epic trip, getting up at 5:30am in Milan on Sunday and finally getting to bed in Melbourne in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
What was odd, was that for the trip, and even the first few days of being in Australia, I caught myself speaking Italian by default. At first it was on the plane from Milan, where each interaction with the flight attendants was ended with a “grazie”, but then it persisted at the airports where I stopped, launching into poor Italian by default with customs officers before sheepishly reverting to English.
The effect remained even after I was firmly on the ground in Australia, with me reflexively ordering “Un espresso per favore” at cafes at restaurants. I was met with confused looks. Even when I wasn’t speaking, but thinking of what to say, I would form the words in Italian before realizing the error.
It’s an odd phenomenon. An idea of language inertia. The slow correction of what has become habitudinal. The location has changed but the mind moves more slowly to catch up and adjust to its surroundings.
It was something I also noticed this year after trips to Corsica and Switzerland, lapsing into French and German respectively by default. Even the short time in Barcelona left me substituting “gracias” for “grazie” for days afterwards. It’s probably mostly harmless, and if anything a good sign that the words and concepts have stuck (for now).
I’m sure that as for every other language I have tried to learn, I will forget most of my Italian in a few months. However, based on this experience, maybe language gets more embedded than we care to admit.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
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