Language and Beer

So I’m now at Hong Kong airport, in transit and not even half way. The almost 10 hours flight from Sydney feels like a blur. It’s funny how on long trips, such as flights, nothing eventful happens. What this causes is a challenge for memory. That is they’re no significant timestamps for memory to operate on in order to remember the flight. There I was just sitting in my seat for 10 hours. The only distinguising changes in my consciousness was; one movie (Men in Black 3), two episodes of Breaking Bad and two episodes of the series ‘ Rome ’ – just to get me in the mood… Oh, and there was one visit to the bathroom. Aside from this what other events assist memory? None. This is why long flights seem almost dreamlike.

So now I’m at a bar in Hong Kong having a Heineken. It’s advertised as ‘extra cold’ and to my suprise, it’s bloody cold and refreshing. I’ve started going over my Italian language skills in my head. Conjugating verbs constructing useful sentences such as ‘Vorrei un biglietto per il treno’ (I’d like a ticket for the train). I’m starting to wonder how good my Italian is after all these years. I was once fluent, but am probably a bit rusty now.

Then I remember back to the crazy Italians I met in New York a few months ago. What was destined for a quite night out for dinner in ‘Little Italy’, turned in to an all night affair. The Italians who ran the bar, offered us Limoncello (a popular Italian spirit), and with out even thinking, I broke in to Italian explaining how much I loved this drink and when I lived in Perugia I’d drink it all the time in the piazza. We drank and chatted for hours, until finally ending up in China Town at 3am eating what was possibly the worst Kung Pow Chicken of my life. But the point was I spoke with them for hours in Italian without even thinking about it and with full confidence… Why? Well, because I was drunk.

It’s as if when you’re tipsy, you stop mentally translating from English in to Italian and simply relax and speak what you know. Just as alcohol gives you an inflated sense of confidence and lower your inhibitions, it does the same with language.

When sober I get stressed about if I’m being grammatically correct, what the other person will think and my Italian is slower because I think in English then attempt to translate in to Italian.

Psychology studies and neuroscience have shown that the areas in the brain involved in learning language as a child are totally different to the areas used when we learn a language as an adult. It’s much easier as a child when our brains are in a spongelike state and we simple mimic, comprehend, learn and speak. This is in contrast to when you learn a language at university when you’re taught grammar, sentence structure, verb conjugation etc.

I wonder if beer does the same thing? Perhaps when our inhibitions are down we stop mentally processing and categorizing everything we learn and we simply comprehend and understand. Maybe we even use the same part of the brain involved in language studies as a child.

Nevertheless I’m now trying to plan how I can be slightly inebriated when I land in Rome… Champagne breakfast on the plane?

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