Bilingualism isn’t easy. Once one has acquired a certain grace, and in a forgiving climate, it may only periodically provoke symptoms of schizophrenia. However there exists an enormous grey zone between acquiring a few meager all-purpose defensive phrases, and the leap required to successfully employ them.
People vary. Having once survived a linguistic transplant may provide you sufficient faith with which to successfully negotiate the process a third or fourth time; still it is also possible to harbour the opposite allergic reaction of ‘never again’. Those whose personal history has never forced them into the position of a linguistic minority may never have embraced the pleasure.
UnMonasterians are dependent upon nuanced, intricate communication with their host communities. Some things can go through the filter of translators, some cracks can be circumvented via significant ritual. Goodwill goes a long way. However to augment our capacity to have an effective presence in the field, every technique to build our linguistic proficiency should be incorporated into our daily practice.
The Materan flagship prototype quickly confronted exactly this dilemma; a mixture of uniphones, polyglots, native speakers and the chronically stubborn perched on the outer rim of effective public education had a thankless task. In our practical reality, the mental gymnastics to absorb and actify Italian had to occur as we hit the beach. The truncated projected presence for a mere four months was inhuman at best. Lacking the resources of the KGB to bombard the unMonks with the hyper-learning techniques employing hypnosis, sleep deprivation, somatic feedback mechanisms and God knows what else, we were more or less up to our own initiative…
The latest contribution to language acquisition is the free net-based services set up by benevolence entities such as the EU. A few hardy souls ventured out into the wilds of Duolingo to expose themselves to a scattering of rudimentary elements. It is useful enough to increase familiarity with basics, but even when amplified by its in-built system of compete with your friends, it hardly provides a hands-on deep learning experience.
Our early duties at the unMo had to do with other survival skills. Shivering was a universal that didn’t require an interpreter. Eating was largely preverbal; recurring spells of ‘excommunication’ (unMo-speak for prolonged internet disconnectivity) left us virtually speechless. If civilized conversation was indeed indulged in, it was largely saved for cursing the Gods. When we finally opened our mouths it was to invoke a ‘no complaining’ clause that forced us to shut them again. The temptation to exist in a cloud of flawed or over-verbose English was irresistible.
To prime the transition to an active bilingual lifestyle, a subtle Italiano component was inserted into the finale of our early morning physical practice. After loosening limb and fantasy in the most dramatic of circumstances on the unMonastery’s impressive walled perch that jutted out over the rim of Matera’s fabled ravine, a core text of semi-practical phrases was introduced. The non-Credo of the non-Monastery was pure indoctrination. Used to both break our sound barrier and to broadcast our ideological fundamentals, it stretched our ears and tongues over the rack of our individual helplessness. According to plan: the unMonks, force fed foreign sounds and poetry, would soon become hungry for more. In practice it was just plain torture…
Il non-Credo delle non-Monache
Ancor non lo sappiamo,
nel frattempo lasciateci perdere.
Affronta i tuoi errori faccia a faccia:
I sacri muri preserveranno a nostra onestà.
Il nostro duro lavoro sará tanto leggendario quanto i nostri baccanali.
Ci domandiamo di cosa i giusti godranno a cena… ?
(my rough translation)
Still we don’t understand, but in the meantime shall ‘Get Lost’.
Confront your mistakes, face to face -
the Sacred Walls shall preserve our honesty.
Our hard work shall be as legendary as our Bacchanalia.
We wonder what the good people shall enjoy for dinner… ?
Having ‘mastered’ the above liturgical component, we shared it with the assembled multitudes attending our inaugural press conference who gleefully chanted along with us. (The good old-school leftist mayor let out a delightful audible grunt of recognition as he crested the hill for the finishing line.)
We did do the sleep deprivation…