A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

Posts Tagged ‘deaf’

Learning a Foreign Language with Hearing Loss: A chi vuole, non mancano modi

In coping strategies, deaf, Deafness, Hearing Loss, Learning a Foreign Language, Partially Deaf, Travel on June 1, 2017 at 10:33 am

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 11.52.34 AM

By Kimberly

     I walked into a pharmacy in La Spezia, Italy with torn khakis and a bloody knee, asking for help in my limited Italian vocabulary. The pharmacist smiled and proceeded to explain in slow, clear Italian the antibacterial wipes and creams that she had on hand, showing me the back of the boxes so that I could read the ingredients for myself. She used a hand gesture to indicate where I could pay, and turned the cash register screen toward me to make sure that I understood how much I owed. She did all of these things for me because she knew that I wasn’t fluent in Italian, but ironically, they are the very things that would help me in English as well because I have significant hearing loss.

20170307_184734

La Spezia, just before I fell!

     When I decided to teach a two-month study abroad course in Italy, I was expecting to feel the effects of my hearing loss more keenly. Any time that I’d spent in a foreign language class or watching a foreign movie had taught me that guessing what I’ve just heard (something that I have to do every day) is so much harder when I’m not hearing English. Most of the time, my brain automatically fills in words, and much like the autocompletion function on my cell phone, it’s usually a big help but sometimes hilariously wrong. In a less familiar language, I have virtually no autocomplete helping me, and I’m forced to guess far more words—some of which I may know and some of which I may not. I expected to feel especially lost in Italy, but I decided to grin and bear it for the sake of a new and exciting experience (and the food)! What I didn’t count on was that living and working with people who speak Italian isn’t the same thing as trying to watch an Italian movie without captions. People in conversations, especially kind people (which many Italians are), will try to work with you so that you understand. And unlike my hearing loss, which people frequently forget about, my status as a foreigner in need of help was something that people in Italy almost never forgot. Unexpectedly, being an outsider helped me cope with being hard of hearing.

20170307_144034_HDR

The hiker’s view of Corniglia in Cinque Terre

     I had likewise overestimated the degree to which my hearing loss would make my time taking Italian classes more challenging. I had decided to take the accelerated Italian class with some of my students but harbored some doubts in the beginning about my abilities to keep up. However, being honest with my instructor about my hearing loss from the beginning helped us determine some easy strategies to help me follow along. Whenever a new word was introduced, or even whenever I was having trouble with a sentence, she would write it on the board. As an instructor myself, I knew that all of the students were actually benefitting from this extra step put into place for me. I often find that that’s the case with accommodations for students. Because they reinforce an audio or visual component of the lesson, they typically aid learning for everyone else. I still ran into frustrating moments in class. When my instructor asked me questions and I misheard what she had said, I felt the same sort of panicked feeling that I used to get when I was younger and not yet as accustomed to my hearing loss. I didn’t know where to begin—how to explain what I hadn’t understood, and I found myself frustrated that everything had to be just a little harder for me than it was for everyone else. For some reason, being put on the spot and not hearing in a foreign language brought all of that back to me in a way that I can’t really explain. Still, I’d remember myself and remember that I’ve had so many of those moments in life, so I know how to deal with them. A couple of times, I’d see a student of mine struggling to keep up in an Italian class or conversation, nearly in tears, and I could say, “I know how you feel. It’s frustrating. Give yourself permission not to understand everything! Know when to try and when to take a break.”

20170303_152746

The view of Florence from Boboli Gardens.

     I’m not going to pretend like it was always easy. I ran into some real challenges. I had practiced explaining my hearing loss to people before I left. “Sono dura d’orecchi” means, “I’m hard of hearing,” but the first time that I tried to say it, the person who I was talking to snickered and told me, “Don’t say that. Say ‘Ho problemi di udito,’ which means, ‘I have problems hearing.’” When I prodded as to why, I found out that “dura d’orecchi” was the clinical term for being hard of hearing but was also slang for “stupid.” That’s pretty much the most obvious example of audism in action that I can think of. “Audism,” for anyone who doesn’t know, is the belief that people who hear are better or smarter than people who don’t hear or have some hearing loss. It doesn’t take much of a leap to figure out how the word for “hard of hearing” came to mean “stupid,” just like Americans will sometimes use “retarded” that way. Trying to figure out what I was going to call myself made me confront all of those foolish assumptions about hearing loss that used to make me ashamed, especially when I was a kid. I was actually afraid to let most people in Italy know that I had hearing loss, just because you never know how someone is going to react, and I wasn’t sure what their cultural attitudes were toward it. The more comfortable I got, though, the more I realized that people would understand. As long as you approach people with specific requests, like, “I don’t hear well. Can I stand near you while you give the tour?” they will help and be nice about it. Just like in the States, learning concise ways to explain what you need goes a long way.

     Learning how to ask for what I wanted was always a challenge. I’d ask an Italian coworker, “What’s the word for ______ in Italian?” and the answer would, of course, be incomprehensible to me! I learned to carry paper with me and ask, “Can you write that down?” Likewise, when I’d ask a waiter to repeat something, or when my husband would repeat it for me, the waiter would almost always switch to English, which was frustrating, since I wanted to learn the language. Simply explaining that I was hard of hearing first usually really helped, and when it didn’t, I just went with the flow. You can’t win every battle.

20170310_200701

The downtown nightlife in Genova.

     I had learned to let myself lose now and then when brushing up my language on Duolingo—a free language app that “gamifies” the study of foreign language. Rather than turn off the listening option, which would give me no practice listening, I simply tried listening and failed repeatedly! Yes, my scores suffered, and yes, it took me far longer than my husband to work my way through the lessons, but I was trying. I have to give myself permission to be pretty bad at languages! Even if other people never understand why it’s harder for me, I understand, and I cut myself a break. When I was taking the formal Italian class, I asked for transcripts of oral exercises. One of my classmates, of course, griped that I “had it easier” on exams because of this accommodation—completely oblivious to the extra challenges that make this one “advantage” so necessary. Again, I could brush it off. When you’re hard of hearing, you have to either give yourself permission to fall behind or give yourself permission to ask for help, knowing that there will be frustrating consequences either way and that it’s important to pick your battles.

     I think that humility is a skill that anyone has to hone while learning a new language. Because of my hearing loss, I’m used to not knowing what’s being said. A lot of people aren’t! So maybe my abilities to learn a new language aren’t going to be as sharp as a hearing person’s, but my attitude can still give me the edge. I’m a different learner, not a worse one. Learning a new language, especially through an emersion experience, is disorienting and tiring. For those of us who have the extra challenge of hearing loss, it can sometimes feel impossible. Yet, we have our own superpowers—our ways of dealing with confusion and exhaustion that we have honed over the years. Living in Italy reminded me that I’m far from helpless, and that there are always a few people out there willing to make the extra effort to communicate when it really counts.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 9.18.13 AM

Advertisements

My Experience with CART

In Accommodations for Deaf, ADA, Assistive Listening Devices, CART, Deafness, Hearing aids, Hearing Loss, Partially Deaf, Technology on June 2, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Our guest blogger is SWCer Cristal Alferez. Cristal is a Mechatronics Engineer who works for a Manufacturing Company in San Diego CA. She is Mexican, speaks Spanish fluently and currently is mastering English pronunciation. Cristal loves to read, it is one of her many passions she likes many genres but what she enjoys the most are romantic novels, she also likes traveling by train in the Pacific coast and eating tacos. You can contact Cristal at calferez0911@gmail.com

My Experience with CART, By Cristal Alferez

I always thought I was pretty normal, until I started elementary school. Although I don’t remember very well, my sister told me that at some point in the fifth grade I refused to go school because I couldn’t hear the teacher, since I sat in the back part of the classroom. I’m not too sure why, but I never gave that event much importance. Maybe I didn’t think about it much since during middle school and high school the teachers sat us in alphabetical order and my last name starts with an A, I always sat in the very front.

It wasn’t until college that I really began feeling secluded, my classmates would often tell me that I was unable to hear my name during roll call or when someone called me behind my back, but they would all remind me with a grin on their faces. Although it kinda bothered me that they would be “making fun of me” I would just ignore it and carry on with my day. It was here that I realized that I was becoming more antisocial, compared to when I was in high school. Because of my hearing loss I couldn’t understand some soft spoken people and I couldn’t follow a conversation of more than two people. I would sometimes forget to turn in the homework, not because I didn’t remember but instead because it was assigned verbally and not written on the board.

Sometimes, if I couldn’t hear what the teachers were says I would start to daydream, I would start daydreaming anytime I wasn’t able to understand what someone in a group of people was saying. I also remember crying before having to present my thesis, I was stressing out over the fact that it would be very difficult for me to hear the questions being asked, but luckily I was able to hear the questions just fine and I ended up passing my thesis. It was at that point that I felt ready to confront the problem, but unfortunately I was not able to afford fixing it yet. It’s been five years since I left school, and I thought it would be easy from then on. But it’s quite the contrary, in school you can ignore one of your peers and they would think you are rude, you can forget the homework and you would ended up with a bad grade, but in real life things are different, you just can’t ignore your boss.

I just decided to go back to school again, but with that all of my fears about school came back. I questioned whether it would be a good investment if I was only going to be able to hear about fifty percent of what was being told. So I decided that it was the perfect time for the hearing aids. I have now had hearing aids for five months, I have tried two different brands and I’m getting used to them.  I remember thinking that hearing aids would fix absolutely everything, but I was wrong. Hearing aids help a big deal, but they don’t correct my hearing to “normal” level.

When I went to my class and found out that my hearing wasn’t as good as expected I decided to look for more help, somebody out there must have the same problem as I do, and I found it. I got in contact with the beautiful people of the Say What Club, and I discovered many people who were like me, who understand the struggle I go everyday. They were the ones that helped me find ways to cope better with my hearing loss. I asked and I got the help that I needed. Somebody told me to look for assistive listening devices or FM systems, other ones suggested CART system for the classroom, things that I had no idea that they could exist.

Cristal1

One day I went the disabled student center of my community college. I actually had very little confidence going in. I was surprised when they lend me right away a FM system that consists in a microphone that the teacher wears and a receiver for me, which I can use with earphones or with my hearing aids. When I saw how positive the response was, I asked if they would allow me to use CART, and I got the thumbs up. I can’t believe it was that easy, I cried of happiness that day. I thought about how many times I missed information in class, and I couldn’t believe that I would not have any problem hearing now. I had mixed emotions.

In the beginning I felt a little bit weird, because everybody would know that I can’t hear. But once that I saw the results and how much it helped me,  I no longer felt embarrassed. So, here is how it worked. The disabled student center contacted this company of captioners who would send somebody to type everything that’s said in the class. Just like subtitles at the movies! Isn’t that amazing? By the time I’m in class I sit wherever I want and have my laptop, iPad or the tablet provided by the captioner. I need to have good internet connection, so I go to my email inbox and open a new email with a link to get access to a meeting room, check the picture. I can make the necessary changes to the font size and color of the screen. When the class is over, the captioner sends me a detailed report of everything that was said in class in less than 24 hours, much better than taking notes in class! I love to read it after class so I can study it. During class I try to understand as much as I can and I read from the tablet every time that any of my peers speak. I totally feel more involved in class. I’m happy to know that now I really understand what’s going on in class.

Obviously there are still some issues with the CART. For example we couldn’t set it up entirely a couple of times due to slow internet. Another time I tried an app which lets me see the same screen as my captioner, but that would make everything appear after a five second delay or so. Even with normal Internet there’s a little delay since my captioner would hear and how fast she can type.

Cristal2

I don’t feel left out of class nowadays. As I can follow better what’s going on in class I can participate more, and feel more involved. I’m really looking forward to attaining my masters degree, and also helping other people just like me, who does not know about all the ways we can get the extra help for coping with hearing loss. I wish every kid in school could know about CART, if your school doesn’t offer CART for now, let other people know about it. Think about this, maybe in the future someone else can benefit from CART just like I am right now.