A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Hearing Loss’

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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How to Ride a Bike with Hearing Loss!

In Cochlear Implants, deaf, Deafness, Hearing Loss, Partially Deaf, SWC convention, Travel, Uncategorized on March 21, 2017 at 11:13 pm

By Robyn Carter

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I was implanted back in 1993.  I was the 8th adult in New Zealand to receive the implant. As there were not many others and no support group back then, I started looking online for some hearing loss/cochlear implant support group to join.  I also was the editor of our NZ Cochlear Implant Newsletter so I was looking for articles to share to our recipients and would-be recipients here in New Zealand.

And so I found the SWC – in fact, I found Bob’s email first. Bob had written an article for the ALDA about faking it, when you don’t really hear something, but are too embarrassed to admit it, or too tired so you nod your head, laugh and pretend you knew anyway. This article resonated with me as I was such a good faker. So when I found Bob’s email address, I flicked him an email to tell him how much I enjoyed his article.   The result of this was that he just subscribed me to the SWC.  That was in 1995. And I’m still here.

There was only one email list back then – SWCForum. It was a busy list full of controversial conversation, often heated, often hilarious, and from there I forged many friends – many whom are still my friends today. Some of them are long gone from SWC, but there’s a good many still on the listserv with me today.

The list enabled us to converse like we never had before. We could write our feelings, what was happening, we were lifted when we were down, and in turn shared our experiences so that others may grow. There were fights, indignation, jokes, laughter and sometimes even tears, but most of all there was acceptance.  It’s the feeling that we have finally found a niche where we could be what we were without fear of ridicule for being hard of hearing.

I was the only one with a cochlear implant back then, and I was careful not to emphasise it too much as many people were still very anti implants.  Gradually I watched people accept the technology and embrace it, and I’ve seen many who swore they never would get one, actually have one.  I chuckle quietly, but secretly I’m thrilled they have the gift of hearing somewhat restored so they can enjoy life again. And I’m overjoyed, that this hasn’t meant that they left SWC, in fact most stayed and the list is richer for their experiences that they share.

I’ve watched the list grow – from a single list – SWCForum, to Six lists, 3 Facebook pages, a blog, and we even have a twitter account somewhere!  Each list, although similar because we all share the trait of hard of hearing, is different because of the personalities on each list.

SayWhatClub is now an incorporated society run by volunteers. At the top we have the Board of Directors who meet monthly and take responsibility for the club’s growth, putting in place improvements and try and keep up with the ever changing technology over the years.

We have a number of committees that ensure the smooth daily running of the organisation, from the website, to welcoming new members, and to ensuring the lists don’t stagnate, and for organising our yearly conventions.

We have a convention every year in a different part of America each time. These involve workshops, socialising, and loads of fun. You get to meet in person the people you’ve been talking to for years. I’ve been very lucky to attend three of these – one in Philadelphia, one in San Antonio, and one in Boise, Idaho. The friendships that I had forged over the years, were now cemented in person.

SWCers come from all over the world. We have USA and Canadian members, but also Australia, Netherlands, Finland, the UK, and India to name but a few.  We are a diverse group, from different backgrounds, different religions,  but our hearing loss binds us together.

SWC for me has helped me grow as a person. It’s given me opportunities that I never have been given otherwise. It’s helped my confidence, it’s made me more patient, it’s taught me about American Politics (although I’m not sure I’m richer for that!), it’s taught me about different cultures, but most of all it has taught me that valuable friendships can be made across oceans, across cultural divides, across political divides, and no matter what we say – we’re still friends.

It’s now 2017.  I’ve now been a member of the SWC for 22 years.  I’m still here. My implant is now 24 years old and I’m starting to feel old!

Check out the SWC Website, and if it’s what you’re looking for, click “Join”. You won’t be disappointed.

You can also join our Facebook Groups, we have two – one for people between 18 and 40, SWC Gen-Y. The other  for everyone, Say What Club, Friends With Hearing Loss.  We also have a public Facebook page, SayWhatClub, A Worldwide Forum for People with Hearing Loss where we share many hearing loss-related articles, videos, news items, and useable information.

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