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Learning a Foreign Language with Hearing Loss

Learning a language with hearing loss
It isn’t easy to learn a foreign language with hearing loss. But I haven’t let it stop me.

Around the world, it is common to meet individuals with the ability to speak more than one language. Many countries actually have more than one official language. In fact, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages!

Increasingly, people are learning to read, speak and write in a second foreign language or more. It is now the minority to be monolingual. Many native English speakers tend to be, including myself.

School

In my school district, children began learning a foreign language in eighth grade. The options were Spanish, Italian or French. I had the choice to be exempted from learning a foreign language due to my significant bilateral hearing loss. Nonetheless, I chose to enroll in a foreign language class. I did not want to be given an “out” just because of my hearing loss. My goal was to prove to others, and myself, that I could study a foreign language.

“I did not want to be given an “out” just because of my hearing loss.”

For my high school education I pursued classes in Spanish, and along the way, picked up classes in Italian. My motivation, interest in foreign languages, support from teachers, and the use of hearing assistive technologies helped me perform well in my classes.

Post-secondary Education

In college, I continued to take Spanish classes, knowing it would be an asset when pursuing a career in the allied health field. Yet my skills never progressed. In the classroom, I did not have appropriate hearing assistive technology to hear and understand my professors as well as my classmates. I was too shy to speak Spanish aloud, not being comfortable with my pronunciation.

I use visual cues, such as lipreading, to supplement what I hear. However, lipreading in a foreign language takes practice that requires consistent use of the language outside of the classroom. My low self-esteem in understanding Spanish and eventually my lack of interest contributed to a loss of motivation to study the language. I completed the minimal amount of work needed to get by in my classes.

Read more: So, you think I have a deaf accent?

Trying Again

After spending time abroad and meeting individuals from all over the world, I admired their abilities to speak multiple languages, and their ability to switch back and forth from one language to another with ease. I always appreciated their efforts to speak with me in English, knowing I could not return the favor. I became determined to make another attempt at studying a foreign language. This time, I decided to learn for myself and not for a grade on an exam or for a resume booster.

I decided to pursue courses in German. I chose German as my partner and his family’s native language is German. It became important for me to learn their language to better communicate with his family and to be a part of their culture.

Learning From Experience

I learned from my past experiences. Now my teacher wears a Roger microphone so that her voice is transmitted directly to my hearing aid and cochlear implant. Using this helps to reduce any distracting environmental sounds and allows for me to focus on the teacher’s voice. Our desks are arranged in a U-shape so I can see my classmates clearly. This improvement in hearing and understanding allows me to have more confidence in speaking aloud. My pronunciation is not great, but I am still learning. The teacher takes the time to practice with me. After each class, I improve.

Outside of the classroom, I set aside time to listen to audio books in German. I use my Roger microphone to stream the audio from my laptop to my hearing devices. I use children’s books with slow audio and German text. Being able to listen and read along in German helps familiarize the words. I also read children’s books with my partner. He reads pages out loud to me so I can listen and read along, and then I read those same pages out loud to work on my pronunciation.

My knowledge of the German language is still elementary. It takes practice, patience, and motivation to study a foreign language. I still have a long way to go before reaching a certain level of proficiency in German. I am determined to get there, no matter how long it takes.

What foreign language(s) do you know, and how did you learn?

Jacqueline Drexler
Author Details
Jacqueline Drexler is an audiologist working for Phonak. She has severe to profound hearing loss, bilaterally. She wears a colorful Phonak Sky B hearing aid her left ear and a cochlear implant in the right ear. She is passionate about all things audiology.
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Jacqueline Drexler
Jacqueline Drexler is an audiologist working for Phonak. She has severe to profound hearing loss, bilaterally. She wears a colorful Phonak Sky B hearing aid her left ear and a cochlear implant in the right ear. She is passionate about all things audiology.
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