Thursday 22 September 2016

Deaf Girly and guessing words

One of the reasons I find 'listening' so tiring is that an awful lot of guessing goes into what I think I might be hearing...

I've always had to guess what words are – I remember being in my teens and my amazing audiologist at the time showing me the speech banana in relation to my audiogram and explaining that was why I was so bad at 'hearing' words. I'm missing consonants... and I don't really have any vowel distinction either.

For example, I cannot hear the difference between 'yes' and 'no' when it's said in the dark and I have no visual or lipreading clue to guide me.

I was reminded of how much I guess words the other night when, on arriving back from the gym, I poured FJM a glass of sparkling water before starting to cook dinner.

'Fizzy water is so distressing,' he said as I put the glass down in front of him.

'Well,' I reasoned, 'I know it's not a beer or anything, but I think that's a little dramatic.'

Cue, lots of confused looks from him.

Distressing and refreshing it turns out, sound exactly the same to me. I heard the three sylables, I heard the 'ing' at the end and I guessed the rest.

Granted, I could have guessed better, but it's interesting how my brain fills in the gaps of speech without me asking it to.

I think I honed my skill for guessing words before I knew I was deaf, in the 1980s, when dictation was a thing at school. Those lucky enough to remember this will recall the teacher sat at the front of the class reading a passage from a book and you had to simply write down what she was saying.

At 8 years old, I thought that this was a guessing game. I thought the point of dication, was not a test of spelling and grammar, but of working out what words the teacher might be saying to get the best story. I was terrible at dictation. I think on one occasion I was told sternly that it wasn't a creative writing exercise.

The same goes for French listening. I thought that it was again, a creative exercise of guessing what the people might be saying... once my deafness was discovered and I started having French listening read to me by a teacher, my marks went from 10% to 100%.

But I think that the one amazing thing to come from guessing words and making up stories during dictation is that it gave me an early introduction to writing. It forced me to think about alternative plot lines, use of language and indeed working alone – school was an incredibly lonely experience for me in so many ways as I just didn't know what I was meant to be doing half the time.

The creative side of school embraced that – it allowed me to go off on tangents due to mishearing and in later times – and certainly during my degree, I wasn't penalised for it. Whereas the more structured side – the maths and the sciences – had no room for my deaf interpretation and lack of understanding about what was going on...

I think the time I realised that science was not for me was during my GCSE Biology practical. That year, my hearing took a MEGA nose dive – I didn't have a notetaker at that point and just seemed to 'get by' in lessons. But this 2-day practical revealed that I was doing anything but getting by.

It was an experiment to test the clotting agent in milk... (or something), and going into it, I had no idea what I was meant to be doing. Not because I was stupid or I hadn't been paying attention, but because I quite simply hadn't heard enough to have a clue. And my 15-year-old self (I was very young for the year) didn't know I should speak up.

I spent two days in exam conditions – no talking, no sudden movements – trying to work out how to get milk to clot with no idea why I was doing this. By the second day, I was covered in clotted milk and vaguely hysterical. I was escorted from the practical and failed on it.

The teacher was horrifically unsympathetic. And again, I didn't know how to convey the fact that I didn't have a clue what was going on.

I will NEVER forget how I felt that day, trudging home up the hill to my parents' house covered in rancid milk and wanting to lie down on the pavement and cry.

It's easier now to look back on those days with the hindsight and confidence I have now and think how I could have dealt with that situation differently, but then I remember it really doesn't matter. I will never have to do a Biology practical again. And if they worst I do is guess words wrongly every now and again with amusing results, well, I'm OK with that.

Happy Thursday peeps


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