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Blog: A learning curve

I have always enjoyed the challenge of recreational and academic classes over the years. I have tried my hand at upholstery, car mechanics, environmental studies, and languages to name but a few. My passion for languages stemmed from an inspirational French teacher at secondary school. This led to a career in international banking and then adult education and primary school teaching. My love of Italy, the language and its people, which commenced with a trip to Sicily in my twenties, has never diminished. The appreciation of making an effort to converse is so rewarding and uplifting.

The importance of learning other languages

Despite the view of friends that there was no point in learning Spanish or Portuguese for holidays as English was widely spoken; I always brushed up my basic knowledge before departure. This has proved invaluable on a number of occasions.

One such time was in Portugal when my husband did not reappear for some hours, having gone to the supermarket by car. I was alone in a house, miles from anywhere with two tiny children. My rudimentary skills enabled me to seek help and find out he had been involved in an accident. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured.

How hearing loss interrupted my learning

A greater degree of fluency brings opportunities to explore the richness of culture cuisine and lifestyle that travel to other countries offers. It has given me great pleasure to see my thirst for languages replicated in my daughter.

However, sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) 15 years ago brought an abrupt end to my enjoyment of languages. For a while, I continued to teach, but found it too stressful and damaging to my self-esteem, as I would miss words and try to cover it up. Foreign accents are difficult for anyone with hearing loss, so travel to countries where I could speak the language became dispiriting and frustrating, as I simply could not hear the responses.

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Discovering City Lit

I resigned myself to reading and watching captioned films in French and Italian. It never occurred to me that there were other avenues to pursue in order to continue to enjoy languages. I was envious of a hearing friend who enthused over online language classes at City Lit, London. Then, one day, I decided to browse their prospectus and discovered Support4deaf. I wasted no time in contacting them. 

Upon or prior to enrolment, the Access and Inclusion Support team liaise with Support4Deaf students with hearing loss to determine the best level of support tailored to the student’s own preferences. For example, on a practical level, BSL and electronic note-taking support is offered online or in the classroom. Roger streamers are also available for classroom use.

A zoom meeting was arranged for me to discuss my needs for an online French course. IT support was provided to enable me to view live captions in French. My tutor was made aware of my requirements, which was reassuring.

Enrolling on a course

The day of my course arrived and I joined with some trepidation. Partly due to my total reliance on the captions and partly my fear of a technology failure. I need not have worried as all went well. I felt overjoyed to be able to participate once again in conversation in a foreign language.

I decided to be open with the class about my hearing loss, but that is a matter of personal choice. Subsequently, I have ventured into other online courses. One of which was a disastrous book club in Italian whereby I realised it was impossible to read the text and the captions simultaneously! However, I know that I can contact Support4Deaf with any concern or query regarding a course and they will resolve it quickly.

Hearing loss didn’t hold me back

My experience illustrates that hearing loss is not a barrier to enjoying languages to the full, provided a support network is in place, such as the one at City Lit. There will be other colleges offering similar support. If you have a yearning to learn or rediscover a language, then make 2024 the year in which to achieve it.

Discover the full range of courses available to deaf adults at City Lit here.