Learning to speak Norwegian, even though I’m Deaf

By the time I said goodbye to Norway and caught the ferry to Denmark, to visit Torhild (who I also met at Julie Arkell’s course last year), every part of me was switched on, alive. I even shocked myself by loading up my bags and going for a wander through town while I waited for the ferry. The Australian me would have said the bags were too heavy and I’d have to stay put. Oh yes, this is what I mean about finding new parts of myself. I like it muchly.

Although she and her husband, Øystein, live in Denmark, they are Norwegian, and it was Torhild who inspired me to learn Norwegian in the first place. She sent me a newspaper article, saying, ‘I know you won’t understand the words but I thought you might like the pictures.’ Of course, once I’d devoured the pictures I was beside myself with desire to understand the words, so I plugged into Google Translate and started making sense of it. By the time I’d translated the whole article, I discovered, to my astonishment, that I could remember most of the words. And next time I talked to Torhild on Facebook, I gave it a go, mixing up the words to make my own sentences. Everything she wrote back to me in Norwegian, I translated, and that added to my vocabulary. Over the course of a year, with the added help of an app I downloaded, I’ve come to know something in the vicinity of a thousand words. I put them to good use with Morten, Marte Marit, Ragnhild and Atle. But something was missing. I still had no idea how any of them sounded, how to think the words in my head so I could practice that way, how to lipread even the simplest sentence. After much agonizing, I decided to do something really different. You see, in my day to day life, while I speak with my voice to my family some of the time, Auslan is my main language. And I just about never use my voice if I’m out in public or with my friends. Signing works for me, because it reminds people that I am Deaf, and then they make the effort to communicate more clearly with me, and that’s easier for me. If I speak, my voice sounds too hearing, and people forget that I’m Deaf. Then I shoulder the entire burden of trying to lipread at full tilt. I gave that up years ago and I like my life better for it. But with Torhild and Øystein I decided to break my rule. Afterall, that’s the whole point of this trip right? To break all my own rules and see who I really am, right here and now.

I put my hearing aids back in after two weeks of silence, and asked her to teach me to speak Norwegian. Once she’d gotten over the shock of the amount of Norwegian I know (turns out she thought I was using Google Translate for all our conversations), Torhild was incredibly sweet and patient, repeating the words over and over and over, correcting me, until I could say them with proper Norwegian pronounciation. It was so exciting, after a year with this language, to finally know how it was meant to be used. Sadly, despite my very best efforts, I could not get so far as to lipread or hear Norwegian well at all. Just the odd sentence here and there. But speaking it – that I could do. By the time I left I felt I had a handle on it and could make a guess at how words should sound, even if Torhild hadn’t specifically taught them to me. And that made it easier to think in Norwegian. (While some Deaf people think in signs, mostly I don’t – I was born hearing and learnt to think in English first.. so understanding the way words sound helps me to use them for thinking.)

So, how was it, wearing my hearing aids, speaking, attempting to lipread, filling in the gaps with written communication? The speaking was fun and exciting. The lipreading was EXHAUSTING. There would come a time towards the end of the day when I had to say, no more, and hand my talking book to Torhild to use instead. The tinnitus came back. And my ears itched from using my hearing aids. But it was worth it, to hear Torhild’s voice, to learn to speak… It does affirm though, that I reckon I’m making the right choice in my everyday life, to sign rather than speak. Now I just have to figure out what to do about the tinnitus…

Aside from the language stuff, I had the most magnificent, heartwarming time with Torhild, and by the time I left, my backpack was loaded with little treasures from my time with her, with Ragnhild and Atle, with Morten and Marte Marit, from Oslo… My heart was full, of love and sunshine.

One thought on “Learning to speak Norwegian, even though I’m Deaf

  1. Pingback: Art retreat in France | Asphyxia

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