Cochlear – Gateway to Comprehending I don’t hear English

So I’m going to outline what probably sounds insane, but this is the world I experience. I talked with this about a friend this week, who looked at me like I was insane. And really, it kind of is.

I consider it a continuous battle to comprehend speech. It is NOT simple. If you take for granted understanding the words spoken by those around you, well, bless your soul.

For me, understanding what people say is an enormous mentally taxing undertaking, and I’m making wild guesstimates that 50% of my mental capacity daily lay in just understanding what people say to me, even if I do so subconsciously.

My job can be… um, putting it kindly, extremely difficult. I’m the technology coordinator for a public library. I am expected to keep everything functioning. It requires a large amount of concentration, and communication. By all methods including vocal communication. In case you just stumbled on this: I’m deaf.

Language is not a very exact communication method (as I learn daily with my co-worker, who’s teaching himself Japanese and taking me along for the ride). All of this combines and makes me aware of my own, daily meditation to comprehend spoken language. Just one. English as spoken in Michigan (we have no accents at all, ya’all).

As I write this, I have videos from Youtube playing. I’m listening to Roger Waters perform “Pigs” and I’m trying to hear the lyrics in between the music. I’m not watching the video. I’m not lip reading. And I’m hearing about 4 out of every 15 words he says, and realizing, I’m hearing them because I have memorized many of the lyrics. “You’re nearly a laugh, but really a cry” “Charade you are” “down in the pig bin”. How many of these lines would I know if I haven’t listened to this same song a thousand times. If I heard this the first time, what would I really hear?

Best example: I had no idea the song “Welcome to the machine” had lyrics for the first 10 years I heard it. I had NO idea anyone sang in that song. I don’t know what they are exactly. They’re still just vaguely human sounding instruments, but I know they’re lyrics, and not a guitar. I could look up the lyrics and read them, but that ain’t the same, is it?

When I sit back like this, just kind of drift off. Concentrate on the music, or the TV, or the TED talk playing… I’m just trying to hear the language. I drift off. Deeper. Deeper still… and I hear something that is vaguely human language. It’s not English. It’s like some weird accent. Billions of different accents, different inflections, none of it.. spoken English as cataloged sound in my memory. I don’t even know how the hell I speak English clearly, but I do (big thanks to Ms. Nowland and Ms. Trionfi of Oakland Schools)

The best description I can give for what everyday speech sounds like is that I hear adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. For reference:

Anyways, that’s what I hear all the time. But most of the time, I don’t recognize this is what I’m hearing. It’s only when I meditate and really listen, I can perceive this translation taking place. It’s so ingrained in my being… I wish I could pull the program out, copy it for other people with hearing loss like me, if it would help them.

The only thing I can guess is there’s a psychological construct similar to a computer daemon. A memory resident program that runs 24/7/365 in my mind. It even runs when I dream (although with admittedly MUCH higher accuracy… I rarely “bluff” through conversations in my dreams.) It’s a translation matrix that can make sense of the sounds I perceive, and seamlessly adapt it into something I understand. Much less, allow me to produce the sound the way it should sound.  Knowing this, it’s just a reflection what an amazing machine God has given us  in our brains, to do THIS…

For the last few years, I’ve done some public speaking. I’m no Steve Jobs, or well, any reasonably well known orator, but I can do it. It ain’t easy being in a room of 100 people and hearing the questions they ask. It’s hard to do anything but answer the questions they ask, and follow the script in my head. I love it. I’m so happy I’m being allowed to do this. That they trust me to do this.

This is the kind of thing they told me in school I would never be able to do. I was broken, and should behave like such. Lower my expectations, don’t expect too much. The scraps thrown to me were what I should expect. That’s my public education. It’s not revenge of which I speak. It’s not even I told you so. Not even “look at me, look what I can be”. It’s genuine joy that in some fashion, I can communicate so well. It’s only taken almost half a century.

For the first time in my life, I recognize my own ego.


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