By Mac Pomeroy
I was born missing most of my hearing. However, I have a hearing family. My family is very talkative and loud. They speak a lot, sing a lot and rely heavily on verbal communication. As you can probably guess, this does clash a lot with my hearing loss.
I worked hard on being able to speak perfectly; I spent hours reading books aloud, trying to feel the vibration of each word. I watched the mouths of those around me very carefully, learning to lip read. Over time, I became a great speaker. I competed in Speech and Debate in high school. I never wanted my lack of hearing to get in the way of my communication.
However, that wasn’t the case. While I tried so hard to conform and be of hearing, never once did I consider being a part of Deaf culture. Or, more specifically, I never learned how to use sign language.
This wasn’t due to having a hearing family as much as it was due to being stubborn. My family actually encouraged me to learn and embrace the language. I was scared to do so.
I worried that learning sign language would make people view me as “the deaf kid.” I felt concerned this would stop me from making friends or being valued as a member of the community I was surrounded by. However, sign language or not, this happened anyway.
Even with hearing aids, I can’t hear. While I can speak perfectly, I don’t know what others are saying.
I felt stuck in a weird middle where I was not fully hearing and struggled with verbal communication, but I also could not communicate with or be a part of the Deaf community. I was just there. The only way I could communicate without being left out was by texting, but that doesn’t replace regular communication.
As I got older, I wished I learned sign language. While I know what younger me was thinking, I now perceived myself as alone, and this was frustrating. I thought it was too late, and I would always be in a weird limbo between trying to talk to others, but not being able to fully hear their replies. Especially now, when I can’t read lips in public due to masks, I feel like I can’t talk to anyone.
Thankfully, I managed to get into the American Sign Language class this semester.
On the first day of class, just learning the alphabet, it seemed to click. I felt like I could finally understand something for once, without having to backtrack and doubt myself. It’s only been two or three weeks of learning, so I am not an expert, nor have I been able to have a conversation in ASL. However, learning makes me excited to keep going.
Perhaps you are in a similar situation. Not where you can’t communicate, but where you are worried you waited too long to learn something you have always wanted to know. Maybe you have wanted to learn how to play the piano, or learn a new language or whatever else.
Often the longer you wait, people tend to refer back to the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
It is true learning certain things, especially a language, gets increasingly difficult the older you become. But that is no reason to not try. It means you may need to work even harder, but the results will be even more rewarding.
Don’t let the fear of work or failure stop you from trying.
As for me, I am going to keep trying to learn to sign. I am going to keep working on it, and not just because of my ASL class. This will be something I will need to work on the rest of my life, and that’s okay. I’m excited to learn.