I was born in Canada to hearing parents. Arabic was my first language. When I was diagnosed with hearing loss at three years old, an audiologist advised my parents to stick to English only when they spoke to me. By the time I was seven, I had no recollection of the Arabic language.
Making the choice to speak to me in only English was one of my parents’ biggest regrets.
Anytime I am at a family gathering, I hear everyone cheerfully conversing to each other in Arabic, and I would look to my mom for a quick translation. I grew to resent that audiologist’s decision. I felt like an outsider in my own family.
But let’s backtrack for a bit.
Why only one language?
When I was diagnosed with hearing loss, my speech was slurred, and not as clear as it should have been for my age. My audiologist at the time told my parents that it was best if I spoke only one language, especially as I went through Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT). They were told that speaking more than one language will be difficult for me, as well as affect the development of my speech and the way it sounds.
I was going to be raised in Canada, so it made sense that the one language would be English.
Since then, my parents spoke to me in English, and I lost touch with the language that I learned first.
Good and bad things came of that decision.
My entire family is middle eastern, and all of my aunts, uncles and cousins speak Arabic fluently. They grew up learning both languages. Like I said earlier, every family gathering was a mix of Arabic and English phrases being thrown around. I tried to participate as much as I can but I did feel lost at times.
During those moments, especially when I visit my grandmother and aunt in Nazareth, I resented the fact that I struggled so hard with a language that used to be second nature for me. I resented that I couldn’t communicate with my family to the fullest extent. I resented the fact that I had to depend on my mom to translate for me.
That was the bad part.
But what about the good?
What if I had the chance to change that decision?
If somehow I had the choice to go back, and tell my family:
“Don’t listen to the audiologist. Speak to me in both languages. It’ll be okay.”
I wouldn’t do it.
As much as I had so much pent up resentment, I realized the good that came from it.
I really want to say that it would have been fine if they spoke to me in two languages. That children can easily absorb a lot of information when they are young because their brain is in a constant state of unconscious learning.
But, any research I found on this was for hearing children. This wasn’t proven for children with hearing loss. So as much as I could argue that I would have been fine, there was always a niggling doubt in the back of my mind.
What if the audiologist was right?
I wouldn’t do it because if I did, and I would run the risk of my language not being as clear as it is now, maybe I would not have been able to talk as well, or write stories or express my thoughts in the way I do now.
I did resent it when I was younger, but now that I’m older, and realized that I can change what I have control over – what can stop me from trying to learn a new language? It might hard for me than for hearing people, but it’s not impossible.
Stay tuned for my next post as I talk about what it’s like learning a new language with hearing loss!