Traveling in a country with a different language is kind of like having a hearing loss! Maybe you know a few words of their language, or more than likely they know some English. But there is still plenty of repetition, hand gestures, and wrong interpretation that can’t be avoided.
If you are traveling with someone who knows the local language, then they are the go-between, the interpreter. And often you may still try and communicate with the non-English-speaking person; it can be fun for both of you to work on improving the other’s skills in your native language. But often the “interpreter” must come to your rescue!
Without the interpreter it can be very frustrating. Case in point: while on a recent train ride in Russia, a local sat next to me. He figured out I was American and so badly wanted to talk, and we did, a little. We communicated the fact that he was buying not one, but two vodkas; what I did for a living and that the folks next to us were with me; and my name, at which he laughed. Apparently Ken means baby, or something, in Russian. He got across that he was in the war (gesturing to the scars on his face and neck), was now an engineer, and his mother was a teacher. And that the train went right by his grandfather’s house. But there was so much more he tried to say (his English was limited and my Russian nonexistent). I wished for an interpreter like we had in the previous city. We so badly wanted to share our lives, and couldn’t.
Back at home, you may have your own hearing-capable interpreter. So if you have a hearing loss and you’re with that family member, you tend to turn to them to be your ears. A waitress may ask, “What kind of dressing would you like with your salad?” You’re thinking, dresses for the ballet?? So you turn to your spouse, who knows exactly what’s going on because they’ve seen “the look” many times, and either says “bleu-cheese” because they know, or becomes the interpreter and enunciates, “Salad. Dressing.” Does it make you feel disconnected, left out, a little stupid? Yes!
A hearing-capable person may empathize with these feelings after traveling overseas. Yet the big difference is that a hearing-impaired person doesn’t just encounter these interactions while abroad, but must face them almost every day.
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