Deaf and Illiterate, Why You Should Learn the Local Language

The image is of a bamboo menu written in Chinese. I have no idea what it says because I am illiterate. Very pretty menu though! 🙂

Today with my Taiwan family, we watched a movie called Beyond Silence about Lara who is the daughter of deaf parents.

An emotional scene with her father, he finds out that Lara plans to go to Berlin to study at a dinner with extended family. The only people at the table he can understand are Lara and her sister, since both of them know sign language. The rest of her family speaks German which her father cannot hear.

Lara’s father feels completely alone because he cannot hear the conversation. Her aunt is saying something… what is she saying? He does not know. There is an argument, but he can’t participate. Her father only gets 80% of the conversation.

This is a source of conflict the entire movie, because Lara’s father is an intelligent man, but has to rely on others. When Lara comes home from school, her father needs Lara to speak on the phone for her. She signs what the person on the phone says, her father signs back and she relays to the person on the other end. He feels like a child.

There are many arguments that arise out of this. Both Lara and her father are incredibly kind people, but when things get lost in translation it gets frustrating for both of them. Luckily Lara and her father love each other dearly, so they are willing to work through the difficulties.

I can sympathize with Lara’s deaf father, and this movie really hit home for me. I am currently in Taiwan, where I do not speak Chinese. Due to the Chinese writing system, I can’t read at all either. Like Lara’s father, I am an intellectual who often has no means of communication and I have to rely on others.

I want to take a bus, but I can’t because I cannot read. The bus schedule is in Chinese. When I go to a restaurant, I have to hope that my best friend Abigail understands what I like and picks something good. I am lost, but cannot ask for directions. Where is the bathroom? Gosh… I have no idea.

I got in a taxi the other day, who misunderstood my destination. He started taking me in a random direction across the city. Both of us, good people, got very frustrated with one another because of the situation. I was going the wrong way, and the taxi driver couldn’t fix it.

I am really grateful for my adoptive “Taiwan” family around me. It’s a lesson in humility for me, because I have to trust whoever I am with 100%. Being someone who likes to take charge, and make decisions, this is incredibly difficult for me.

Volcano Hank took me to today. There were some sulfur rocks with water, the water was boiling.

It is difficult having your support family speak a different language. I went out today with Hank and my two “Taiwan” moms. The three of them spoke around 80% Chinese, so I only got to participate in 20% of the conversation which was always directed at me. Any general conversation was in Chinese, like how beautiful the scenery was, and I couldn’t even participate in that.

Two weekends ago I went with them to Mao Kong Gondola. The experience was great, but I have no idea what was said the entire time. It was like I was deaf.

The other week I was with Abigail walking down a nice quiet street. Along each side there were little shops, most of the shops were for selling things during Chinese New Year. As we passed each shop, I was looking inside to see what they sold, then I realized. The signs, in Chinese, that were hanging over each shop said something that meant something to Abigail. She and I had completely different perspectives of this street.

She saw signs and store names “Fabrics, Food, Snacks, Toys”. I saw pretty symbols “出口, 火, 人” (My Taiwanese friends will get a laugh out of that, because that’s the only Chinese I know)

Make sure you spend at least a month doing Rosetta stone, or Pimsleur, or take a class before going to a foreign country. Especially if you intend on living there for more than 15 days, it is important. Even if I couldn’t understand everything going on around me, knowing the words for time, person, counting, food, hungry, thirsty, water and being able to ask where the bathroom is valuable. I still wish I could attempt a conversation with Abigail’s uncle or her dad. Both seem like incredible people I want to get to know, but due to communication issues it is difficult.


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