by In Wales
Tue Feb 15th, 2011 at 04:37:47 AM EST
I thought I'd keep the title fairly self-explanatory. I am deaf and I want to learn Welsh. [sharp intake of breath] I don't see why it shouldn't be possible, but learning languages is not easily accessible to me, for obvious reasons.
I had the great fortune of meeting Ali Yassine
via the Yes campaign
in my role as a photographer. We got talking and landed on my deafness and languages. I mentioned that I wanted to learn Welsh and be good at it, and the next day I have an email from him offering to teach me Welsh one to one, free of charge. How exciting!
To give some background, I was born deaf to hearing parents, grew up in mainstream schooling (the only deaf kid in 5 out of my 6 schools), didn't meet another deaf child until I was 9, and didn't have access to the deaf community or sign language. Nor was I able to develop any positive sense of deaf identity. It is a very isolating way to grow up. Nobody understood the challenges I had in my day to day life and nobody really had any solutions either, other than 'try harder'.
At primary school number 5, not only were there other deaf kids but we also had a fabulous teacher who loved all things French and was the driving force for putting in place French lessons at a much earlier age that we'd have had access otherwise. I picked it up ok but then went off to high school with larger classes and teachers who taught us by playing tapes from a crackly old tape player. Downhill it all went.
I struggled through to year 9 when I also opted to learn German. It was horrific. I had a teacher who told me to try harder and take tapes I couldn't hear home to listen to. She frequently ridiculed me in front of the class and made me cry. Her teaching methods were probably fairly progressive and innovative for hearing kids but singing and dancing is never going to be a feasible way to teach me another language. She wouldn't adapt her teaching methods to be more accessible to me, and it ended with her complaining that I was disruptive and having me permanently excluded from her class. I still remember the conversation I had with my Head of Year when I was pulled out of there for the final time and I told him I really, really wanted to be able to learn other languages.
"I want to learn 5 languages".
"well, you speak English, some French. Gobbledigook. That's three already..."
When it came to GCSE options, even though it should have been compulsory to do French, my school didn't recommend I continue with the language. Frankly, I didn't want to either, all the confidence had been knocked out of me.
People often ask if I am Welsh. Yes, I am. I just had the misfortune of being born in England. Not my fault, any more than it is my fault I was denied access to the Deaf community as I grew up. At least I know who I am now. My Mother's side of the family are from Wales, from the valleys, no less. I grew up knowing that we had lost family in Aberfan, I had an awareness of my Welsh heritage and I was proud of that. I liked saying ach-a-fi!
I came home to Cardiff at 18 for uni. In a way, I grew up here. I became the person I was meant to be and made my life my own. Wales is where I belong, it always will be my home.
So understandably, I really wish I spoke Welsh. I was able to learn British Sign Language, although I'm not fluent. My Deaf identity now is core to who I am, and it is a positive thing. I wouldn't change it all. But I am also Welsh and that is core to my identity too.
So now comes 'Project InWales'. An hour a week, learning Welsh with Ali. We agreed I'd keep a blog. He's going to try a different way of teaching me, but keeping a blog will be part of my learning. Reinforcing vocab and context, finding what works, what doesn't. We'll see what comes out the other end.
It doesn't mean that what works for me would work for any other deaf person, but given that learning languages, especially in a class setting, is so inaccessible for people with sensory impairments, it will be interesting to see what can work.