Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

Communication-Different: Deaf and Hearing interactions are not synonymous

Posted on May 04, 2017 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Mary Ellen Aldrich, Community Editor

In Hearing culture you’re taught to mind your own business, not ask too many questions and not talk about yourself too much.

In Deaf culture, access to information and equal sharing of that information is a top priority. I.e., ask and answer lots of questions, offer up information.

Upon first meeting someone, a Hearing person will often ask your name and where you’re from. Generally this is an adequate amount of information for any Hearing person’s first encounter, but there may be a follow up about work or school.

When Deaf people meet someone, their first encounter tends to be a bit more like this:

“Hi, what’s your name? Are you Deaf? Hearing? Hard-of-Hearing? Where did you grow up? Where’d you go to school? What’s your family like?” If you’re Hearing and know ASL, be ready for, “Where’d you learn ASL? Why? Who was/is your teacher? Do you have Deaf family members or friends?” If you’re Deaf, the questions often turn to, “did you go to a Deaf school? Were you mainstreamed? Did you grow up signing? Or oral?” Within the Deaf community, everyone tends know everyone else. If you know anyone within the Deaf community, you’ll be questioned about who else you know.

It’s expected, whether you’re Deaf or Hearing, that you’ll not only answer questions, but ask plenty of your own.

Sometimes this questioning and sharing of information can be off-putting to Hearing people. But Hearing people’s hesitation to share information can be just as off-putting to Deaf people. Neither is right or wrong, it’s merely a difference in culture.

Most Deaf and Hearing people use texting, Facebook, snapchat and other modes of communication. What’s interesting, though, is the variation in face-to-face communication.

When Hearing people get together, the entire conversation is often done without looking at the person’s face, let alone making eye contact. There’s usually a lot of room-scanning and phone-checking while Hearing people talk. Most Hearing people tend to skirt around topics and not get to the point until much further along in the conversation.

When Deaf people get together, the conversation is given undivided attention. Since ASL is a visual language, eye contact is a must. If someone breaks eye contact, the other person will pause, wait for eye contact to be reestablished and then repeat the last portion of what they signed. Deaf people are often blunt and get straight to the point.

These differences make me think about how I communicate and how I could improve on that communication. Interacting with members of each culture helps me become more aware of how I communicate with people and teaches me to be more flexible in my approaches. The examples I’ve given may not be true for everyone, but it’s what I’ve learned and observed through interaction with both cultures.

Mary Ellen Aldrich is a hearing student majoring in linguistics with a concentration in ASL/English interpretation and a minor in Deaf studies.

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