My Language Learning Success Story – Ellen Parfitt

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I believe that learning German with a profound hearing loss, is one my greatest achievements and one that I’m proud to say, I proved all my doubters wrong!

I was born with a profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, I wear two high powered digital Phonak hearing aids and I communicate through lip-reading and speech. My hearing aids enable me to access the lower speech sounds.

When I started mainstream high school, it was compulsory for all students to learn three foreign languages and immediately, my parents saw my deafness as a barrier. I was quite keen to learn a language, but the logistics of learning it didn’t seem easy to them. My deputy head teacher convinced my parents to let me give it a go, to see how I got on, with the option to drop it if it became too difficult.

After the first year I chose German out of the three, as in French and Spanish I couldn’t hear the higher pitched sounds, but I could understand most of the German sounds as they were lower pitched.

Whilst learning German, I relied fully on lip-reading the teacher, plus constant repetition, along with the help of my Phonak radio aid which amplified the teacher’s voice over background noise. Vocabulary was key to me, so I spent all my free time learning topical vocabulary and grammar structures, so I could understand and recognise more words. My 1 to 1 support from my fantastic German Language Assistant was invaluable to assist me with any gaps in my knowledge.

The main hurdles I faced while learning German were overcoming difficulties in group discussions, pronouncing words as I cannot hear all the syllables and sounds. Also, for listening exams I couldn’t hear through Mp3 players, so my ever so patient German teachers spoke the whole exam out for me, so that I could lip-read! When watching DVDs or listening to audio clips, I needed subtitles or a transcript, which sometimes my assistant had to type it out for me. In exams, the concentration needed was exhausting and resulted in frequent headaches. Luckily in the exams, I wasn’t penalised for not pronouncing words as well as a hearing person.

The best part of learning German, was being able to take part in the exchange trips. I was paired with a lovely German girl, whom we became best foreign friends! Her family made me feel very welcome. Even if there were communication difficulties, they never gave up, even if they had to resort to typing words out on their phones!

I studied German from the beginning of high school, achieving grade A* at GCSE, continuing on to the end of my A Levels. Practising with teachers, classmates and my amazing German penfriend as well as independent learning… I was thrilled to announce that I passed my German A Levels, which is something my parents and I never thought would happen. This was only possible with the support from my inspirational German teachers.

Today, one of my jobs is a brand ambassador and deaf blogger for Phonak, a hearing aid manufacturer. Their headquarters are based in Zürich, Switzerland where I often travel to visit them. I can say, learning German has come in handy! I speak occasionally with my German penfriend and I hope one day, to travel around Germany, to take in more of the wonderful culture.

My motto, as a deaf ambassador and blogger, is “deaf people can achieve anything they dream of, given the right support”…don’t be afraid to try something new, as you may surprise yourself!

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