I’m about to tie two unlikely things together – my experience working at the Deaf Center in Utah, USA and my experience living in Iasi, Romania.
I used to work at the Sanderson Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Taylorsville, Utah. Before, that, I was a volunteer there, which ended up just developing into a job! I loved it.
So many times, I would be working at an event, and there were volunteers that were ASL (American Sign Language) students. Most of them didn’t know that I’m hearing – they usually thought I was Deaf for some reason.
One particular instance illustrates this perfectly. There were two girls who were ASL students from a local college, I don’t remember which one. I could tell that they had a question for me, but weren’t sure how to ask me in ASL. I totally eavesdropped as they slowly walked up behind me…they were talking about how to sign their question. They tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and signed “Hey, what’s up?”
They then proceeded to sign “We are here to volunteer and…” and then they looked at each other, and I could tell they didn’t know how to sign what they wanted to say next. So, I guided them through the conversation (I knew what they wanted because I heard them talking about it as they walked up to me) as I signed them in and started to tell them where they were assigned to volunteer. I could tell that they were completely lost when they kept glancing at each other and whispering the few signs they understood me signing. I could tell it wasn’t working for them, and after a little bit I ended up just saying “Or we can just talk, I am hearing.” I could see their bodies relax as they gave a nervous laugh and I began speaking to them in English, telling them were they were assigned to volunteer.
Things like that happened multiple times. Both while I was at work at the Deaf Center, and while I was the volunteer coordinator for some events for Sego Lily Center for the Abused Deaf. So many times.
NOW, let’s relate that to my experience here in Romania so far.
I am really trying to learn Romanian. I know I could probably devote more time to sitting down and studying the language, but I am doing what I can with the time that I have. I promise.
I was at a shop the other day and I was trying to ask an employee a question. She was watching me struggle as I used a weird mixture of Romanian, English, and gestures/ASL (sometimes I revert back to ASL when English/Romanian isn’t working out for me, and gestures when ASL isn’t working, either). She spoke Romanian back to me, and I understood some of it, but I was mostly lost, so I did my weird mixture of languages again. She sort of smiled, and then said “I speak English, what do you need?” And my body and brain totally began to relax as I asked her my question, and got an answer.
However, I do not always get that relief. Usually I just have to be left in a state of confusion.
So now, I feel that I am those ASL students that would struggle to communicate with me at the Deaf Center and other events. Except…I don’t always have the ever-so-welcome relief of someone saying “I speak English.”
The moral of the story?
When you are in a situation where you have to use the language you are learning, it’s a relief to discover that the person you are talking to speaks a language you know very well…even if they do get a little bit of pleasure out of letting you struggle for a little bit first.