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Do You Understand?

by Branden Huxtable

Originally published in the March 1997 issue of the CSCDHH GA Newsletter

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Sometimes when I talk to hearing people I come across words that are hard for me to understand even after they repeat them. I may not understand because the person mumbles, has an accent, I'm thinking of a different word, or possibly I haven't heard the word before. What that happens, the fun begins.

Usually, repeating the word over and over again only adds to the frustration. I remember one guy who repeated the same word in the same low tone several times before I could finally understand what he was saying. Then he asked me why I didn't understand the first time. Well, the more he repeated, the more I understood, barely, until the tenth try, I finally got it. I have to do the same thing with my voice answering machine, but if I am talking to another person we do have better options.

The most obvious is to spell out the word except almost all the letters sound just like another one. I remember in elementary school, the teacher read off the answers to a multiple-choice quiz. The five possible answers were A, B, C, D and E with four of the letters sounding alike to me. The teacher finally had to use alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon so she finish the answers. I have the same problem when people spell out words to me. Was that c-o-m-p-u-t-e-r or d-r-n-v-q-b-g-a? Greek letters won't help in this case.

Few hearing people I know can fingerspell fairly well. Some of them know only a few letters. Others try to learn so they can help me out. Once during a kayak trip, after a friend tried to tell me the name of a nearby island, I taught him how to fingerspell. He quickly learned and this worked out quite well. Still others try to make up their own letter shapes as they go along. If nothing else, they can be quite amusing dancing all ove trying to make that P with two hands.

If don't know fingerspelling, other people use the standard military/radio alphabet code. To spell a word, the code simply uses a word that starts with the needed letter. None of these words sound alike, so understanding letters becomes fairly easy. For example, my name is spelled Bravo Romeo Alpha November Delta Echo November (or with an older code Baker Roger Able Nan Dog Easy Nan). However, some people who do not know the proper words to use, often try using easy words such as Cat for C. What was that? Fat? Vat? Rat? Bat? Pat? That? No?

By far, the best way to get that word across is either use synonyms or play charades. If I'm not getting house, try where I live. If I missed camera, how about pictures first, then camera. If I don't understand Bellevue, start with Lake Washington then move onto Bellevue. Eventually I should be able to understand everything. Who knows? If we talk long enough, we might become a great team for Password, that old game from the Seventies.

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