How to talk to someone who may or may not be, partially deaf

Picture Source

Something you should know about me is that I’m partially deaf. I’m 90% deaf in one ear, with something we call profound deafness. In the other year, I’ve lost about 40% of my hearing mostly in the higher frequencies. I wear a hearing aid to make up for the gap and for the most part, I can carry on a normal conversation.

I have some difficulties picking out voices in noisy environments and it probably didn’t help that I spent 10 years working in construction as a sheet metal worker, fabricating and installing duct work. But I’m here and somehow, I find ways to enjoy conversation, television and music.

Additionally, I have a problem with my Eustachian tubes where I tend to lose pressure behind the ear drum and then I lose a fair bit of hearing. This is particularly evident when I have a cold or after swimming. In fact, when I lose that pressure, life sounds like I’m under water. I can usually restore my normal hearing levels by popping my ears.

But wait, there’s more. My wife is Vietnamese and she’s got a strong accent. My kids are growing up around us, me with very good pronunciation and her with her accent. Since kids imitate us, they’re a bit confused with how to pronounce some words and they’re still working out the fine motor skills of articulating their words.

Now add that all up together to find my kids in the back seat while I’m driving a car. The road noise with their high voices make a conversation rather difficult, so I stay focused on driving and I play some nice music while we’re en route. If we have a conversation, I let them know that they can be loud to make sure I can hear them. I even use the rear view mirror at the stop lights so that I can read their lips.

From time to time, they have a question and ask it. Usually, they just ask a question as if somehow, I will know what they are talking about it. So a couple days ago, I spent some time explaining the perils of asking a question without setting it up, for they may have to repeat themselves a few times to make themselves clear. For my wife, she knows about this, and it’s just more English practice for her. For the kids, they are still learning the rules of the road with their partially deaf dad. And when I say “perils” I mean nothing more than having to repeat oneself until I figure out what they’re saying.

While driving in the car that day, I used that opportunity to show them how to make sure I understand what they’re asking on the first try. With me, you can’t just blurt out a question and expect me to know what you’re talking about. So I used a few examples of questions to show why this is a problem. Like, “Did you enjoy the book?” Which book? I have lots of books.

Or, “How do you like the shoes?” Which shoes? Who’s shoes? When was I supposed to notice?

For my kids in the car that day, I showed how easy it is for me to misconstrue their statements and questions, and I did so by example, and with humor. My kids were asking me to repeat this over and over because I had them cracking up while I was driving. They are just getting to the age where the nuances of the language are coming into play.

Then I told them to imagine what would happen if you just said “Mary had a little lamb” out of nowhere, with no prompting and no other context. I said, “Mary had a little what? That’s not right? I think you mean ‘Mary had a little hand, right?” And I’d use different combinations to show how I can mistake one word for another, especially when I’m driving. At this point, they were already laughing hysterically and we had a good time.

Then I’d show them how to add some context before saying something, so that they won’t have to repeat themselves with me. I suggested that they try this:

Hey Dad, you know that story, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? I really like that story.

Here we get some preamble where we establish that “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is a story from a book. And in the second sentence, we get the point of the first statement. We can set up any statement or question in this way. Here’s another example:

Did you get my message?

In the above example, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what message our inquiring person is talking about. Which message? What was the message about and when was it sent? Instead of asking an open ended question without context, we can say:

Yesterday, I sent you a message regarding the gathering tomorrow night, Did you get it, and have you read it?

Now I have enough information to recall the messages I’ve read, but that message could be voice or text. And there may still be more than one message about that gathering. Consider the same line of questioning, while I’m driving a car and being responsible for the well being of everyone inside it. Even if we’re sitting comfortably in two chairs at a table, in a quiet room, I’d still like more context before the question is posed.

I’m a bit of an engineer when it comes to asking questions and making statements. I’ve been through this so many times, that before I even open my mouth, I consider what I’m going to say to determine if the other person will have enough information to respond. I play it out a bit to make sure that I’ve provided what I think is enough context to get an informed response. I do this every time I make a statement or ask a question to initiate a conversation or change the subject during and ongoing conversation.

I do this because I assume that, in this day and age of headsets, earbuds and all manner of playback devices and media, that people are losing their hearing. But I also assume that not everyone is thinking about what I’m thinking about. Their head is somewhere else at the moment, sometimes in quiet reflection and whatever I’m about to say, is an interruption in their train of thought.

Sometimes, people approach me in a similar state. When I want peace, I go inside. When someone has a question for me, I may or may not be ready. So giving me that extra context allows me to shift gears and to adjust my frame of reference to be ready for your question or statement. And then I can give you a coherent response. And you might have a better chance of getting my response without having to repeat yourself.

Write on.

Originally published at on September 9, 2018.



Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.