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Masking communication

I was recently outside of the U.S. where English is not the native language. We were all wearing masks, and trying to speak with each other — I spoke only a little of their language and they spoke a little more English. These conversations are difficult enough. But when we’re both wearing masks, it sometimes felt futile and impossible. Tensions were higher, and frustrations were deeper.

Listening to another language takes a sharp ear. Audio is dulled and consonants are smeared when spoken from behind a mask. Even the sharpest ears struggle to follow along.

Tone and emotional valences are buried behind the mask. It’s not easy to tell if the other person is smiling or scowling, or if their intentions are positive or negative, or how they’re receiving what you have to say to them.

I don’t have hearing loss myself, but having spoken to dozens of folks with all stages of hearing loss, my experience abroad — communicating in foreign languages wearing masks — seemed to mirror the experiences of what it’s like to communicate with someone when you have hearing loss—it’s just f**king difficult!

Unlike their experiences, however, both parties in my conversations were at a disadvantage. If I was the only party in the conversation not able to understand the other person — I can imagine how the conversation would be imbalanced, and that to the other person I might seem either stupid, or unwell.

I learned a ton from this experience and it has further deepened my empathy for how people struggle with hearing loss.

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