– Paul Grieve (ILAC Teacher)
Two years ago I taught Advanced Business English and had the pleasure of teaching a very hard-working student from the Czech Republic. This student was remarkable in many ways, but stood out in one way in particular; she was deaf.
On her first day, Eva came to me to explain her situation, expressing concern that her hearing impairment may affect her ability to participate fully in class. I asked her a few questions to assess her listening skills, which were actually quite strong. When I mentioned this, she told me she relied heavily on her ability to read lips. When I asked how comfortable she felt in telephone conversations, either in English or Czech, she replied that phone conversations were challenging, but not impossible as long as her hearing aid was working.
I calmed her fears, saying I was confident she’d be able to keep up with the other students. Not only did Eva keep up, she excelled, becoming a class leader in terms of enthusiasm, and in her ability to make herself understood.
Eva performed admirably, until one day I asked her to participate in an exercise that required her to listen to other students in a way that prevented her from relying on her hearing aid. I often had students perform an exercise where one read a long paragraph to another student, who had to write down the paragraph word-for-word. The trick was that the students had to do this while sitting back-to-back. This served two purposes. The first was to eliminate any reliance on non-verbal forms communication – students could work only with what they heard, not saw. It also increased the level of difficulty by forcing students to listen to a partner facing in the opposite direction while other groups spoke around them.
As the other students began the exercise, Eva came to me, worried. She complained that there was no way she could perform this task since she would be unable to read lips. She asked if she could face her partner on account of her hearing problem. She was disappointed when I said that she could not. Afraid that she was being set up for failure, she insisted that I relent and allow her to read lips. Again, I refused, explaining that there was no harm in trying. If she couldn’t do it, okay, but if she could find a way to succeed, it would open doors for her.
Eva tried the exercise. It was difficult at first, but she worked extremely hard, using every communication skill she had. She asked her partner “Could you speak more slowly please? Could you please repeat that sentence? Can you spell that word for me?” and other questions designed to slow the pace and confirm accuracy. In the middle of all the chaos, faced with what she considered an impossible difficulty, Eva succeeded. When she finished writing down the paragraph, she showed me her paper and I compared it to the original. It was a perfect copy, without a single error. When I told her this, she was so happy, she almost cried.
During the time she spent in my class, she performed this exercise and many others, even more difficult. A year after she left ILAC, I got an email from her asking if I could write her a letter of reference for a scholarship she was applying for, that focused on how hard she’d worked to overcome her hearing challenges. Of course, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help her any way I could. I sent the letter and, a few months later, received another email. She’d successfully passed the interview and won the scholarship. Eva also informed me that the jury had cited her determination to overcome her hearing impairment as demonstrated by my letter had been a key factor in her success.
Every student faces his or her own challenges and, while those challenges may be different than those Eva faced, the fact is if you work hard you can achieve more than you know. Eva’s story should be an inspiration for everyone.