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Friday, May 13, 2005

Listening up....

An eventful day of sorts -- I finally picked up the hearing aid for my left ear. The fact that it was for the left ear rather than a right was merely a matter of arbitrary choice. About a year ago, when I had my hearing checked, it was determined that I needed help in both ears, but the NHS would only do one of the time.

Although the British health system is infamous for long waits for services such as this, the extended wait in this case was a combination of my travel schedule conflicting with their scheduling procedures. When we finally settled on today's appointment, nothing was going to interfere -- not even a trip to Paris that I passed up in order to keep this appointment....

I've tried out the unit for several hours today -- an hour or two at different times. The sensation is like having half your head submerged in water. In addition, I am hearing myself much more clearly than I am hearing others, but I was told this is something I'll get used to over time. The unit is clear plastic, and the only part that might be visible is the tanish unit itself that fits over the ear. My long hair tends to hide that, and so several folks I was chatting with during the Institute coffee break late this morning were not aware of it.

In opting for finally getting a hearing aid, I'm hoping not only to hear sounds that I've been missing for the past decade or so, but also to improve my capacity to understand some of my colleagues here in Northern Ireland. As readers of my blog know, I'm a real fan of Belfast and Queens University, but there are times (many, many times) when I can't quite make out the language. I know it's English (most of the time), but there are certain speakers to whom I can merely respond with a smile and head shake while saying "uh-huh" in a fruitless effort to convince them that I really understanding everything they're telling me. What makes it all worse is that I have the greatest difficulty with the most common accents in Northern Ireland -- usually described as a broad scottish accent with a bit more mumble (listen to Radio Ulster or Radio Foyle for a bit to get a taste of what I am talking about -- especially the call-in shows). I think I've gotten better over the past 18 months, but there are still folks that I find difficult to understand.

The problems I (and others) have with the Northern Irish accent is truly amazing when you consider some of the folks in the entertainment business who come from around here. Listen to Liam Neeson sometime, or James Nesbitt, or Ciaran Hinds as they adapt their voices to the roles they play. Chameleon voices. But it is more than merely role playing -- listening to a Van Morrison interview this morning on BBC4 Radio, I was struck by the extent to which he has lost -- or chose to lose -- his northern Irish brogue in the interview, and it certainly is not in evidence in his singing. The secret (if there is one) seems to be an almost natural capacity among folks from around here to adjust their speech to the context. Example: a student in my undergraduate course here is relatively easy for me to understand when we chat one on one after class -- no problem at all. But the other day I happen to be sitting at a location near where he was chatting with his mates -- and the entire exchange could have been in a foreign tongue for all that I could gather. Different situation, different patterns of speaking.

On second thought, maybe the hearing aid won't help...


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