Lots of interesting media coverage across the country about Stephane Dion’s newly-announced hearing loss. Indeed, he may be aiming for a sort of sympathetic or emotional reaction from voters, but that does not warrant some attacks on Dion about his hearing loss.
Hearing loss is probably one of the most common chronic disabilities in Canada. Roughly 10% of Canadians have a hearing loss. For persons over age 65, almost half of them have some degree of hearing loss. It is most likely the most invisible of all disabilities and is often the brunt of a lot of bad jokes. It’s a disability that affects so many, but is not very well understood by society in general.
I think Dion’s announcement is great exposure for the hard-of-hearing. It looks like the media made a flurry of calls to all possible hearing clinics and professionals to get information.
For Dion to say that his hearing loss affects his learning of English is not all that far-fetched. I’ve worked with ESL people with a hearing loss and they really do have a very tough time picking up the English language. English probably has some of the hardest sounds to create for non-speakers, like “th”, “r”, and “l.” With most hearing losses, people have the most trouble with “f”, “s”, and “sh” sounds in addition to the above. If you never heard it, then you never know how to form the word. Lot of English speakers make fun of people who can’t say these words, but as somebody who has studied ESL teaching and linguistics, I can tell you, those are tough sounds. You should spend a day in their shoes and learn their language. Not an easy task, I tell you.
I saw one dismissive comment saying that Dion is likely faking his hearing loss because his French his fine. I don’t know the details about his hearing loss, but I would say that if it his hearing loss progressed over time, then he may have had better hearing when he was a child. The formative years for language learning are before puberty and if his hearing was better then, then he should have no problem with French. If he learned most of his English later on, then that would explain his poorer English.
Hearing loss or not, we shouldn’t have to harp on Dion about his English. Have you listened to our other politicians speak French? I’m sure the Quebecois have a field day talking about them. But how about all the new Canadians that come to Canada? Do we make fun of their speech? Learning a second language is not easy. Everyone should do it. I mean seriously do it. Not take French 8 and then forget about it. Learning a second language opens up our eyes to a different culture and more empathetic attitude towards others.
Also, not to mention that some people are gifted in languages and others aren’t. It’s only natural that some excel in different tongues and others don’t have the knack for it. So cut Dion some slack about his speech and hearing. Some of the criticisms, especially unmoderated comments, are bordering on discrimination.