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serenade's avatar

Suggestions for befriending a deaf person?

Asked by serenade (3784points) August 24th, 2012 from iPhone

I work with a deaf person who’s a cool guy and who I’d like to befriend. We’ve managed to get to know each other a little and he’s taught me a few signs that I usually don’t recall a few days later. Obviously, I need to become undaunted by the prospect of learning sign language, but so far it’s been too daunting.

Do you have suggestions or experience with this? Is there an online resource you like? Thanks!

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11 Answers

filmfann's avatar

Am I to understand he does not speak?
There are many good sign language classes at adult night school. It is very easy to learn, if explained well.
Your friend may not want to sign with you. Talk to him about it.

snowberry's avatar

Being deaf in a hearing world tends to feel very isolating. This man may really appreciate your advances toward friendship. If he has been deaf his whole life, there is a great deal that he have missed growing up, or in every day life.

When confusion or misunderstandings occur (they will; it’s just a matter of when), be careful to flesh out the entire situation. Share your feelings- good and bad, and ask him to express his.

If you can find a sign language class, go. You might even ask him to go with you once in a while so he can see what you are doing. Once you’ve got some signing under your belt, you might be interested in contacting a school for the deaf and see if they offer social activities for their students and for anyone learning sign language to go and practice.

serenade's avatar

No, he doesn’t speak. I should have clarified. Thanks.

gailcalled's avatar

Can he read your lips if you stand facing him and articulate? Is he willing to write on a small white board?

CWOTUS's avatar

I think you’re asking one thing, but wanting to know something else entirely.

Befriending people is pretty simple, as a rule. Just be friendly. It’s pretty much that easy.

You seem to be wanting to know “How should I interact with someone who is profoundly deaf?” In that case, the thing you’ll want to know is “How should I communicate with him?” It would be best to ask him that, rather than take the advice of a bunch of people who, as well-meaning as we might be, have no idea of the details of your working relationship.

But we also have some deaf people in the room; perhaps they can help with specific advice.

I would definitely make a better effort to retain what has been taught to you as signs. If you’re forgetting simple signs after a couple of days, then it may seem to him that you just don’t care, and that you’re just going through the motions of appearing to be polite.

Kayak8's avatar

I have had a number of opportunities to make friends with Deaf both at work and in my general life. The more time I spend signing, the better I get. Two folks in particular were extremely patient with me and would gently correct me or fill in things I missed and we would just laugh about it (one was my confusion between the similar signs for lunch and for lesbian, so you can imagine how that went).

Learning finger spelling (the alphabet) is a great way to start because then you can spell the word you intend and your friend can show you the sign (if there is one, some words just have to be spelled out).

One of them has become a very close friend and we do things several times a month as her work schedule allows. We have gone kayaking and zip-lining and hiking and watch captioned movies together etc. As I can tend to be verbose with my hearing friends, I find that my Deaf friend is one of the best people to talk to when I have a problem as I have to be succinct (due to my signing limitations) and I often can get right to the heart of the problem pretty quickly.

augustlan's avatar

Learning the ASL alphabet is fairly easy, with practice, and is a good start to signing. I’d ask him if he’s interested in helping you learn more (basically, can he deal with your initial incompetence or if it will just make him frustrated), or if he’d prefer to write with you to have conversations.

linguaphile's avatar

Background info… I’m Deaf and choose not to speak in general company—prefer to use ASL and am a very active member of the Deaf community where I don’t feel isolated at all. I go to a state U right now and this is my life—it’s very hard for people who can hear to understand that I don’t have a problem with my 115 Db hearing loss at all and have no interest in gaining the ability to hear. That’s my world-view but each deaf person has their own world-view. There’s no cookie-cutter answer.

For me, I have friends who can hear too—most of them have picked up ASL to some degree. I have family members that don’t sign, but we communicate in our own ways. What I can say is… if a hearing person treats me normal and tries to communicate confidently and comfortably in whatever way possible, I befriend them easily. BUT… if the hearing person has that wide-eyed “OMG, she’s DEAF” vibe, I run, run away fast. I have no interest in dealing with people who are all in awe of my deafness, or totally overdo it.

Just relax, learn ASL if it works for both of you, and stay comfortable and confident… and keep a sense of humor about having to clarify over and over to make sure you guys are on the same page.

AngryWhiteMale's avatar

What @linguaphile (and everyone else) said.

I’d ask first what communication method he prefers, then go with that. Learning any language is daunting at first, but the only wait to retain vocabulary (and grammar) is to use it. If you make a good faith effort to use the signs you’ve learned, it shows you’re making an effort to communicate. If he’s as nice a guy as you say, he’ll encourage that and help you out as you go along. But communication with anyone is a two-way street. Just saying “hi” or “bye” or whatever won’t advance communication. So don’t be afraid to aim for more than just simple comments/phrases.

As @filmfann and others suggested, taking a class would be very helpful, if you’re so inclined. Ask your co-worker for suggestions on where to go.

Like @linguaphile said, keeping a sense of humor is probably the most important thing (and I think that’s true for just about everything!) :)

One more thing to add: @gailcalled, lipreading is very inexact, and not necessarily the best option (as I said above, best is to ask the deaf co-worker’s communication preferences!). However, your suggestion of a whiteboard is a very good one, and may help @serenade‘s co-work not just with @serenade, but with work in general.

linguaphile's avatar

To add to what @AngryWhiteMale said— there have been numerous studies that calculated the percentage of sounds visible on the lips in normal conversations… it falls between 20–30%.

So think about it… at best, if only 30% of the sounds are visible, that means 70% is either guessed at, figured out through context or missed. If a person has a good amount of hearing to use, they can fill in some of that 70% with what they hear. (Check it in the mirror: saying Becky from St. Paul looks a LOT like Mandy from Denmark. I made that mistake in high school.)

The first thing a person with a slight hearing loss misses is prosody and inflection— and those aren’t visible on the lips. When you think about how much meaning is in prosody and inflection, not in the words, it’s huge.

Don’t let this faze you, @serenade—do clarify, check, repeat, rephrase—don’t assume anything and learning to communicate can be lots, lots of fun :)

AngryWhiteMale's avatar

“Way,” not “wait,” and “co-worker,” not “co-work.” sigh Edit is your friend…

Piggybacking on @linguaphile‘s excellent comments once again, look in the mirror, and say “island view”. What does it look like?

Also to add to @linguaphile‘s latest answer, for hard-of-hearing and deaf people alike, context makes a big difference in following the conversation. Thus, simple exchanges like “Good morning” and “How are you” are anticipated questions and easy to navigate. Group discussions or more complex answers require knowing the context, and that is where a deaf or hard-of-hearing person is going to get lost. When you can assist with cluing them into the topic, you’ll make communication that much easier and foster genuine connections.

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