All The Sound They Cannot Hear

 Dr. Emad A. S. Abu-Ayyash

Faculty of Education


In 2014, I read Anthony Doerr’s inspiring novel “All The Light We Can Not See”. The protagonist was a blind girl, Marie-Laure, who, against all odds survived very tough war conditions. Despite her blindness, she could find the glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel; that glimpse changed her life. This novel lingered in mind, and it wasn’t until 2017 that I went through my own story with around 30 people of determination – 30 deaf learners who were willing to take an English language course and who were seeking a volunteer.


I decided to take the challenge although, at initial thought, this looked like taking a spoon into a knife fight. It was my first experience, the very first time I was going to work with people of determination, particularly people with hearing disabilities. At the moment I decided to take up the challenge, “All The Light We Can Not See” swept over my mind. I recalled: With all the light Marie-Laure could not see, her heart was her source of light, and she could end up a successful person. So, I wondered: With all the sound they could not hear, could those hearing-impaired learners survive an English language course? I ruminated over this question over and over, and I decided to do all that it took to get the content across to them.


Mind you, dear teachers, sign language was to me as complicated as Einstein’s theories to many of you. And this course – I’d never experienced such a thing before!

I prepared a vocabulary-rich course since I assumed, and I was right, that for a teacher who did not know sign language, the best strategy was to show the word and its corresponding picture. “Pictures would say the messages I can’t communicate,” I told myself.


I won’t deny, dear teachers, that the first time I stepped into the class, my heart was battering in my throat. But in a very short while, they forced me to fling my concerns through the window, and get highly engaged in what came to be the most interesting, one-of-a-kind, mutual teaching and learning experience in my entire life. They were my teachers in many occasions: They taught me how to say “I am a teacher of English” in sign language; they taught me how to clap my hands (because if I clapped the normal way, they wouldn’t hear me), and they taught me how to attract their attention (by switching the lights on and off). They did their sign-language teaching part very well.


In that course, I introduced 100 new words to them. They memorized ALL of them, with most of them getting the correct spelling as well. I am not sure whether they were naturally smart, whether the visuals I used found their way to them easily, whether the words were easy, or whether they liked the class and engaged positively. But there is something I can say with confidence: They were brilliant. As for me, I was never hindered as a teacher by the fact that they were unable to speak and hear; beholding their grins, hearing their giggles, feeling their enthusiasm got many of their messages across to me.


As for them, with all the sound they could not hear, they proved they had high potential for learning a second language. With all the sound they could not hear, they proved they were brilliant. With all the sound they could not hear, they were able to communicate in the best way. And with all the sound they could not hear, they inculcated in me the desire to repeat this experience again and again and again.


As for you, dear teachers, if you wish to experience authentic and inspiring language instruction classes, seek them at the doors of people of determination. And rest-assured, dear teachers, communicating language can transpire very well through bridges of soundless interaction. It is true, dear teachers; ask Mary-Laure; it is true.


The British University in Dubai

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