Bridging Culture with Language Beyond Words

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“There is a language that is beyond words. If I can learn to decipher that language without words, I will be able to decipher the world.” Paulo Cohelo

TakingITGlobal recently facilitated a collaborative workshop with the DEAF CULTURE CENTRE, bringing together participants from Deaf and hearing communities in a creative dialogue and art making session. The interaction focused on the two themes of social connection and the changes we want to implement as Canadians as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

It was fascinating to enter a space and a community where conversations can occur without saying a word, where our eyes become our ears and our hands become our mouths. Bridging across these two languages through dialogue and creativity was amazingly beautiful.

“Learning about different communities in the world is important, especially minority communities. We should all strive to include all people and have they feel that they belong despite their identity.” Workshop Participant

Observing the differences between Deaf culture and communication patterns from a hearing perspective was an incredible, eye and mind opening experience. When the Deaf and hearing community engage in a single conversation, there are really two parallel channels of the dialogue occurring at once with the assistance of an interpreter through which everything flows. This person acts as an intermediary, bridging between two worlds, two communities and two channels of thought within the dialogue. This interpretation changes the very pattern of interaction itself, slowing down the flow of information to enable encoding, translation and transmission from one group to another.

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“Sign language is a dance with words, to be enjoyed from babyhood through childhood to adulthood.” Marilyn Daniels

This slowing down feature made the group conversation more connected and more empathetic, as the challenge of understanding a community who does not ‘speak’ the same language relies upon messages being sent twice, once verbally and once through ASL (American Sign Language) and/or LSQ (langue des sign québécoise).

This created more time for each message communicated to resonate, to ‘sink in’ and be felt by those present. It is incredible to first observe someone communicate with their hands via ASL, a performative action, then to learn what has been communicated via auditory sounds. It is similarly fascinating to speak a message to group of participants and then have your words symbolized in real time.

This type of communication across communities who come from very different experiences and cultural backgrounds can be taken as a metaphor for Canada itself. As a country where people have settled from all over the world, our collective difference, the huge range of experience we share, enables an inter-cultural perspective which allows us to balance and move between multiple identities, perspectives and communities at once.

“As a Canadian, I learned all four languages: English, French, ASL and LSQ, this makes me very proud to connect with both communities that I represent.” Workshop Participant

The experience of the workshop made me realize how, within the hearing community, we are often not really hearing each other. While our ears may collect the sounds made by the mouths of other people, our eyes and attention may be in another place entirely. As communicating across these different communities requires our full attention, it fosters a more intentional, deliberate and connected form of social interaction.

pic2“The problem is not that the Deaf do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen.” Rev Jesse L Jackson

Through our workshop dialogue, we explored how we can foster stronger social connections between hearing and Deaf communities, how members of the Deaf community can feel incredibly isolated, especially when they are not allowed to sign, to access the range of creative Deaf Culture available to them. We also explored how members of the Deaf community support each other to ensure their rights are exercised. We discussed how we can ensure events are welcoming and accessible to the Deaf community and how our differences should not prevent us from each contributing to our communities; that we all have different gifts to offer.

“I feel more attached to my own community which is Deaf. We have so many issues that I want to be part of changing those issues for a better future for the next Deaf generation… It is very beneficial because it will help people to learn and identify what skills they can contribute to change.” Workshop Participant

Participants in the workshop were particularly interested in the role of technology in driving change. There is a lot of hope in the connective role technology can play to facilitate smoother language communication between Deaf and hearing communities. In particular, the ability for technology to provide an interface which encodes sign languages into spoken word and vice versa.

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“A different language is a different vision of life.” Federico Fellini

As TakingITGlobal works at the intersection of young people, global issues and technology, we are also very excited about how technology can be used to foster deeper connections, build bridges across cultures and allow people to communicate and act upon the things that are important to them. We are very interested in fostering further connections and collaborations between the DEAF CULTURE CENTRE and the Canadian Cultural Society for the Deaf. At the conclusion of the workshop, TakingITGlobal was invited to participate in the Deaf Leadership Camp held in Montreal over the summer. We can’t wait to engage with these incredible youth leaders from across Canada and to build further connections and relationships.