Language Barriers

What My Daughter Has Taught Me

Being able to communicate is an important aspect of being human.  Miscommunication or a lack of communication has created not only hurt feelings but have led to vast chasms between family, friends co-workers, and even entire countries.  What a gift to be able to clearly express our thoughts and ideas; and have those clearly received.

When we first adopted our daughter, Faith who is profoundly deaf, in 2009, we quickly recognized how difficult communication can sometimes.  Even now, nearly 4 years later, our family continues to work on strengthening this aspect of our lives.  For Faith, we have chosen American Sign Language as her primary language, and English as her secondary.

At nearly 4 years old, when she joined our family she could not speak, read lips, sign, read or write.  She had 3 ways of communicating her feelings:  1. Thumbs up; 2. Crying; and 3. Snarling.  That was it.

For attention she would misbehave or just take it upon herself to get what she needed. Although I would consider her a master of communication, subtly and exact meaning, more often than not, were completely lost.  It is not so much frustrating as sad for me because I long for her to always be understood, and I, of course, long for her to know exactly what I am intending to share with her Whether it be a school lesson, a set of directions (especially ones meant to keep her safe), or just how much I lover her.  Even the most skilled interpreters may fail to translate the precise message intended by either speaker.  Which I witnessed for myself, when my very imperfect ASL was translated (more specifically voiced) during a signed skit I was participating in.  A few times, I would hear the interpreter assign the wrong words to my signed conversation; unable to halt the skit and correct what had already been said was frustrating but incredibly eye-opening. That performance experience definitely helped me understand the expression, “lost in translation”.

Faith Communicated Clearly

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What fascinated me was the comparison of such a phenomenon of communication break-down to sharing, witnessing or teaching our faith to others.  Catholicism has a language of it’s very own — when we throw out words, concepts and ideas such as:  Sacraments, consubstantiation, novenas, indulgences, rosary, liturgy, grace, and scapular – just to name a few.   Although born into a Catholic faith; even as an adult I was ill-prepared to practice my faith. The saddest part for me came in realizing I didn’t even know, what I didn’t know – and was missing out on – in my own faith!  In the misinterpretation or lack of communication of the Church’s teachings and beliefs, many drift away completely unaware that what they have left  – never have been taught the true Catholic faith.

​Some of What I Wish I Had Known

I am a cradle Catholic, which means I have grown up Catholic – its what I relate to culturally and spiritually.  However, for 30+ years of being a Catholic,I had many wrong ideas of the faith I claimed as my own.  I sometimes laugh at the lack of knowledge I possessed.  One of the more comical errors included not knowing the readings proclaimed during the Mass were Scripture (aka from the Bible) – I’m not exactly sure where I thought they came from – perhaps at some time I made an assumption that the Popes wrote all these great stories to teach us from?   I also used to say that there was no Hell, that this experience on earth was really our hell and I was pretty sure we all went to Heaven.  How dangerous for my soul.  I had no concept how Jesus’ work on the cross redeems, opening the gates to Heaven; but I still have free will that can put my salvation at risk.

The beauty is God is always working within us in every aspect of our lives to make us the best versions of ourselves.  After (now 7) years of using American Sign Language to communicate; my ASL skills have improved immensely.  While I still struggled to understand the language when presented to me, it has improved in leaps and bounds.  The more I learned of the structure of the language, saw it used, and practiced these new skills with native users of the language, the better I am getting.

This lesson can so easily be transferred to growing in the knowledge, use and practice of our faith.  The more time we spend learning of the structure of the Catholic Faith – so carefully constructed by the early Church, and still to this day prayerfully guided. When we witness it used – through participating in the Mass, Catholic events and every day life, and most importantly step out of ourselves to no longer be observers but active participants — making our mistakes, but yet working daily to acquire a better grasp on the faith.   At the core is communication – there will be misunderstanding, but without an effort to communicate at all, there will never be an improvement. ​

​All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2016

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