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Hi, interpreting.info community!

Hearing loss is a problem I've been fighting with since junior high. It is probably due to headphone abuse, but one time a doctor told me my symptom might be because of developmental disorders starting as early as I was an infant. At first, it wasn't so much of a problem as I was still able to communicate naturally with others day-to-day for the most of the time, so after a brief phase of worrying, I set the problem aside and went for interpreting.

The problem had loom larger and larger until I realize my CI performance was seriously impacted every time when the volume of the recording was below the optimal volume, which even affected my CI final exam. My teacher suggested using hearing aids after I had consulted him. But I know if I started to use them, it would be hard to take them off.

So I want to know how do you think of my situation: should I use hearing aids, and is it possible for an interpreting wearing hearing aids to survive in the market? or should I focus on SI only, where my symptom becomes a minor issue with the help of headphones?

asked 02 Jul, 11:12

EliChang's gravatar image

EliChang
21191118


Hearing problems come in many shapes and forms.

Over time, one loses their ability to hear high pitched tones. As a kid, ultra-sound mosquito repellent devices would drive me up the wall, but adults don't hear them at all.

If your hearing is affected to the point that you don't hear some of the frequencies present in the spoken spectrum, digital hearing aids can be used not to amplify the sound volume, but to reduce the frequency, so that it'll be picked up by the still remaining hearing hair cells in your cochlea.

It's a bit like turning the bass to the max on a console. Except that a console will only carry the sound of the speaker. Hearing aids will initially pick up everything around you. So, you'll end up with the ambient noise and omnidirectional sources of noise compressed into a limited frequency spectrum. Nowadays, hearing aids get smarter and can (sort of...) switch between different settings so that the device will focus on what you actually need to hear, rather than throw everything at you.

I can't tell you how that works out in a noisy environment, a panel discussion without proper amplification in the room,... But there are instinctive compensation techniques people soon acquire. One thing people who have to (re)train their brain and who have to learn to work with hearing aids are being told not to do is to read lips. But if push comes to shove, it's a great way to make up for the bits and pieces you don't hear clearly - just as body language plays a huge role in the way we understand things, even with perfect ears. A few years ago, during a two-week conference, we'd go out with the presenters and delegates. One of them was hearing-impaired. We had long conversations in the noisiest environments, pretty unhampered and at a normal distance, as she'd read lips without breaking a sweat. I was less proficient but could infer a lot from context and soundbites here and there. People around us were confused as to the sort of magic powers we had. They would struggle even when shouting in their counterpart's ear (proof that amplification only is useless ;-) ).

I guess you also would work upstream, as in putting more efforts into making sure that the working environment will be suitable for you: make sure you get the speeches in advance, put yourself in charge of how the setup and placement is done in the room (often neglected, only to find out that the interpreter can't hear well from where he was placed - fatal mistake), asking questions about the sound system (how many hovering mikes, will each panelist have a lavalier, will there be a sound engineer?), etc.

But if there's a question no one here will be able to answer, is whether your hearing is likely to degrade further, and a what speed. And whether working in the booth might make things worse faster. Once you've found yourself a specialist to explore those questions, and should you have to opt for a (high-end!) hearing aid, make sure to get your hands on an audiologist who will understand your specific needs and who'll go the extra mile to (regularly!) finetune the settings of your device to fit your professional situation. It's not cheap, to say the least, but if you need it, no reason to be penny-pinching.

The good news is that hearing aids evolve in various ways. The latest ones can get a direct Bluetooth feed, meaning that you could even get rid of the headphones on the console, by simply plugging an emitter onto the audio jack. The sound will be clearer than going having a headphone's noise being picked up by the two microphones of the hearing aid. But even without that, hearing aids nowadays will recognize what is like a phone conversation and shift into a special mode automatically, tailored for that type of noise.

Many colleagues around me don't hear as well as the general population of their age. Some work with hearing aids (although mostly in the booth). The might not have cared as much when they were young or maybe their consoles didn't provide the same sound quality as nowadays.

You have a problem and are aware of it. If you start taking very good care of your ears, maybe you'll manage to work until retirement age. Forget about music and headphones unless strictly necessary. If and when you are wearing headphones, train your brain: listen to the minimum possible volume. You'll learn to compensate for the bits and pieces you won't hear.

Maybe you could even use your problem as an advantage by specializing in medical/scientific subjects pertaining to it. Your hearing aid would be proof of your credentials and knowledge of the topics discussed, and not seen as an object making you appear to be a lesser able interpreter. The few conferences/presentations I've attended in the field were awfully technical and complex, as they bring together hi-tech medical devices, surgery (cochlear implants), physics (sound propagation), etc. And it doesn't seem to be the poorest segment of the medical specialisms that exist either...

Last but not least, carry protection. I don't leave the house without at least three pairs of earplugs (different types, different spectrums, different levels of attenuation). Friends and colleagues are used to seeing me put them on as soon as we're a noisy bar or at an open-air concert. The same people complain about tinnitus afterward, but don't fully realize that they're accelerating their hearing loss.

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answered 04 Jul, 05:36

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦
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edited 04 Jul, 06:09

Thank you, Gaspar, for your lengthy, comprehensive and above all very encouraging response. I feel relieved yet sad that I'm not the only one suffering from this problem. I just got back from a hearing specialist yesterday. The diagnosis confirmed I did have probably a genetically-caused hearing loss and using hearing aids seems like the only viable remedy. It is hard for me to take it at first and but what you wrote made me feel better. Your suggestion of specializing in this field also sounds interesting. I will look into it. Thank you.

(yesterday) EliChang
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question asked: 02 Jul, 11:12

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