Charlie is a writer and filmmaker, and was responsible for the award-winning Coming Out, which sees "a deaf boy go to his hearing mother with a surprising revelation" - watch it to find out what it is. He then went on make his directing debut with Four Deaf Yorkshiremen, and followed it up with a sequel. You can check out Charlie's personal website too.
Talking the talk
20th April 2009
She started laughing. Nothing unusual about that - she laughs at a lot of things I do. But then she said something. "Walking!" she said. "Walking!"
I was missing something obvious, but I had no idea what it was. I attempted to move on. "We'll be back in an hour," I said. She smiled some more, knowingly. I facially expressed confusion with a quizzical brow, as if to ask "what?" Then she told me - "You don't pronounce the 'l'".
Later that day I got my answer. Older adults (older than me, at least) came round to see the baby, and listened to me saying the word 'walk' over and over again. They looked at me as if I was a very interesting specimen, before confirming that my partner was, annoyingly, absolutely right.
You say 'walking' without even a trace of an 'l'. 'Warking' would be a more accurate way of writing it phonetically, but my hearing aids had never picked this out. Worse, other words with a silent 'l' were 'talking', 'stalking,' and - in case I ever go into the teaching profession - 'chalking'.
My deafness has been rated moderate to severe since I was born, and I learned to speak largely by saying things the way I heard them - though what I heard was via bog-standard NHS hearing aids: blunt instruments that, in my case, seem to have totally missed out these subtle 'l's. Pronunciation is something I've had to work at.
In Mothercare on Sunday, the checkout assistant asked me "would you like a store card?" and I swear, the word 'wark' nearly popped out in reply.
Though it took a weekend to hard wire the new 'walk' into my mind, it took me longer to get over a general sense of betrayal. Why hadn't anyone mentioned this silent 'l' during my twenty-seven years on this Earth? Through school, sixth form and university, numerous jobs and social encounters, teachers, friends, colleagues - was no-one brave enough to put me right?
Or is noticing an error of pronunciation a bit like seeing a giant ready-to-burst yellow spot on someone's face? It's difficult to talk to them because you're distracted, but you don't want to be the one to tell them it's there.
This wasn't the first time that 'Ch' had proved problematic. When I was in primary school, I went with my class to a recording of the Children's BBC programme Take Two. We were to be part of the studio audience putting questions to the actor Dexter Fletcher, one of the stars of Press Gang, a popular kids' series at that time.
I was incredibly proud when one of my questions – in which I asked Dexter how he got into character – was featured in the final broadcast version of the show.
My delight was short-lived, however. Ten minutes after the programme ended, I got a call from a relative correcting me for pronouncing 'character' as it is written, rather than how it should be said. 'Character' is said as if it starts with a 'k' – 'karacter'. I was mortified. Luckily, being only ten years old at the time, my embarrassment faded away as quickly as I could pick up my Thundercats figures and start playing with them.
She explained that when people say 's' they make a very slight hissing noise at the start. A hissing noise I'd never picked up on. So each week I'd go and hiss, and after what felt like a long time, I was released back into the wild. I must have been the only kid in the country who'd go and hiss at an old lady every Tuesday, and actually get complimented for it.
When you don't hear so well, you get a bit unsure how to speak. Every now and then, in conversation, I realise that I'm about to say a word that I can see on a page in my mind, but can't remember quite how to say. So without consciously deciding to, I find myself adding a rider in anticipation of getting it wrong - "I'm not sure how you say this, but, er, the word I'm looking for is loquacious?"
My difficulty in hearing the nuances of speech have made learning a new language difficult - I once went on a German exchange for two weeks and taught my host family how to speak English, but I came home knowing barely more German than I'd left with. And French … don't even get me started on French. 'Merci' was as far as I got. When I'm in France, I'm very polite, which is all I can be.
I've got 'warking' set in my mind now, but what worries me is the next time I realise I've been getting it wrong. Where will I be? How old will I be?
I've got this nightmare scenario of being 83 years old and someone saying to me: "Charlie old boy, you don't say 'can you say that again?' quite like that!" 83 years of getting it wrong – that would be hard to take.
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