My First Language is Garbled


By Chloe Keilers

firstChloe Keilers visiting the MIT campus

It was crunch time for a paper and I wanted to do my best.My high school has a writing center where anyone can sign up for help with Language Arts assignments. So, I stopped by and signed up for an appointment for someone to look at my paper. The teacher who was working during the time of my appointment had a noticeable foreign accent, almost like English was her second language. Yet, despite this possible fact, she was very good at catching both sentences that did not make sense and grammatical errors. But the killer was not that I had a lot of mistakes in my paper, but when she came to talk me through the draft the first thing she asked me was, "Is English your second language?"

Now, I want to make one thing clear before I continue. English was my first and only language up until a couple of years ago when I started learning a little bit of ASL, Spanish, and Latin, but even today, spoken English is my primary language. So when she asked me that, I was thinking to myself, "What?! I can only speak English! What does she mean?” I thought I had relatively good English for a native English speaker.

She could probably tell that I was puzzled, because she patted my arms and said "It's very good, but there are a few things here and there that you need to clear up. For example, most English speakers would not say this phrase, instead they would say it this way. You see what I mean?" And so she walked me through the paper, pointing out things that native English speakers would normally not do as well as mistakes that are common to all English speakers. In this way, she helped me improve not only my paper, but also my regular English.

I think that was the first time it really struck me that my speech and writing were impacted by my hearing loss.This situation was not the first time someone asked me if I spoke another language. One time someone asked me what kind of accent I had. The truth, I realized later, was that I had a deaf accent.

Upon further reflection, I discovered what was truly my first language. It happened during a start of a school meeting with new teachers. I was asked to explain to the teachers what I heard and the definition of a new language clicked into my head and I said "My first language is Garbled." For a lot of teachers, that explained everything. I can hear, but I am not always hearing sounds that make up coherent words, even with the use of my hearing aids and FM microphone system. Most likely it is garbled enough that no one understands; sometimes even I don't understand it.

Miss Keilers is a regular blogger at and is a high school student in New Mexico. This was adapted from her November 30, 2013 blog.

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