Laurie Wells, AuD – Associates In Acoustics, Inc.
Do you remember your first Occupational Hearing Conservation (OHC) course? Remember all of the acronyms, new terms and unfamiliar concepts you had to learn in just two-and-a-half days? Taking the OHC course is challenging, especially for those who haven’t had any prior experience with hearing conservation. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to absorb all of that information in a non-native language! For many Americans, this is unthinkable since, like me, we study foreign languages for only a few semesters in high school or college at best. So it is with great respect, admiration, and humility, that I’ve entered nine different countries outside of the United States, to teach CAOHC courses – in English!
These courses were sponsored by either Procter & Gamble, conducted for its occupational health providers in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia, or by R.O.S.E. Environmental, Ltd., occupational and environmental equipment and services provider in Trinidad & Tobago, West Indies. Altogether, the course participants hailed from 29 different countries. Each course used two Course Directors: Deanna Meinke, PhD, or Theresa Small, AuD, and me, plus supplemental instructors from the sponsoring company. The learning outcomes have been remarkable: to date, all participants have successfully earned the OHC credential, and the instructors have gained enlightened perspectives, better teaching skills, and lifetime friendships around the world. This short article can’t begin to capture the richness of my experiences, but here are some fun insights into conducting CAOHC courses outside the United States.
Teaching in a foreign country has made me aware of how deeply immersed I am in my own culture. Things inherently common to me may be totally, well, foreign, to someone in another country. Jokes, slang, and metaphors, often don’t translate well and cultural references are missing. Try playing the “JepEARdy” game in a country that has never seen the Jeopardy television show. As a presenter in front of an audience of non-native English speakers, I’ve discovered everything I say is scrutinized for meaning. The sentence “the microprocessor audiometer spits out the test results” conjures an amusing image when translated literally. It is fun to learn alternative words to ours: the soundtreated “booth” is a “cabin” in Belgium. Oh – and at the beginning of the day, turn on the “beamer” (computer projector) and turn off your “handy” (cell phone).
The complexity of the English language becomes painfully obvious. I remember the blank stares I got during my first foreign course when asking the group questions, like “How many of you have ever done a hearing test before?” It took a couple of times before I realized the grammatical structure of “how many of you have ever done . . .” was far too complicated. Once I rephrased the questions into the present tense, such as “Who tests hearing?” everyone understood. Don’t forget the non-verbal communication. Nodding in India is totally different than nodding in the United States! Yes? No?
Even a basic discussion about how noise damages hearing can take a surprising twist when one recognizes that noise sources are culturally and geographically unique. For example, in the United States, recreational firearm use is pervasive. As a leading cause of noise-induced hearing loss, it is an important question on our hearing health history forms and a significant topic of discussion in the CAOHC course. But in many countries, the general population has limited or no access to firearms. Likewise, asking about snowmobile use to people who have never seen snow becomes laughable! What are “noisy hobbies” in other countries?” In the West Indies, the sound everyone knows is the music of the steel pan drums: an acoustic icon of Trinidad & Tobago. How about the sound of the vuvuzela at soccer, I mean, football games? A chorus of tree frogs after dark? The blasting horns of the lories? Whether hazardous to hearing or not, it is fascinating to learn the indicative sounds of a particular country or culture. Furthermore, making these personal connections enriches the course for the participants and broadens the perspectives of the instructors.
How do you spell CAOHC in Hungarian? The first morning of our course in Budapest, I noticed the sign designating our classroom read “C.A.H.O.C.” I kindly explained and requested that it be reprinted to correct the error. The next morning, a smiling hotel attendant pointed to the fresh sign. I thanked her for the favor and smiled to myself. The new sign read “C.O.A.C.H.” A fitting title, I decided, and kept it.
As an American, traveling to foreign countries, I am keenly sensitive to the global perception of both the good and the bad of American influences. I like the idea of being a hearing conservation “coach” to shape, build, and encourage better hearing loss prevention practices – unless of course, you are talking about a “motorbus.”