Temporarily Mute: An Overview of Communication Methods

If you’ve run into me in the past 2 days, I’ve squeaked at you and scribbled on my notebook “lost my voice! How are you?” As of this post, I am still mute. However, I will write it in the past tense to create a false sense of encouragement that my voice will return soon.

At first, I attempted to squeak and whisper to talk over the phone and converse with friends over lunch. Vibrating my swollen larynx made my problem worse. Thus, I switched to keeping my mouth shut and set about finding less damaging methods of communication.

Gestures/ASL My first realization was that my knowledge of sign language is useless without having conversation partners who are also fluent in ASL. (This supports my opinion that ASL should be a required language in elementary schools, or at least present at every primary school as an afterschool club.)

Without both parties knowing ASL, gestures lose their usefulness and specificity. While communicating with general gestures is useful, playing conversation charades is highly inefficient for conveying complex information.

The most useful gesture I’ve found is that of pointing. Pointing to my notebook where I’ve scribbled things or to my computer screen where I’ve typed something - which brings me to…

Text I type an order of magnitude faster than I write, so, when possible, I relied on typing in gedit (Notepad, TextEdit, etc. depending on your platform and preferred plain text editor).

However, there were myriad situations writing in my notebook was easier. Additionally, scribbling furiously has the added benefit of being amusing to observers.

The efficiency of typing and scribbling is greatly improved by not deleting or scribbling out previous conversations. As you build a library, you can gesture, draw arrows, highlight, circle, etc. your previous phrases instead of creating each new sentence from scratch.

Text-to-Speech apps TL;DR I found it mainly useful for getting people’s attention.

When unable to get your intended conversation partner’s attention (if pointing or tapping their shoulder fails), using text-to-speech apps is useful. Out of SVOX, Talk, and Virtual Voice (free on Google Play), I found Virtual Voice to be the easiest to use and the most natural sounding.

The main issue I found with text-to-speech apps is the lag time. By the time I was able to type my sentences out fully and press “speak”, the conversation had moved on. Text-to-speech apps have the disadvantage of not being able to repeat past comments and phrases. I found myself deleting text repeatedly, and ruling out comments as not important enough to type for one time usage.

My main finding was the kindness of people. Strangers recommended cold remedies and offered me lozenges. People got the attention of professors for me, or acted as my text-to-speech mechanisms. A funny instance of this occurred during my Quantum Mechanics class as I was attempting to respond to a classmate who asked “Which old quantum mechanics papers do you [our QM professor] recommend?”

I responded (by furiously typing in gedit) “Learn German to read old Quantum Mechanics books and articles. An example of this is Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik by Johann von Neumann. Highly recommend.” However, the friend who was kind enough to act as my voice didn’t know German, and hilariously Americanized the pronunciation of the title and author of the book. This amused the professor, who speaks German. The professor was further amused as I attempted to squeak out the correct pronunciation.

Being temporarily mute taught me to value my voice and helped me to explore the efficiency of methods of communication to the general population (those who are not versed in ASL).

Communication is mostly used for creating connections - not necessarily just the connections between people, but the connections between ideas.

Every conversation creates connections in your mind between previously separated concepts and spark chains of new ideas. Value this truth, and utilize it. Go call a loved one and tell them I love you or record yourself singing a song, and appreciate your voice for the efficient vessel of connection it is.

Written on September 17, 2013