The Locked-In Traveler: The great language barrier


The Locked-In Traveler

(Kati’s Wheelchair Traveling Journals)

The great language barrier

(Click here for audio version)

Locked-In syndrome is also referred to as the Living corpse. No wonder for in the worst-case scenarios the patients cannot even move their eyes. I was completely paralyzed after the stroke. The only things I could move were my eyelids and my eyes. The only way I could communicate was by blinking my eyes. Once for; “yes” twice for; “no.” The letter board (air alphabet) was a blessing, with that system I could communicate again.

From a young age, I knew that I wanted to become a model and travel the world. It was quite logical to me that if I wanted to do that, I would have to be able to speak different languages. Most kids had a dreadful look towards foreign idioms, but not me.

In Finland, you get Swedish as a second language. In high school, you get the option to broaden your vocabulary with a variety of foreign languages. I took English for the obvious reason (you can use it anywhere in the world,) German and Italian, a country and language that I loved.

Learning these languages paid off. They came in handy in my life, love life and career. Immediately after graduating, I left for Italy to pursue my modeling career, and later, I moved to Los Angeles to make my dreams reality. Knowing the mother tongue certainly made things easier.

My mother, on the other hand, was never interested in foreign idioms. She only knew a little English (the very basic words.) She had to learn it while going through a family crisis. After the stroke, friends from all over the world started calling to ask about me. My mother had the dictionary on the phone so that she could explain my condition. She managed somehow and learned to speak some English by doing so.

Nowadays, she speaks English. However, there are still those moments of miss understanding, which end up in a good laugh. Like once her eyes went wide open as a friend was telling about this SCARF she saw in a shop by the beach, she understood a SHARK by the beach. Or another time she blushed when we were talking about BREASTS because she understood PRIESTS.

My father had his moments too. He always likes to learn a few basic words from the local language to use with the locals. Once in a restaurant when he asked for the bill to the waiter he said; “matur suksima,” which means; “thank you very much” in Balinese instead of; “mau pajar” (may I pay.) The poor waiter was puzzled and did not know what to say. The rest of us just burst into laughter as they looked at each other with a confused face.

Language can be a barrier, or it can be a bridge. It can extend your horizons or lock you up. Knowing different idioms was convenient when I was healthy, it is a blessing now that I am disabled.

My husband, Henning, is bilingual and besides that also speaks English and Spanish well (even a bit of Finnish.) He learned how to do the air spelling fast (just three days.) We communicate in English a language that we are both dominate well. There is no language barrier in our relationship.

His ability to communicate in different languages also makes it easier to travel these days. It makes it less stressful.

Nowadays you have pocket translators. Technology always helps. Nevertheless, it is good to know your languages. It can be the difference in just being physically Locked-in or locked in like as they say; “a living corpse.”


(Kati and Henning van der Hoeven)

Comments (2)

  1. Jane Ashcraft 09.11.2019 01:29

    Wonderful to read this And I Also love Languages,Kati,!! You are an INSPIRATION. THANK YOU for ALL you do in Your Marvelous Life !!

  2. Markus Joos 16.01.2020 11:17

    Hi, beeing a former COGAINER (We never really met when COGAIN was active) I fully agree with all you say – language is important, for both disabled and non-disabled. I just accidentally came across your blog and have to say that I am impressed. One question so: How do you get all this inofrmation online ? Do have an assistant that
    ‘s helps you in all this ?
    Enjoy life, just as you do now!
    Cheers, Markus
    P.s.: The eyetracker that you use in your video “Kati using Tobii” is not a Tobii, but a LC Technologies Eyegaze Edge system.

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