"How are your children?"
What a relief! I began babbling my answer incomprehensibly, but being an intelligent woman, she managed to understand the gist of what I was saying, and we parted with a friendly wave.
My neighbor happens to have been born deaf and learned to speak as a child. However, those unused to people with such disabilities feel uncomfortable with them and, in their eagerness to understand them, fail in doing just that – or I do anyway. Perhaps, if she had addressed me in English, instead of in the native language of the country in which we live (and which I speak), I might have gleaned what she was saying. However, this is no excuse.
Perhaps we should all have been exposed to deaf people at an early age and taught sign language, so that we can use it when necessary. Maybe, instead of the French, Japanese and EFL that the education system is so eager to instill in young children, they should be introduced first to sign language and to deaf people so that the latter will not seem strange or be treated as retarded. This would make the integration of deaf children into mainstream schools (which is actually encouraged in some societies) much easier and enable them to live in a normal environment, and hearing children, and later adults, would accept them without question.
My neighbor is a happy, well-adjusted person, with a job, a family and an active social and sporting life. There is nothing wrong with her; it is me that needs correction.