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Facilitating Conversation in a Foreign Language

29 February 2008

Ten years ago Pauline Needham could speak only three words. Ten days ago, she facilitated a conversation among six people with aphasia in a small town in Bavaria. She spoke English. Those who could talk, spoke German. Communication barriers quickly tumbled – neither aphasia, nor language could stop conversation and communication.

In February Connect was invited to participate in the Wuerzburg Aphasietage conference. This event was staged by the German Aphasia Self-Help Association and attended by over three hundred professionals, people with aphasia and their relatives from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Germany has a strong national network of aphasia self-help organisations, but Association members admit that local group activities are often led by professionals or relatives. Connect was asked to demonstrate its pioneering work to enable people with aphasia to take leadership roles in supporting other people with aphasia.

Sally Byng, Connect's Access to Life Project Director, gave the keynote address. She described the development of Connect's programmes and how they are being implemented to transform services for people with aphasia.  In Cornwall a dynamic group of activists with aphasia lead conversation groups, are starting to offer hospital and home befriending visits, train health and social care professionals to communicate effectively, and run regional 'hubs' to develop new opportunities for people with aphasia.  

Pauline Needham has led the Penzance conversation group since October. At a workshop in Wuerzburg, she invited people with aphasia to join her in conversation as professionals and relatives looked on.  One member of the group had very little speech. One man disagreed with the conversation subject selected. With a German translator whispering over her shoulder, Pauline negotiated a new topic and rapidly included everyone in the discussion.

'The language was no problem. We talked and wrote and gestured and laughed, just as we do in Penzance.'

Person with aphasia communicating in Germany

Pauline, far right, demonstrating how people with aphasia can run their own conversation groups.

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