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I can speak five languages, despite being born with a hearing impairment

Niomi Lindfors, 36, lives in Sweden with her husband, four children and one more on the way. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist combining this with holistic treatments such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation. She speaks five languages including English, Sinhalese, German, Italian and Swedish.

I was born with no hearing in my right ear. It wasn’t really discovered until I was learning to speak.

They thought I was just a bit delayed with speech as I was bilingual, my parents were from Sri Lanka. When I was about four they realised and did some tests, I had some operations and I wore a hearing aid as a child. I also learned how to lip read. My mum sent me to some classes, but that was just for English.

When I was about nine or ten at school they were like she’s really bad at spelling and writing.

Then they did more tests and I had to have a mastoidectomy, when they remove some of the bones in the middle ear and replace them with a plastic one.

Getting the travel bug

I’ve always really liked travelling. My parents used to travel every summer holiday. They had family all around the world so we would travel to Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka. Wherever my mum had a sister basically, she had seven sisters. So I was always really interested in travelling.

I went to uni and studied German and Italian, and lived abroad and that’s how I learned the languages. I met my husband when we were living in Germany as he was also doing an Erasmus year. And I learned Swedish as well then because of him.

The whole hearing problem hasn’t really stopped me learning languages but I definitely noticed it when it came to the difference between lip reading.

I still have to rely on lip-reading a lot. If it’s just audio and not visual I’m quite tired after the conversation as it’s quite hard if I can’t see the person’s lips. I definitely notice it if I’m just relying on my hearing.

Learning languages against the odds

I guess most English speakers don’t learn other languages. A lot of my friends are bilingual, they were raised like me with parents who are bilingual. I grew up in Wales, and I don’t speak Welsh but I can understand it so for me it’s normal. For me, I’ve never really known anything else.

At university, I didn’t think I was worse off than anyone else. I have noticed in certain environments it is more challenging, like in a really loud environment like a pub or a club. I actually worked in a club all through university, and I completely had to rely on lip-reading. But luckily it was always the same thing like two pints or five shots!

Celebrating our wins

I’m really bad at patting myself on the back and giving myself compliments. I work with this as well as I’m a therapist. But it’s important to celebrate our wins.

I’m a cognitive behavioural therapist. After I went to uni and studied all these languages I decided I didn’t want to do anything to do with languages as a career and I studied psychology. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was my speciality.

When I moved to Sweden I started my own business with CBT and massage, and also mindfulness and yoga.

CBT is a very active form of therapy, so I think it goes really well with yoga. My whole business is a holistic wellness centre. It’s for the mind, body and the soul.

Mindfulness is a massive part of CBT and its seen as a key actually to be able to slow down and observe your thoughts, emotions and behaviour and the link.

Enjoy the present moment

The key technique in mindfulness and CBT is breathwork like meditation to lower stress and anxiety, it’s super effective.

I know as well because I’ve had quite a few babies, just being aware of your breath can really help with those physical sensations that might be a bit unpleasant whether its anxiety in a teenager or contractions in labour they are very similar physical responses.

The key with anxiety, it’s mainly because people are worrying about the future. Just like with depression, people are ruminating over past events.

What I would say to my teenage self? It’s such a free time in a way. You don’t have some of those responsibilities like you do when you leave home but at the same time everything feels a bit uncertain.

What I would say is just try – and it’s so difficult if its a new concept – but try to enjoy the present moment. Right now what’s going on today, this week, and not worry about what’s happening next month, or where you have to go when you finish your exams or move to another town.

Just try and be in the present.

Niomi runs Steller Wellness, and offers a free mindfulness checklist for anxiety or stress, and a free 30-minute call for women looking to improve relationships. Sign up to be part of the free, friendly Stellar Wellness community, and find out more at:

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Bex Bastable
Bex Bastable
Bex is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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