Maryellen MacDonald in The Capital Times: We can learn to talk to one another with masks on

With COVID-19 vaccines coming, it’s easy to fantasize about things getting back to normal — vacation travel, kids in school, dinners in restaurants, going out without a mask. Unfortunately, epidemiologists tell us that all of those “normals” are still a way off. The Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control have been urging more, not less, wearing of masks. We may have COVID-19 fatigue, but we still need to make the best of things.

I study how people produce and comprehend language. These days, everyone seems to be telling me how unpleasant it is to have a conversation while wearing a mask. Folks tell me that it’s hard understand people wearing a mask, and it’s awkward to have to shout back to be heard. Now, just when we really, really could use some face-to-face conversation, masks get in the way. Disrupted conversations are such a sore spot for so many people because pre-pandemic, talking to one another was so pervasive, so natural, and so central to our social fabric.

Conversation is no less essential now than in the pre-mask era, and the sooner we get used to talking with masks, the better. The good news is that we can do this. 

We are all experts at adapting the way we speak to be heard in challenging situations. A truck rumbles by and we get louder. We repeat ourselves or ask for clarification when there’s a bad phone connection or someone’s accent is unfamiliar. We weren’t born with rules for how to make these changes. No one taught us. Instead we have learned how, by ourselves, with practice. We can take these same skills and make conversing in the time of masks and social distancing less difficult and more effective.

Read the full opinion article in The Cap Times