When a young child is diagnosed with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, one treatment option is to fit the child with a cochlear implant - a small, electronic device that creates a sense of sound.
A child with a cochlear implant growing up in a household where the home language is other than English may be learning two languages (the home language and English). Some well-intentioned pediatricians and health care professionals recommend against the use of the home language, but recent research has indicated that being bilingual may not pose an insurmountable challenge to children with hearing loss.
“Some health care professionals who are genuinely concerned with the health and development of the child may discourage the use of two spoken languages for children with hearing loss due to a belief that learning two languages may be too much of a burden. Recent research in our lab as well as others do not find this. In fact, supporting the home language if other than English can yield advantages for English when it comes to bilingual children with hearing loss,” says Dr. Ferenc Bunta, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders.
His findings were recently featured in a publication by François Grosjean in Psychology Today. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual/201608/bilingual-children-hearing-loss)
Dr. Bunta and his research team partnered with the Center for Hearing and Speech in Houston (http://centerhearingandspeech.org/) to examine the speech and language of bilingual (Spanish-English) children with cochlear implants and compare them to their bilingual peers with normal hearing as well as monolingual English-speaking children with cochlear implants.
They worked with over 100 children between the ages of 3 and 10, gauging the participants’ speech and language skills using various measures, including a word list developed in Dr. Bunta’s lab. This work has been funded in part by the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Bunta as the principal investigator.
One of the published findings of this research was that the English test scores of the bilingual children with cochlear implants were not significantly different from those of their English-only speaking peers with cochlear implants. In addition, bilingual children with cochlear implants with dual language support achieved better language scores than their bilingual peers who received English only support from clinicians.
“Sometimes parents of children with hearing loss are told not to use a spoken home language other than English, because that would place an extra burden of having to learn two languages on the child. But if the parents speak limited or no English, it would mean the child would have limited exposure to language at home, support that is critical for the speech and language development of any child,” explains Dr. Bunta.
“In that case the child would be deprived of sufficient language at home and that would also limit the interactions the child could have with family members,” he continues. “So the bottom line is that more quality language is better, whether it is English or Spanish.”
Dr. Bunta says that speaking more than one language doesn’t create or exacerbate speech or language disorders.
“Learning more than one language does not harm a child who has hearing loss and is using cochlear implants,” concludes Dr. Bunta.
- Monica Byars