Monday, November 19, 2012

The Language of a Cochlear Implant

At my most recent appointment with Amy, we talked about foreign languages. She was talking about working with her Spanish-speaking patients and how it can be difficult to understand them, especially when they speak in rapid-fire fluent Spanish. One of her strategies in those situations is to indicate which parts she understood, a word or phrase, and then ask the speaker to slow down and repeat what they just said. I made a half-joking comment along the lines of "Now you know what it's like to be hearing-impaired. Every conversation goes like that."

I've since been thinking about how that is such an accurate metaphor for both hearing impairment and learning to hear with a cochlear implant.  Participating in a group conversation with a hearing impairment is like having a basic understanding of a foreign language and being thrust into a conversation with several native speakers.  There might be a word or two or a phrase that is intelligible, but really, everyone is talking so fast that complete comprehension is impossible. There are probably many words that are unfamiliar. First, it takes a few seconds to figure out who is talking, missing critical information from the beginning of the conversation. It might be possible to get the gist of a story, but chances are that you don't know who the story is about (because the rest of the conversation uses a pronoun instead of the person's proper name) or when the story happened (because you didn't hear the storyteller say, "Last week, so-and-so said X.")  If you're brave enough to try to speak up, you might guess correctly and say something relevant to the conversation.  Or you might say something that's very odd to everyone else, even if it makes sense with what you think you heard them say.

The same is true with learning to hear with my cochlear implant.  As with learning a foreign language, it starts with one word at a time. The good news here is that I already have an English vocabulary stored away in my head, so I just have to learn how to identify the sounds of all those words. The bad news is that there are a LOT of sounds to learn how to recognize, just in speech, and even more from all the other kinds of sounds out there (the humming of fluorescent lights, anyone?)  It turns out that everyone is still speaking really fast, and if I'm lucky, I'll pick out a word or a phrase and try to go from there.  Fluency in cochlear implant English is a long way off for me.

But I will just throw this out as a little marker of success.  Over the last few days, I've tried listening to prayers with my eyes closed and I'm able to pick out some words and phrases. Surely, that's a small step towards fluency.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Thank you for sharing your story. I am learning so much about you (and about life)!