Hearing Loss… is it Like Speaking a Second Language?
Written by Laura Abdulnour,
Anglophones who know a second language know this well: having a discussion in the other language requires a lot more concentration. Even if you have a great vocabulary, the pronunciation of some words always keeps you puzzled. Your level of comprehension is also very changeable: one day you understand every single thing in an hour-long conversation about a topic that interests you, the next day, tired after work, you don’t get half the dialogue of a movie in your second language.
What does this have to do with hearing loss? Well, the same thing happens to hearing- impaired people, but in their own language!
A hearing-impaired person misses a lot of speech sounds. To compensate, they must be very attentive to what they are being told. But even with extra attention, the sound of some words keeps them puzzled, even with words they know well.
Fortunately, in familiar contexts, with people, they know well, and talking about well-known subjects, the conversation is easier to follow for hearing-impaired people.
However, in a more complex context, in big groups, noisy environments, or when in a more tired state, important parts of the conversation can be missed.
Hearing difficulties vary greatly; this explains why a person with hearing loss can seem to have a changeable hearing ability.
What About Hearing-Impaired People who Speak a Second Language?
The combination of hearing impairment and the use of a less known language accentuates the communication difficulties experienced by hearing-impaired people. To understand this phenomenon, let’s take a look at the human brain.
The role of the brain is to analyze the information that comes from the ears to understand the message being communicated. To do so, it uses all the knowledge it has stored over the years about language, tone, context, etc. to recognize the words and, if needed, fill in the gaps and guess the missed words. After years of doing so, the brain is very effective at it in the maternal language. With unfamiliar words and sentence structures, like when using a second language, the brain is far less effective at compensating for any missed information and every individual word needs to be heard clearly for the message to be understood.
That is why second languages are particularly hard for hearing-impaired people.
Fortunately, solutions exist! In the same way, one can improve their proficiency in a foreign language by taking classes, hearing-impaired people can improve their hearing ability by wearing hearing aids and/or using certain tricks to help improve their communication.