Hearing Loss and Learning New Words

For people living with a hearing impairment, a unique set of struggles can arise as compared to people with optimal hearing. Aside from communication, enjoying music, and even driving a car, having a hearing loss can present challenges you might not think about. One of these challenges includes hearing loss and learning new words, or even new languages.

The brain processes new words and associates their sounds with their meaning. Using letter sounds occurring at specific frequencies is a component of how we retain understanding of word meanings. Each letter and sound relates to a particular frequency; when we begin to experience hearing loss, it makes it more and more difficult for our brains to make that connection. If hearing loss goes untreated, our brains struggle to associate a letter to its sound, and in instances where severe hearing loss is present, our brains may forget how that letter is supposed to sound altogether. The reason hearing loss and learning new words are so directly linked is due to the brain’s need to apply the sound to the letters, and thus their meaning.

Hearing loss and learning new words - tips to improve retention

Because being able to hear a letter or word sound is so important to help retain it, people who are living with hearing loss can become frustrated if trying to expand their vocabulary. This is why it can be difficult learning a foreign language with hearing loss. Below we’ve put together some tips to not only help people living with a hearing impairment keep up on their current vocabulary, but help individuals trying to learn new words as well.

  • Break up the word - Take the word you’re attempting to learn and break it into segments. Take those segments and pair them up with sounds to words you already know. Whether they rhyme, or whether the word segment is an exact match, this will help your brain associate the letters in the new word with a familiar, already known sound.
  • Use it, frequently - Once you have the sound association down, make sure you use it and use it frequently. Use it in a sentence every day, use it in conversation, and deliberately go out of your way to break it down and analyze it as often as possible.
  • Learn it loudly - People with moderate hearing loss will benefit from this most - if you’re learning a new word and you’re already having problems with certain letter sounds, make sure the word is repeated loudly so your brain can process those sounds you’re having issues with.
  • Visual association - This works for English words, but it also helps when learning a new language. Obviously learning one word is very different then understanding the ins and outs of an entire language. Helping your brain correlate the meaning of a word with something visual can reinforce the meaning of the word and hopefully, help you retain it. When referring to learning a new language, immersing yourself in the culture can help you stay focused and less frustrated.
  • Utilize resources - Reading a book in the language you’re trying to learn can be time consuming, but it’s a great way to help you learn. The same goes for watching shows and movies with subtitles and listening to music in that language.

But one of the most effective and helpful tools one can seek is hearing help. By utilizing an appropriately fit hearing aid or assistive device, an individual can get access to sounds that they may otherwise be missing, increasing understanding while decreasing listening effort. At the end of the day, learning new words or languages with a hearing impairment can be challenging, but is totally possible! If you’d like to explore treatment opportunities, the hearing care professionals at Family Audiology would be happy to help. Call us on 607-323-4061, or click here to request an appointment online.

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