Sonority-Related Novel Word Learning Ability of Children With Cochlear Implants With Optimal Oral Language Exposure

Yasmeen Hamza, Areti Okalidou, Ann Dierckx, Astrid van Wieringen
Ear and Hearing 2020 June 12

OBJECTIVES: The present study investigated how children with cochlear implants (CIs), with optimal exposure to oral language, perform on sonority-related novel word learning tasks. By optimal oral language exposure, we refer to bilateral cochlear implantation below the age of 2 years. Sonority is the relative perceptual prominence/loudness of speech sounds of the same length, stress, and pitch. The present study is guided by a previous study that investigated the sonority-related novel word learning ability of a group of children with CIs, in the Greek language, of which the majority were implanted beyond the age of 2 unilaterally.

DESIGN: A case-control study with 15 Dutch-speaking participants in each of the three groups, i.e., children with CIs, normal-hearing children (NHC), and normal-hearing adults, was conducted using a sonority-related novel "CVC" word learning task. All children with CIs are implanted before the age of 2 years with preimplant hearing aids. Thirteen out of the 15 children had bilateral CIs. The CVC words were constructed according to four sonority conditions, where N is nonsonorous and S is a sonorous phoneme: NSN, NSS, SSN, and SSS. Outcome measures were accuracy and reaction times (RTs). In addition, the Peabody picture vocabulary test and the digit span forward test were administered to the children.

RESULTS: There were no statistical differences in accuracy or RTs between the children groups on the overall score and across the different conditions. However, children with CIs, unlike NHC, scored statistically less accurately and with longer RTs relative to normal-hearing adults, on the overall task. Within-group comparisons showed that none of the groups performed statistically differently on any of the conditions. The NHC showed higher receptive vocabulary scores relative to children with CIs. In addition, the group of children with CIs entailed a statistically significantly higher number of children with "weak" short-term memory.

CONCLUSIONS: Children with CIs who have optimal oral language exposure showed age-appropriate sonority-related novel word learning abilities and strategies relative to their NH peers. However, children with CIs continue to show lower receptive vocabulary scores than NHC, despite the equivalent novel word learning ability. This suggests that children with CIs may have difficulties in retaining newly learned words. Future work should look into possible causes of the gap in performance. This would eventually aid in rehabilitation tailored to the needs of the individual.

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