Vocabulary Development & Cochlear Implants

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Your child's vocabulary is really important because it affects more than just reading and writing. Vocabulary is a big factor in communication and social skills development. Now if your child is DHH and has cochlear implants, how do your child's CIs affect their vocabulary development?

How Vocabulary Typically Develops

First, we need to look into how children typically learn new words. Before your child heads to school, your child learns new words as they are exposed to language and interact with their environment. This happens when you play and read together, as your child overhears conversations and watches you, and interacts with friends and family. (Here's one of Baby Boy's and my favorite books!) So pretty much, language exposure and language experiences are a big deal for vocabulary. And when you put together all the research, language experience is the biggest factor in vocabulary development whether or not your child is DHH. (Children with typical hearing also need language experiences and exposure to learn new words.)

Language experiences are vital for vocabulary development. #vocab #language Click To Tweet

That fact that language experiences are vital for word learning makes sense when you look at the rates of vocabulary acquisition for children who are DHH. Typically, a child with CIs has delayed vocabulary compared to their peers with typical hearing but.... most of the time, a child who is DHH has vocabulary that tends to match up with their "hearing age" (not chronological age). You know, this makes sense. Vocabulary depends on language experiences... and if your child doesn't have full access to sound until their first birthday, then their vocabulary will most likely be a year behind their peers.

(Children with typical hearing have had exposure to language since before they were born so they've got quite a head start.)

Vocabulary Development with Cochlear Implants

After your child has had their CIs activated, the intense language adventure begins!

(Now keep in mind that language experiences before implantation are really important so don't procrastinate your child's language development. Use all your Listening and Spoken Language strategies from the day your child's hearing loss is identified.)

Cochlear Implants provide your child consistent and access to sound so that auditory & language skills can more fully develop. While your child is building language skills in natural interactions, you still need to really focus on developing your child's vocabulary. Research has shown that children with CIs have a slower rate of word learning and in a year make about 46-72% of the progress of kiddos without hearing loss. That's like learning 46 new words in the same amount of time that another child has learned 100. Let's keep this perspective on the positive. It's awesome that your child is now learning the 46 new words! Every new word is a success and worthy of being celebrated! In order to help your child make the same rate of progress and catch up with their peers, you have to focus on helping your child "accelerate their word learning."

Strategies to Develop Vocabulary

To build your child's vocabulary, here are a handful of ideas:
  1. Create a language-rich environment with Listening & Spoken Language Strategies
  2. Teach vocabulary with these strategies
    1. Here are a two strategies you can use but there are tons more 🙂
      child, reading, vocabulary
      PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay
      1. Use auditory bombardment to introduce your child to new words in different contexts and types of sentences.
      2. Read with your child to exposure your child to more language. (Here are some of my favorite baby books!)
  3. Make it easier to listen with these environmental modifications
    1. Reducing background noise is a big help to improving your child's listening environment. Here are some strategies: run the dishwasher and clothes dryer at night and don't leave the TV always on.
    2. You can also hang curtains and put down rugs to help soak up extra noise and echoes in your home.

Wrapping It Up

When we put it all together, the research indicates that these three factors are the crucial keys to whether a child with cochlear implants can learn new fast enough to catch up with their peers with typical hearing.

These factors are:

  1. Auditory Experience
  2. Language Learning
  3. Symbolic Communication
So as you use your Listening and Spoken Language strategies, provide a language-rich environment, and work on developing your child's vocabulary; you are targeting the three factors that affect whether your child will develop their vocabulary fast enough to close the gap. You can proactively help your child develop their language and auditory skills as well as build their vocabulary. Like all things, learning takes time so even when you don't see results overnight, stick with it. Continue helping your child learn new words and have new experiences to learn language. You can do this 🙂

Want to see how another parent helps their child develop language and listening skills in everyday routines? Click Here


Fagan, M. K., & Pisoni, D. B. (2010). Hearing experience and receptive vocabulary development in deaf children with cochlear implants. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education15(2), 149–161.http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enq001

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