Foreign Language Acquisition in Adolescent Cochlear Implant Users

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OBJECTIVES: This study explores to what degree adolescent cochlear implant (CI) users can learn a foreign language in a school setting similar to their normal-hearing (NH) peers despite the degraded auditory input.

DESIGN: A group of native Dutch adolescent CI users (age range 13 to 17 years) learning English as a foreign language at secondary school and a group of NH controls (age range 12 to 15 years) were assessed on their Dutch and English language skills using various language tasks that either relied on the processing of auditory information (i.e., listening task) or on the processing of orthographic information (i.e., reading and/or gap-fill task). The test battery also included various auditory and cognitive tasks to assess whether the auditory and cognitive functioning of the learners could explain the potential variation in language skills.

RESULTS: Results showed that adolescent CI users can learn English as a foreign language, as the English language skills of the CI users and their NH peers were comparable when assessed with reading or gap-fill tasks. However, the performance of the adolescent CI users was lower for English listening tasks. This discrepancy between task performance was not observed in their native language Dutch. The auditory tasks confirmed that the adolescent CI users had coarser temporal and spectral resolution than their NH peers, supporting the notion that the difference in foreign language listening skills may be due to a difference in auditory functioning. No differences in the cognitive functioning of the CI users and their NH peers were found that could explain the variation in the foreign language listening tasks.

CONCLUSIONS: In short, acquiring a foreign language with degraded auditory input appears to affect foreign language listening skills, yet does not appear to impact foreign language skills when assessed with tasks that rely on the processing of orthographic information. CI users could take advantage of orthographic information to facilitate foreign language acquisition and potentially support the development of listening-based foreign language skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-185
Number of pages12
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number1
Early online date12-Jul-2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan-2024

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