Learning a Foreign Language When You Have Hearing Loss

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Trevor Turner is a International Program Officer with Starkey Hearing Foundation and has worn hearing aids for 26 years. He has traveled the world and speaks a variety of languages.

As a hearing aid wearer for 26 years, I’ve had to learn a lot of different ways to adapt to everyday things in order to cope with my hearing loss.

Hearing aid technology (and technology in general) is getting exponentially better, which means the options for solving everyday hearing problems are becoming many and diverse.

I work for Starkey Hearing Foundation, which means I travel around the world and meet people who speak many different languages. Traveling is a passion of mine and learning new languages and cultures is what I enjoy the most.

Unfortunately, with a hearing loss, learning spoken English — let alone a foreign language — has always been a challenge. It took me 10 years of speech therapy to get to the level of English that I can speak now, and with my busy lifestyle, I don’t have 10 years to devote to a new language.

A passion for different cultures is the first thing you need

Fortunately, there are great language learning strategies that are especially helpful for those who have a hearing loss. After a summer studying abroad in Marburg, Germany, I became determined to learn the language of my Vorfahren (ancestors) and went back to the University of Missouri where I declared German as one of my majors. I became fluent in only two years. So the most important thing for learning a foreign language is to have a passion for the language and the cultures that speak it.

Next, it is important to remember that languages are not like mathematical equations, with strict rules and one correct answer. They are living, evolving reflections of the peoples, cultures and history, which means you must immerse yourself in language, not just memorize flashcards. This means reading literature, watching TV shows, listening to music and enjoying movies in the language.

How I learned to speak multiple languages faster

Now, with hearing a loss, it can be hard to watch movies or listen to music, or even just listen to speech in a foreign language. Particularly with native speakers, conversations can seem like a quick blur, gibberish that cannot be discerned.

To help slow down a foreign language and make listening to a foreign language more comprehensible, try these easy language learning tips for hearing aid wearers:

  1. Take advantage of subtitles and closed caption services of foreign films and TV shows. Now it is important to remember that, in order to learn the language, you should immerse yourself, so do not use English subtitles. Rather, set the audio and subtitles to the same language. For example, on Netflix, for many shows (even native English shows like Orange is the New Black), you can change the audio and the subtitles to Spanish. Now you are hearing and reading Spanish at the same time. Reading it while hearing it helps train your brain to listen to the sounds better and makes the speech easier to understand!
  2. Use your Made for iPhone® hearing aids! While we are talking about Netflix, download the iPhone app and stream the show’s audio directly into your ears!  This will make the voices in the show sound as lifelike as possible, which is important for learning a new language. You will hear all the sounds and nuances of the new languages, which will help with comprehension and also improve your accent!
  3. Use your Made for iPhone hearing aids to stream foreign music! The sound quality will help you hear the voices better, and music in a foreign language helps you learn new words much faster than flashcards.
  4. Download lyrics to foreign language songs and read them as you are listening to the song. The repetition and visual of the lyrics reinforces the new words in your brain. Also seeing the words helps you understand them better, especially when you have a hearing loss.
  5. Memorize and recite poetry! Get a book of classical poetry to memorize and recite. Record yourself and listen to it (also a great use of your Made for iPhone hearing aids). The alliteration makes memorizing and learning new words easier, and reciting and listening to your own voice will help you improve your accent! It also makes a great party trick to impress your friends!
  6. Take advantage of language learning apps on your iPhone. There are great apps that use both audio and visual lessons/games to help you learn a new language. Duolingo and Mindsnacks are my favorite apps and work great with the Made for iPhone hearing aids. If you have some time to kill, open up Duolingo and complete a lesson or play a fun game on Mindsnacks.

Language learning is fun and with new Starkey technology, people with hearing aids have many new ways to enjoy a new language!

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