MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: Does age determine a child's ability to learn a language?

Date: Wed Feb 13 16:53:28 2002
Posted By: Paulette Caswell, Theoretical Synthesist, Neuroscience Researcher, Ph.D. Candidate
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 1013608995.Ns

Hello, and thank you for sending your question to the MadSci Network! Your 
question is very good, and it shows you are a good researcher. Congratulations!

Your teacher is VERY wrong. 

First of all, a person who is blind can still hear all sounds, and there is no 
problem for a blind person to learn language. In fact, most blind people learn 
language better, because they focus on listening and they are not distracted by 
visual information. The only problem a blind person has is access to written 
information, and that problem is solved by reading information in braille, or 
if the person can see a little bit then larger print might help, or by using a 
computer that changes printed information to a spoken voice, or by having a 
person read the information by voice.

Second, if a person is totally deaf (unable to hear speech sounds at all, even 
with the best hearing aids), that person used to have problems hearing languge 
IN THE PAST. But that is not true anymore. Today, there is a kind of technology 
known as the "cochlear implant." The cochlear implant replaces the function of 
the microscopic "hair cells" in the cochlea in a deaf person's inner ear. When 
a deaf person gets and uses a cochlear implant properly, and with the proper 
training, the deaf person can hear and learn the speech sounds of spoken 
language AT ANY AGE, after the adjustment period. TODAY, cochlear implants are 
given to deaf children as young as one year old, all over the world. Those deaf 
children with cochlear implants can hear everything, they learn language 
through their ear (auditorily), and they speak very clearly, just like a mildly 
hard of hearing child. 

Deaf and blind (deaf-blind or deafblind) children do not need to be like Helen 
Keller anymore. TODAY, deaf-blind children get cochlear implants, and they can 
hear all sounds and they learn language naturally, and the deaf-blind children 
of today have very clear and understandable voices. Many deaf-blind children of 
TODAY are also playing music, listening to radio and television, listening to 
recorded books and to computers that talk to them by computer voices, talking 
on the telephone with their friends and families, and participating very well 
in general society, and they do not have any large problems communicating with 
other people. TODAY'S deaf-blind children still cannot see, but they now can 
hear everything, and they can learn to listen to language and speak language.

Researchers are also now working to make a "visual implant" that will allow 
blind people to see well in the future. But that research is not ready yet for 
blind people. 

The good news is that the cochlear implant is working very well for all deaf 
people, and deaf people, even deaf adults, do not need to stay deaf anymore. 
Every nation of the world now has cochlear implant centers, and research shows 
that a deaf person CAN LEARN TO LISTEN after they get their cochlear implant, 
at any age. It takes an average of four years for a deaf child to go through 
the process of learning language after the child gets a cochlear implant, and 
for adults it might take a bit longer, but ALL deaf people with cochlear 
implants DO LEARN HOW TO LISTEN, and they HEAR ALL SOUNDS. They just need to 
have the proper Auditory-Verbal training to use their cochlear implants 

The cochlear implant technology was first researched in France, many years ago. 
In the 1980s, the first working cochlear implant was developed at House Ear 
Institute in Los Angeles, California, USA. In the past 20+ years, the cochlear 
implant technology has been rapidly improved, and now there are three world 
manufacturers of cochlear implants for deaf people: The Advanced Bionics 
Corporation in California, which makes the CLARION high-technology and high-
stimulation cochlear implants (and which works directly with House Ear 
Institute); the Cochlear Corporation in Australia, which makes the NUCLEUS 
cochlear implant; and the Med-El Corporation in Europe, which makes the COMBI-
40+ cochlear implant.

Helen Keller was deafened by Spinal Meningitis when she was about 6 months old. 
People who become deaf from Spinal Meningitis have special problems in their 
inner ear, caused by scar tissue and too much growth of bone in their cochlea 
in their inner ear, so her ear doctor would choose the cochlear implant that 
Helen could receive, at a cochlear implant center near where Helen lives.

If Helen Keller was 6 months old today in Iran, her parents would be taught to 
use Cued Speech (Cued Language) [see] to teach Helen the Iranian 
language, and then when Helen becomes 12 months old, she would get a cochlear 
implant from her ear doctor. Helen would grow up hearing ALL sounds, and she 
would be able to hear and speak Iranian, and any other world language, very 
normally. Helen would also learn braille and she would be able to understand 
computer voices, human voices, and read books recorded on audiotapes, listen to 
and enjoy all music, and she would have a much better life today than she had 
in the past.

For more information about cochlear implants, go to the following websites: , , and . 

If you wish to see a videotape about children, including deaf-blind children, 
who use cochlear implants, go to the website at and click on 
the "Free Videos" section. You can order a 60-minute film on their website for 
free, and other materials, and they will send it to you by mail.

Thank you for sending your question to the MadSci Network, and we hope that 
you, and your young friends, all continue your curiosity and your love of 
research for the rest of your life.

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