In a world where it is not unusual for people to speak two or more languages, it’s easy to see the advantage of being multilingual. But, what should a family do when they have to consider a child with hearing loss? Marc (7) and Maria (4) from Mallorca in Spain are causing experts to question received wisdom.
We all know that, even with the best hearing aids or implants, a child with impaired hearing is at a disadvantage when it comes to learning language. It stands to reason, therefore, that those who live in a multilingual environment would benefit from learning only one language rather than several. This has been the traditional approach, with the recommendation that deaf children should be taught only the language that is most used in their community. The intention, of course, is to allow children to learn at a comfortable pace that doesn’t exceed their ability.
Now meet Marc and Maria Rigo, who are proving that hearing loss is no barrier to bilingualism! Marc and Maria live in Spain, a country with 1 official language throughout the nation (Spanish (Castilian)) and no fewer than four co-official regional languages (Basque, Catalan (or Valencian), Galician and Aranese). Both children received cochlear implants at a very young age and their parents felt strongly that they wanted to continue to use their native Catalan at home, whilst the kids simultaneously learned a second and third language in their social environment and at school.
The family home is the main context for social, emotional and cognitive development, skills closely related to the development of communication. The use of so-called ‘motherese’ between parents and children relies on important characteristics. This baby talk (also called infant or direct-speech) is the specific style of language that parents use when talking to infants, adjusting speed, tone and vocabulary. We are skilled at doing this in our mother tongue, but less able to do it in a language that we speak less fluently.
The quality and quantity of communication between parents and their children is closely related to language development for all children, whether they have impaired or normal hearing. So it’s essential that family members feel comfortable and confident talking to their baby, perhaps even more when the child has the additional challenge of hearing loss.
The decision by the children’s parents, Tolo and Magdalena, to stick with their mother tongue at home has proved a good choice. Both children now speak Catalan and Spanish as well as learning English at school. Their language scores show no delay in either Spanish or Catalan when compared to their peers.
As time goes on, Tolo and Magdalena are increasingly confident about their children’s hearing and language skills, which are developing well after early implantation. And, as for Maria and Marc? Well, they’re just enjoying being kids … which is exactly how it should be!
Send this to a friend