by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A student wrote:
I am a senior in college and have had single-sided deafness since birth. I coped with my hearing loss fairly well, although I do not know what it is like to hear with both ears.
The reason I’m writing you is because I have a problem I’d like your help with. I’ve realized that I mishear and mispronounce certain words. I put in a lot of effort in order to make sure I don’t make mistakes in my presentations or at formal meetings. However, I will soon graduate from my university. What I am worried about is that this problem will negatively affect me in the future—during job interviews, for example.
Are there any techniques I can use in order to solve this problem? I know about sitting with my good ear in the general direction of the speaker, and directly facing the speaker, but is there any way I can boost my ability to comprehend what people are saying better, and also not mess up what I am saying at the same time?
I realize this is an odd question, but I would greatly appreciate your help.
Actually, this is a very good question, one more people should ask.
The problems you are facing are not unique to people with single-sided deafness. They affect most hard of hearing people too. I’ve struggled with these same problems myself.
There are a number of things you can do to help yourself.
First, consider getting some sort of hearing aid that pipes the sounds from your deaf side to your good ear. There are a number of devices you could consider. The BAHA (bone anchored hearing aid) is the current industry “darling”, but there are other less expensive solutions such as CROS hearing aids, or the TransEar, and even sophisticated regular hearing aids. You can read more about these various solutions in my article “Options for Single-Sided Deafness“. This will help you hear better from your deaf side, but it is not the total solution.
Second, make family, friends, classmates and teachers aware of your hearing loss and consequent problem with mispronouncing certain words. Ask them to tell you whenever they notice you are mispronouncing a word. Then have them show you how to pronounce it correctly. Repeat it back to them until you can do it properly.
Third, for words you come across when reading but have never heard pronounced, either ask someone who knows how to pronounce them correctly, or check the dictionary for pronunciations. Many dictionaries have pronunciation guides in them. You can also do this on-line. In fact, several on-line dictionaries actually pronounce the word so you can hear how it is supposed to sound.
Fourth, as necessary, use assistive listening devices such as an FM system to pipe the speaker’s voice right to your good ear. In practice, the person you want to hear (teacher, professor, boss, etc.) wears the FM microphone (wireless transmitter) and you wear the FM receiver. You plug an earbud into the earphone jack and place it in your good ear. A good FM system for this purpose is the Comfort Contego.
When you do this, the sound is transmitted from the speaker’s mouth right to your good ear without any interference from background noise around you. As a result, you should hear beautiful, clear speech. Thus you will know exactly how words should sound.
When you have hearing problems (and single-sided hearing loss is a kind of hearing problem) noise and distance are your enemies. Therefore, anything that cuts down the background noise you hear, or effectively closes the distance between the speaker and your ears will help you understand speech better.
An FM system effectively closes the distance to about 6″ or so—the distance from the teacher’s mouth to the microphone. This fixes the “distance enemy”. At the same time, since the microphone is ever so much closer to the teacher’s mouth than the sources of noise in the room, you have effectively fixed the “noise enemy” too.