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By age six to eleven months, the average baby says their first word. By 18 to 23 months, the child will know up to 50 words, and by two to three years old, children’s vocabulary becomes more accurate and diverse. How do children learn new words?

They listen to their family and other speakers around them, but they must be able to hear to learn a language. Unfortunately, not all children have this benefit; some are born with difficulty hearing or deafness. This often results in a speech and language developmental delay.


Signs of Speech-Language Development Delay


Every parent hopes for the best for their child, but it is important to speak to a doctor if anything seems amiss in terms of language delays in a child. There are a few signs to look out for, like inconsistent response time or reactions to sounds, unclear or mumbled speech, or high volumes on sound systems.

If a child often asks for a sentence to be repeated again or does not respond when asked a question, these could also be signs of hearing loss leading to speech delay. Within days of being born, the hospital conducts a Universal Newborn Hearing Screening, and young infants can be tested later for any signs of hearing loss.

If you notice your child is having difficulty communicating, consult an Audiologist and Speech-Language Pathologist for an evaluation to have their hearing and communication skill evaluated.


Other Methods of Communication


These methods can be combined or used individually to creatively develop a child’s language skills without hearing.


  • Hearing Aids – If parents catch their child’s hearing loss early on in life, they may be able to prevent further damage by providing hearing aids. With hearing aids in place, sounds are amplified, and children are better able to understand speech sounds.


  • American Sign Language – For those with complete deafness, American Sign Language can be a good option. ASL can be a resource to those with normal hearing as well. It’s a great way to encourage communication that precedes verbal communication. It’d also an excellent medium for children with hearing impairment to communicate with others familiar with the language.


  • Lip reading – For children with less severe hearing loss, lip reading is often used a compensatory strategy. With this process, listeners look at the specific lip movements and mouth formations to get a better idea of the vocabulary used.


  • Reading – Language skills can also be developed through reading. Reading new words regularly improves vocabulary.

Learning to Speak Despite Hearing Loss


Exposure to vocabulary and regular speech is critical for children with hearing loss. Comprehension is facilitated through repetition and exposure to language. Children who wear hearing aids or other cochlear amplification systems should use them at all times in order to maximize opportunities for exposure to speech sounds and spontaneous language.

Any blockage of sound puts a child at a disadvantage for speech development. The process of speaking with a child with hearing loss may take more time than an average conversation.

Lag time allows the child to listen, process the words, formulate a response, and finally speak. These children require patience and understanding. Like many other children with developing receptive and expressive language skills, they may benefit from careful explanation of what words mean and why particular vocabulary words are used.


By: Diana Michel, Updated in 2022 by Kim Smith, MA CCC-SLP