Auditory System Speech And Hearing

Speech and hearing are closely related. Our ability to hear has an obvious effect on our ability to communicate with others through speech. However, hearing ability also plays a strong role in the development of language and speech. By definition, language is the formulation and understanding of communication using words, and speech is the physical act of producing the words that convey linguistic ideas.

Hearing loss can be detrimental to both of these processes. Both sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss can affect speech and language development.

Hearing Loss and Speech Development

Much of speech development depends on hearing both your own speech and the speech of others.

  • Hearing the speech of others allows you to study models of correct productions of sounds and words, and to learn how to differentiate between sounds.
  • Hearing your own speech is known as the “auditory feedback loop.” This is important for monitoring your speech productions, allowing for refining or correcting productions.

Articulation is the use of oral structures to modify sound produced in the larynx. To modify sound, we use these anatomical articulators:

  • Hard and soft palate
  • Lips
  • Teeth
  • Tongue.

These structures work together to form voicing from the larynx into the different sounds that make up the words we speak.

In those with hearing loss, sounds are not perceived correctly because of an incomplete auditory feedback loop. Therefore, strong, correct sound representations cannot be formed for speech. For example, “f” and “th” are both high-frequency (high-pitch) sounds, which are also produced relatively more quietly than other sounds. Inability to distinguish between similar-sounding sounds can lead to:

  • Imprecise articulation
  • Substitution errors (such as “f” for “th”)
  • Overall distortion of speech because of imprecise sound representations.

Any problem with articulation can lead to reduced “intelligibility,” which is the level at which a speaker can be understood by a listener.

Hearing Loss and Language Development

Hearing loss can also affect language development. Inadequate auditory input can lead to difficulty in many areas of language. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, children with hearing loss have difficulty with:

  • Complex grammatical structures
  • Multiple-meaning words
  • Vocabulary, particularly abstract words
  • Word endings, such as plural “s” and verb tense markers.

Language acquisition problems can lead to later academic and learning problems, and, possibly, even feelings of social isolation.

Intervention and Speech Therapy

Children with hearing loss can often develop oral language skills similar to those of their hearing peers. However, early intervention with speech therapy is crucial, and it must be implemented during the language-learning phase. Speech pathology services are available through schools, hospitals, or private practitioners. With early hearing loss diagnosis, hearing aids or cochlear implants can amplify or synthesize sound to help children to develop speech and language skills. In cases of severe hearing loss, visual and tactile cues are important for speech and language learning.


merican Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Effects of hearing loss on development. Retrieved February 17, 2010, from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Web site:

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (n.d.). Hearing impairment and language development. Retrieved February 17, 2010, from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Web site: