The goal of this study was to investigate the preference for the native language compared with an unfamiliar language in normally hearing (NH) and hearing-impaired infants with cochlear implants (CIs).
Preference for the native language is an important step in the process of language acquisition because it helps infants to attend to the important signals of their environment. This preference has been shown very early in the infants' life. In the case of infants with CI, it is of interest to determine whether they show similar perceptual biases as NH infants despite their impaired auditory system and impoverished input provided by the CI device.
Nine hearing-impaired infants with CI (most with 1-2 mo of CI use) and 19 NH infants were tested on their preference for their native language (Hebrew child-directed speech) compared with a nonnative language (English child-directed speech). The central fixation preference procedure was used in which listening times were measured via orientation responses of the infant to visual stimuli.
1) Normal hearing and infants with CI had perceptual bias for their native language (Hebrew) when compared with a nonnative language (English). 2) Infants with CI have shorter attention to speech stimuli compared with NH.
The findings of the present study are the first to show that hearing-impaired infants with CI bring the same perceptual biases to the task of language learning as NH infants. These have important implications on understanding the process by which infants with CI acquire language via the CI device.