Language comprehension and working Memory in preschoolers with typical and atypical hearing

Harrison Fiumaro*, Isabelle Barrière**, PhD & Zoe Thijs, PhD

Both receptive and expressive language skills develop at different rates in children with atypical hearing compared to children with typical hearing. The main difference between these two populations pertains to the acquisition of grammatical morphology.  Grammatical morphology includes the use of 3rd person singular present marker -s in the verb “plays” and the past tense marker “played”.  These grammatical morphemes tend to be difficult to perceive since they consist of unstressed single consonants (plays) or syllables (pushes), that may be more difficult to hear than stressed syllables for children with atypical hearing.  Another line of research has shown that Phonological Working Memory is correlated to language development in children with typical hearing and with vocabulary skills in children with atypical hearing.   The purpose of this study was to investigate if children with the comprehension of subject-verb agreement and phonological working memory in children with atypical hearing.  Our hypothesis was that children with atypical hearing will exhibit more difficulties than their hearing peers in comprehending subject verb agreement.  In relation to this, we hypothesized that children with atypical hearing will also exhibit lower phonological working memory skills.  Our final hypothesis was that between these two populations, there will be a correlation between phonological working memory and comprehension of subject verb agreement.                Participants includes 4-6- year-old children with hearing loss and 4-6 year-old children with normal hearing. Children were administered three tasks:

  1. The DELV (Seymour, 2005) that confirmed hey were acquiring Mainsteram American English
  2. A Phonological Working Memory task (Gathercole et al., 1994) that consisted of the repetition of nonce/invented words
  3. A video-matching comprehension (adapted from Zaroukian 2012and Barrière, et al., 2019) task during which children were exposed verbal stimuli such as  The boy catches the giz versus the boys catch the garth

  The analyses of the results involved a comparison of the performances of the children with typical and atypical hearing and checking the correlations between the results on the comprehension task and on the phonological working memory.   This study contributes to a better understanding of language development in children with atypical hearing.