When Sonya was two weeks old, we hired Nina. We feel extremely lucky to have found her. Nina hails from Ukraine, but has lived in the US for more than fifteen years. She recently became a US citizen! She speaks English, Russian and Ukrainian. In her past life, she was a veterinarian. Nina is a loving nanny and Sonya absolutely adores her (as do we).
Nina speaks to Sonya exclusively in Russian. Sonya understands Russian well, but is just now starting to speak it.
Historically, speech therapists recommended against teaching children with hearing loss more than one language. The fear was that learning a second language could interfere with the mastery of the majority language and further delay speech. Our speech therapists, however, disagree with this concern. They believe that as long as we are consistent in our approach with Sonya, regardless of language, she should be able to learn Russian alongside English.
Nina regularly comes to Sonya’s speech therapy sessions. In the early days, I didn’t bring her, but realized quickly how important it was for Nina to understand the strategies we were using so that she could implement them at home, and that we are consistent in how we speak with Sonya, regardless of language.
When Nina and Sonya play, Nina narrates everything they do. It is something I try to do, but struggle with, as I am naturally an introvert. Nina repeats the same word over and over, “na, na, na!” (take, take, take!”) or “die, die, die!” (give, give, give). “Maladietz” (good girl). Nina also brings Sonya amazing gifts like a Russian cow that sings “ochie chornia” a traditional Russian song.
We also encourage our Russian-speaking relatives to communicate with Sonya in Russian. When Sonya is with a Russian speaker, she is encouraged not to respond in English. For example, when Nina asks her a question in Russian and Sonya responds with a “yep!” Nina says (in Russian of course) “Do not say ‘yep’ say ‘da’.” Sonya now responds to Russian with Russian.
I realize it is pretty extraordinary that someone like Sonya, born with profound hearing loss, might someday (hopefully) be bilingual. But, there is also a chance it won’t happen. As Sonya gets older, we will continue to review how Russian is influencing her ability to acquire English. Given that she has been receiving oral/auditory therapy since she was just a couple months old, we hope she will be able to take on the differences in pitch, sound contrasts and intonation necessary to acquire a second language. That said, one never knows. Some people are just better at learning languages than others, and we will have to adjust our expectations accordingly.
In other news:
Every three months, Sonya has a mapping. A mapping is the process by which Sonya’s audiologist determines the amount of electrical stimulation each electrode delivers to the auditory nerve. Here is a link to her first mapping – when the cochlear implants were first activated. Her latest mapping took place last week at NYU’s Cochlear Implant Center . We noticed later that day, however, that she was having difficulty replicating certain sounds – specifically the “mmm” sound and the “ooo” sound. I took the below video last night of her trying to repeat these sounds. We will be going in for another mapping tomorrow, to readjust the electrodes so that she properly hears these sounds. Never a dull moment!