Conversations with hearing loss require focus, attention and maybe a bit of guessing. Help to reduce the uncertainty with cochlear implant communication strategies.


Nanette Thompson is a Speech-Language Pathologist and a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSLS) Certified Auditory-Verbal Therapist. As the coordinator of Listening 2 Learn, she works closely with The Listen Foundation, The Marion Downs Center, University of Colorado Hospital, and Rocky Mountain Cochlear Implant Center providing diagnostic services and weekly speech, language and listening therapy to families, children and adults. She is keenly aware of the many communication camouflaging techniques utilized by those with hearing loss. Consider her suggestions to cultivate a new approach to your conversation strategy.

Nanette Speech-Language Pathologist shares cochlear implant communication strategies

Conversation Habits

Having a conversation with a friend or loved one requires our attention and focus. Add in any background noise on the street or in a restaurant and it often becomes challenging. When your ability to successfully communicate is also impacted by a hearing loss, it can be frustrating for everyone.

Over time it is easy to develop bad habits of either pretending that you understood the message or simply asking “what” repeatedly throughout the day. Neither of these actions is helpful for successful communication.

Effective Communication Strategies

While learning to use your cochlear implant, it is critical to keep engaging in conversation with your friends and family members. Communication and connection are your primary goals.

Therefore, it can be very helpful to learn to use effective cochlear implant communication strategies. Challenge yourself to remove the simple and sometimes annoying “what” question from all communication. Strive to give your communication partner more information to let them know that you are interested, engaged and trying to follow the conversation. Let them know what part you did hear and understand the pieces that you missed.

Practice using the following strategies to make conversation more enjoyable and more successful for you and your partner.

 ● I think you said ..…, is that correct? Check in before the conversation takes off to be certain you are following.

 ● Will you clarify the topic please? I think I am following you. Clarify so you can be confident in the information being shared.

 ● I heard the last part, but will you please repeat the first thing you said?

 ● Can you please repeat the last thing you said? Avoid asking them to repeat the whole sentence when possible.

 ● Can you please say that a different way? I hear you but I am not understanding the words. Sometimes the exact words a person is using just aren’t clear to you and you may need to ask them to use different words altogether to restate the message.

 ● Will you say the same thing again but speak more slowly? People tend to repeat the message louder which can cause even more distortion, when you simply need them to speak more slowly.

 ● I’m sorry, I wasn’t ready, will you please repeat that? As an individual with hearing loss it can be difficult to remain actively listening. You may need to ask for repetition once they have your attention.

Best Practice

Of course, you will also want to be thoughtful of positioning and lighting. Try to have conversations away from the kitchen or a busy entry way and in a quiet place when possible. Choose a position that places your better hearing ear towards the speaker and one that allows you clear access to the speaker’s face for additional visual cues.

Cochlear implant recipient communicating at dinner table with family

Most importantly continue to communicate with friends and family throughout this process. Communication is key to maintaining strong relationships. Consistently engaging in conversation with others can also be an enjoyable and effective tactic to increase your listening skills using your cochlear implant.

To make your communication experience more enjoyable, educate family and friends on simple approaches they can employ to ensure that they are being as helpful and supportive as possible.

Click here for simple tips to promote a deeper connection.   

Christine Casson