Acoustic Highlighting

How can we make the words we say easier for our children with hearing loss to hear, understand, and use themselves?  One technique you can pull out of your toolkit is Acoustic Highlighting.  What is it and why does it work?  How and when do you do it?  Get your highlighters ready, let’s learn!


What is acoustic highlighting?  Just like a highlighter is used to make certain words stand out, or call attention to parts of the text, acoustic highlighting makes the words and phrases we say more salient (noticeable, important).  This is especially helpful for children with hearing loss who are learning to listen and talk.  Remember that the best language is caught, not taught, but we have to make that language easier to catch!


Why does it work?  Our brains are always looking for patterns, and things that are different catch our attention.  The changes we make when we acoustically highlight (see below) make the sounds, words, and phrases easier to hear, which makes them easier for children to learn and use them.


How do you do it?  You can highlight words or phrases to help them stand out by making them different in some way than the words around them.  You can change the speed of your speech, emphasize using intonation, sing the key word or phrase, whisper a sound or word, or repeat the important parts.


When might you use acoustic highlighting?  Here are some examples:

You’re helping a child learn a new sentence structure: subject + verb + object + prepositional phrase, e.g. “I threw the ball in the basket,” but he’s not quite getting that last bit (“in the basket”).  Slow it down!

You’re working on past tense “ate,” but the child keeps saying, “I eat an apple.”  Model back to her: “Oh, you ate an apple” with a little more intonation to highlight the word to change.


You’re giving directions in a classroom, but no one seems to be listening.  Catch their attention by singing!  “Now it’s time to ♪clean up!♪


A child is missing a sound in a word.  Use the whisper technique to make that sound more audible.  “I need some tape.”  More on the acoustic science behind why whispering works HERE.


Repetition can help to highlight a missed sound as well.  Let’s say the child keeps saying “bog” instead of “dog.”  Model it, “D-d-d-dog.” 


Listen to what the child says, then model back using some of these highlighting techniques to help him catch and correct his own mistakes.  It’s a great way to learn!


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