Does Hearing Loss Make It Harder to Learn New Words?

Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. I never heard this word before, but apparently my teenage daughter knows it well, having used it an essay she recently wrote and asked me to read.

“What is defenestration?” I asked her. Until then, I was not aware that throwing someone out the window had sparked two horrible wars two hundred years apart in the early days of Bohemia or that the word came from the Latin de- (out of or away from) and fenestra (window or opening). Thank you to my daughter and Wikipedia for this enlightening information.

I loved this fun new word, but I couldn’t remember it the next day. Or the next. Even when I repeated it aloud to myself numerous times, the word escaped my memory hours later. I know that my hearing loss sometimes makes it harder for me to remember new information (see my post on this here), but did it also make it harder to learn new words? Apparently so.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

It makes sense. When it is harder to hear a word — especially a new or unusual one — there is so much processing that is happening in order to just hear it, there isn’t much capacity left over for writing that new word into memory.

After a few days of failure, I tried a new approach — attaching the various sounds within the new word to ones I already knew. “De” was simple on its own. “Fene” sounded like henna, which reminded me of a henna tattoo that my friend had gotten for her wedding. That left “stration” which is also in the word frustration. That was certainly easy to associate with this new word!

Almost immediately I could remember the word. Linking the sounds in defenestration to words that I already knew well had done the trick. To keep my memory fresh, I try to use the word in a sentence at least once a week. This can be a challenge, however, since I don’t spend too much time throwing things out of windows.

The next time I come across a new word or technical term, I will employ the same strategy — linking it to other words or sounds that I know well. Perhaps this would work for remembering people’s names too. That would certainly be a big help.

Readers, do you have trouble learning new or technical words?

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26 thoughts on “Does Hearing Loss Make It Harder to Learn New Words?

  1. Shari, this is a wonderful post, which I plan to discuss with friends. Thank you for voicing what so many of us have experienced. Slang is another area where those of us with hearing loss have difficulty staying current with, and that could be another topic for you!

  2. In the case of a word like”defenestration”, it helps if one has studied Latin (years ago!) or a Latin-based Romance language. I have not heard this word in modern use–I would have guessed that it meant “removing the windows from a wall”, admittedly not something one does often! Paying attention to words is good for our aging brains, and as mentioned by Marjorie, slang and our ever-changing vocabulary, is a daily challenge. All made trickier by hearing loss. But working at it, hopefully,keeps our brains engaged and functioning!! Thanks for this one, Shari!

  3. I don’t have a problem learning new words but since developing my hearing loss three years ago, I get homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings such as their, there, and they’re) mixed up a lot. I’m a college professor and do a lot of academic and professional writing so this is time consuming and a bit embarrassing.

  4. Dear Shari. Loved this post. Growing up, (even with a hearing loss) I was a top speller and had exceptional language and vocabulary skills. But I have to admit that, as Peter S. commented, I knew the words but not the pronunciation. I would keep my speaking vocabulary simple, lest I sound stupid by mispronouncing words that everyone else knows. Even now, 50 years later, I seem to be encountering “new” words and thinking “why have I never heard that word before?” Then I answer to myself, “Well, Self, of course you never heard it before. Up until five months ago you never even heard a bird sing!”

  5. Hi Shari

    So many words also sound very similar despite the technology behind my ears. I also find accents and dialects difficult.

    The trouble is of course when like me you have very poor hearing in speech frequencies, no number of repeats of words is going to get them understood.


  6. For me I find that it definitely impacts learning new words, as well as new languages!! Part of my hearing loss includes inability to differentiate some consonants versus vowels versus syllables.
    I have been trying to learn Spanish with some close friends that are from Mexico. I have to have them repeat words over and over and over and over!!!! One trick I have found that helps is having the word spelt for me, whether out loud or on paper. If I can visually see the word (in brain or on paper), it helps me with the pronunciation.

  7. When someone says a new word I have not heard such as defenestrate ( Did I spell it right?).. I usually have the person write it down..
    But like many says in the post. Forgotten in a mere minute or hours.. I speak in simple terms, but on good days I can talk in college terms. Depends what my ears let me hear.

  8. Well hearing loss makes it difficult to learn new names of people so new words is definitely up there with extra difficult . If you depend on your eyes more than your ears for lipreading , you may get lucky and “see” a new word “hear” and there. No end to the challenges with hearing loss.
    Including trying to get a Captiview device to fit in the cup holders at an AMC theater !

  9. It is not just one single word alone. Actually, people with severe hearing loss can hear some mumbling sound but cannot fully understand long continuous sentences especially when got some people talking at the time! Any superb medical help, such as stem cell cure??

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