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With speeches right, left and centre (literally) high on the political agenda at the moment, it’s time to consider speech from all angles: other people’s and my own.

On polling day, Thursday 6th May, I went along to my hospital to have my 1 month mapping. They were very pleased with my progress and the dynamic range (between loud and soft sounds) which they had established – I was told it was quite unusual to have such a wide range at this stage, but I’m glad about that because I now have a lot more room for manoeuvre. As with my previous mapping, things sound much more balanced and in proportion to their relative loudness, and the detail of sounds is becoming more apparent.

As before, other people’s voices have taken on a greater degree of individuality. With the previous mapping the difference between real-life speakers was immediately apparent, but previously it was really only possible to distinguish between male and female voices on the television, since they sounded very remote. The other evening, I could distinguish between Gordon Brown’s and David Cameron’s voices as the one made a farewell speech and the other an inaugural speech. Or take speed humps. At first all I heard was car engines around the humps: at the second mapping, the sound of the motor slowing down as a car approached the humps became apparent; now I can hear the little “thack-a” sound as the wheel makes contact with the hump, then comes down with a bump on the other side: followed by another “thack-a” for the rear wheels, which sounds slightly different, I think because with the first set of wheels over the hump, the driver is already beginning to accelerate away. The birds’ trilling, again, is not a repetitive series of cheeps but modulated, rising and falling. I can even recognise an individual bird living in a tree I pass every day – I’m convinced it is a woodpecker, and having played back the RSPB identification tape, I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m hearing, as I haven’t heard that call anywhere else. Even in my village I hear different birds in different locations.

Going back to the mapping, they played a tape of environmental noises to assess my progress. I correctly identified all the sounds to which I’d already been exposed: samples of male and female voices, a lot of voices talking, a dog barking, laughter. Things which stumped me, as I haven’t come across them yet, included a baby crying, and a cock crowing (eh?? I don’t live in the country, and anyway, even if I did, I wouldn’t be wearing my CI at whatever ungodly hour a cock crows, I’d be fast asleep . . . ) I’d better not give away any more noises, had I, for anyone who hasn’t yet had this test?? But perhaps, if you’d like your fill of new environmental noises, this, from the National Trust, might be an acceptable substitute!

The score on this test was 60%, and speech with lipreading was 100%, compared with 43% with lipreading alone pre-implant (a figure which I remember shocking me at the time, as I have always considered myself to be a very good lipreader. It shocked me again to be reminded of it.) The score on the speech without lipreading test fell to 17%, but in real terms that is very nearly 20% better than pre-implant, since that particular test was, of course, previously impossible. I’ve since been doing some more listening to the tannoy – which might sound sad, but it is really my main method of listening to speech without lipreading in a meaningful context. My life in tannoys . . . in London at the weekend I got onto a Southern train to Gipsy Hill, and with the scrolling display perfectly synchronised with the announcements each time they were made, I had live captioning! On the bus I heard, every so often, above the chatter of people and the roar of the traffic outside, “This is the Number 3 for Oxford Circus.”

I caught the No.3 to meet my CI buddy – to see the “Farmer’s Cheese”, a musical for children with cochlear implants, sponsored by Med-El, and, as they say, a great time was had by all. It was in fact an integrated piece of theatre, where the actors had a real rapport with the children, the musicians did a little acting, and I could not only hear the actors and the musicians, I could also hear the children joining in! As a very simple introduction to music, based on repetition, each animal was associated with a different instrument in the first half, then as the naive farmer and naughty little mouse fought over the cheese in the second half, each instrument came in again to introduce a new style of music, e.g. rock and roll.

We CI buddies plus the Bear had lunch first – it was lovely to hear her for the first time ever, as it is with so many people – everybody in the world really! – and even her hearing dog “speaking” for a bit of sandwich, which I picked up even among the cacophony of the cafe. I was very impressed that her CI had allowed her to hear how much my voice had changed: to be able to discern that kind of difference is amazing especially as it is quite a while since we last met, and I think it speaks volumes about the way CIs have changed the world for both of us – for the humungous better!

So what is that difference? My voice is quieter (except when it needs to be louder – I’m responding more appropriately to background noise, simply because I can now hear it and judge how much I need to speak up over it, for example when the coffee machine hisses out the steam in the office canteen: not something I could ever feel because it was too high-pitched, unlike, say, the roar of a train approaching.) A lot of people have noticed this, and other frequently reported comments say that my speech is both more even, in terms of consistent volume, and more uneven, in that it has more of a rising and falling intonation.

The strange part about it is that it actually now seems physically easier to talk, far less of an effort. I’ve never had difficulty getting strangers to understand me, but being able to hear my own voice has made the process much, much easier in ways that I haven’t quite fathomed yet.

I’m continuing with the rehab, but I must say I find the audiobook boring, probably because I’ve read the book already. I think the next book ought to be one I haven’t yet read – which will not only increase the difficulty level, but actually be more interesting. Someone explained to me why it might be boring for me: you’re forced to read slower than you otherwise would, and I do find myself listening ahead now, which I suppose is the point in a way. Far more interesting to me is exposure to a wide variety of speech sounds, and my last post gave me that idea: Get By in Hearing. I thought of the BBC language courses of that ilk – basic French, German, and other language courses in bitesize chunks, with subtitles and recaps that can be turned on or off as you choose. The processes are very much akin to deciphering even one’s own language when hearing it for the first time – separating out words – so it seems a natural step to me: being exposed to very rapid speech with very different vowel sounds will add to my repertoire. French sounds very familiar – after all, I was very young when I first learnt it, but I only added German as an adult, so that was completely new, and yet not. I might even start learning another language.

Everything is all strangely familiar. I gained an idea of people’s speech from what I was able to lipread, for example, or touch – feeling the Bear’s voice, so some voices have come as a complete surprise to me, and others not at all. Some were surprisingly deep, or loud, and of course as I said previously – no idea that people had been voiceless previously! Yet there’s a bit more to it than that. The world’s the same, but it’s not the same any more. It feels like I’ve come a very long way in a very short time, and I’ve still got a long way to go, but the only way I can describe it is: I’ve come home!

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