Objective: The aim of the present research is to examine the relations between auditory perception and production of specific speech contrasts by children with cochlear implants (CIs) who received their implants before 3 years of age and to examine the hierarchy of abilities for perception and production for consonant and vowel features. The following features were examined: vowel height, vowel place, consonant place of articulation (front and back), continuance, and consonant voicing.
Design: Fifteen children (mean age = 4;0 and range 3;2 to 5;11) with a minimum of 18 months of experience with their implants and no additional known disabilities served as participants. Perception of feature contrasts was assessed using a modification of the Online Imitative Speech Pattern Contrast test, which uses imitation to assess speech feature perception. Production was examined by having the children name a series of pictures containing consonant and vowel segments that reflected contrasts of each feature.
Results: For five of the six feature contrasts, production accuracy was higher than perception accuracy. There was also a significant and positive correlation between accuracy of production and auditory perception for each consonant feature. This correlation was not found for vowels, owing largely to the overall high perception and production scores attained on the vowel features. The children perceived vowel feature contrasts more accurately than consonant feature contrasts. On average, the children had lower perception scores for Back Place and Continuance feature contrasts than for Anterior Place and Voicing contrasts. For all features, the median production scores were 100%; the majority of the children were able to accurately and consistently produce the feature contrasts. The mean production scores for features reflect greater score variability for consonant feature production than for vowel features. Back Place of articulation for back consonants and Continuance contrasts appeared to be the most difficult features to produce, as reflected in lower mean production scores for these features.
Conclusions: The finding of greater production than auditory perception accuracy for five of the six features examined suggests that the children with CIs were able to produce articulatory contrasts that were not readily perceived through audition alone. Factors that are likely to play a role in the greater production accuracy in addition to audition include the lexical and phonetic properties of the words elicited, a child's phonological representation of the words and motor abilities, and learning through oro-tactile, visual, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic perception. The differences among the features examined, and between perception and production, point to the clinical importance of evaluating these abilities in children with CIs. The present findings further point to the utility of picture naming to establish a child's production accuracy, which in turn is necessary if using imitation as a measure of auditory capacity.