29-year-old woman born deaf hears herself for the first time

[Video Link] sloanchurman says: "I was born deaf and 8 weeks ago I received a hearing implant. This is the video of them turning it on and me hearing myself for the first time :)" (Via Sean Bonner)


  1. I know a bit about how this feels. I remember stepping out to hear the fields of Stanford after getting new hearing aids at the palo Alto  “California Hearing institute” Thank you Dr Rodney perkins, and my parents!

  2. That’s awesome. But I have a question: How does she know what the others are saying if she’s never heard anything before? She has her eyes covered and the audiologist says “can you hear me” and she nods that she can. How does she know what those words sound like?

    1. She pronounced words really well too.  I was thinking she would sound more like Marlee Matlin from several years back.  Maybe they meant “hearing herself from inside for the first time”?

    2. To those asking how she understood words — according to her own comments on the video, from birth she was basically deaf, but had worn hearing aids her whole life (of limited benefit). She states that she had been a life-long lip reader because even with the aids she could not hear well enough to understand people.

        1. She clearly worked very hard on her speech — but I was responding to the question of how could she understand the others if she had never heard before. I was simply pointing out that she had extremely limited hearing before the implant — enough that words would be recognized.

          If you look at her profile on youtube, you’ll see this comment:
          “My whole life I’ve been complimented on how well I speak. I don’t really have an answer for you other than I have always had a passion for reading, grammar, and English. My hearing loss was/is considered severe to profound. I’ve worked very hard to be able to interact and blend in…”

          BoingBoing — the handle is sloanchurman, not sloanchurchman.

        1. On youtube it tends to be the safest policy to not spend too much time in the comments.

          If only every comment section were ported from a boingboing audience…

    3. Many deaf people learn to lip read to start, and are able to speak in return. I had a friend whose mom was deaf, but if you didn’t know it, you’d have no clue; her pronunciation was flawless.

      I’m unsure of the mechanism behind it, but I’m guessing it has to do with vibrations.

    4. I assume the same we she knows how to speak. Even though she never heard words, she knows how to make the words from her own mouth, which means she knows how they are supposed to sound.

        1. Knowing how anything is “supposed to sound” is only accomplished by residual hearing. I’m really sad no one here seems to know anything about deafness, the deaf community…. anything.

          Some one should link the audio of what people “hear” with these things. Hey, for some people it is awesome, but the sad truth is people with them often still need aiding because the sound a lot of people hear from implants… let’s think Linda Blair in a dining  hall lined with tin cans. 

          But that doesn’t stop happy doctors from telling parents their kids can be “normal” and won’t need any extra help, and never to teach them anything that might “impair their language” you know, like languages they can understand without hearing.

          That being said, it’s great they are working for her and she’s happy. But as nice as it is, it would be nicer if there wasn’t so much ignorance surrounding the whole issue.

  3. I was an interpreter for 10 years or so (had to work through school), and I can vouch for strong reactions to cochlear implants in both extremes.  I’ve known people who had the choice thrust upon them at a young age, and were never able to learn to use the device properly.  I think an adult, being able to make this decision for themselves, is a wonderful thing… and I wish her well.  If my own hearing deteriorates, I would love such an opportunity… but that’s probably due to me always wanting awesome cyborg powers.

  4. If she’s hearing for the first time, how does she understand the lady speaking (at 0:55) without seeing her? I don’t know anything about impaired hearing so I might be wrong there, I wonder if someone who knows more could enlighten me.

  5. Pretty amazing to see.  Beyond that, my second thought was, if she’s been deaf her entire life, how was she articulating her words so perfectly?  She didn’t sound hearing impaired at all.  Also, if you’ve never in your life heard a spoken word, how do you know what words people are speaking when you hear them audibly?  Kind of like, how do you explain yellow to a blind person kind of thing.  Really fascinating though, and so exciting that perhaps, in the not too distant future, deafness may, in a way, become a thing of the past.

  6. Science!!!  ITS FUCKING MAGIC!!!!

    That probably just made my entire Friday awesome….good chance my whole weekend.

    Time to post this to every social media site im part of…

  7. Interesting, what I find somewhat weird/cool is how she seems to speak with intonation (“no not really”).

  8. If I were her husband I would be really tempted to speak my first few words in a really squeeky, high-pitched voice.  “Now that you can hear my terrible secret is revealed!”

  9. Sorry to be a killjoy, but apparently (reddit comment, no link was given) there’s a followup interview where she talks about being mostly deaf from the age of 2 (she must have some hearing to be able to talk that well and understand speech) and also those weren’t tears of joy, it was tears of realising that the distorted sounds that cochlear implants give was the best her hearing would ever be.

    As I said no link was actually given, but she must have had at least some hearing growing up or she wouldn’t be able to understand speech or to speak so clearly

    1. This is the thread in question: http://www.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/kvw9b/woman_hearing_herself_for_the_fist_time/c2noq72

      The comment you’re referring to was to a different video than the one posted here on BoingBoing. This is the video you’re referencing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWe6iJmHKUE . Here’s a blog post about the video: http://ci-borg.blogspot.com/2006/02/switch-on.html , as well as a follow-up: http://kstateinternetjournalism.wetpaint.com/page/Cochlear+Controversy , as well as new commentary from the girl in the video:

       “But Buck said since that day things have only improved. She said she can
      talk on the phone again, an essential part of her job, she can
      understand conversations in the dark without the need to read lips and
      she feels so much more confident in social situations.

      best part of having the implant is the effect on my self esteem. It
      improved immeasurably,” she said. “I have lots more confidence in what
      I’ve heard in conversations, instead of doubting that I’ve heard the
      right thing. There are absolutely no regrets.””

    1. My friend Rudy was born without a fully developed left ear and was entirely deaf in that ear. He received an implant/reconstructive surgery in his young adult years. He came to visit me and other friends in Ithaca NY right after his procedure, for a house party (he is a DJ of course ;) where a lot of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, etc… was to be spun. Highlight of the night: Watching/experiencing Rudy finally and fully grasp the world of stereophonic sound to an Aphex Twin song. I believe the song was Xtal. The moment was spiritual for everyone involved! It was quite a dance party from there on!!!!

  10. Truly awesome, I will have the same reaction when I hear,” prominent members of Wall street financial institutions were swept up in an early hour daytime raid..”

  11. @boingboing-2345997079bc2a39380004b6db74ab7e:disqus and @facebook-108500100:disqus 
    I had to question that she was crying for any reason other than happiness — it certainly seemed genuine. So I did a quick search.  The Reddit case cited is a different person: http://gammasquad.uproxx.com/2011/09/cochlear-implant-patients-hear-for-the-first-time-videos

    @Chevan beat me to the punch, and did a better job of it — this comment can be deleted…

  12. I have Miniere’s Disease. Along with frequent bouts of dizziness that have gravely affected my rock climbing addiciton, I may at some point in the future lose my hearing completely. I am already partially deaf. I am also a classical pianist.

    What an insult it is to anyone with a hearing disorder to say that my music, my laughter, the sound of my own breathing when I’m climbing, are not things to mourn the loss of or rejoice in the experience of.  This woman is not happy because some external social construct has pressured her into being happy. She is crying because there are some objectively wonderful things in this world and she just got a chance to find them for the first time. My suggestion to her is to immediately listen to Bach’s cello suites. All of them. Every last eighth note of tangible, universally-acknowledged perfection.

    I’m actually crying too much to continue writing this.

    What an amazing video. Thank you. Thank you, BB.

  13. Does anyone have this phantom link the the post interview everyone is talking about?  Those look like tears of joy to me, not tears of frustration and sadness. Now its possible the implant doesn’t work as well as she hoped, but I would like to see her posts about it; not someones second hand claims about an interview they saw.

    Science has been trying for centuries to help those whose hearing is impaired. Cochlear implants are a major step forward, a modern day miracle, but it won’t be the last miracle we will see.

    1. See the comments from Chevan and Chris Overbeek above, the woman who said she cried tears of frustration was a different person from the woman in this video, who was indeed crying out of happiness.

      1. here is the comment by reddit user th3pack:

        “Didn’t realize that until I saw a youtube comment. I went to her blog and found this quote about it:

        The sound was just so weird, all it was like was this
        high pitched, garbled, continuous noise. This was people TALKING. I had
        to indicate to get her to stop turning it up, I didn’t even want to
        talk, my voice sounded so weird. Then everyone is trying to talk to me
        and its so weird and I said “it sounds like aliens!” and just burst into
        tears (just like i predicted). Mum and dad got all teary too, I think
        they thought I was happy-crying because there was sound but it was
        bloody awful.”

        Made me sad to hear that.”

        Again, there is no direct confirmation from this woman, just a second hand source. Does anyone have a link to her blog to confirm that she really doesn’t like the sounds the cochlear implant produce?

        1. As chevan said the comments you’re quoting are from a different woman (the one in this video and this one). The link to that woman’s blog post where she talks about being unhappy at first is here, but as you can see from this later post she’s now happy with the implants. As for the woman in the video that Mark posted, her description on youtube was “This is the video of them turning it on and me hearing myself for the first time :)”, so from the combination of the smiley face in the youtube description and the fact that she pretty clearly appeared very happy in the video, I’m pretty sure she was indeed crying out of happiness.

        2. It should have been pretty obvious just from that quote that it came from a different person than the woman in this video. For one thing, her parents don’t appear to have been in the room. For another, Americans usually don’t use slang like “Mum” and “bloody”.

  14. If this makes you tear up- you should look up the Finding Emilie story from Radiolab. It had me bawling my eyes out on the train when I first heard it. (It does involve a hearing impaired person.)

  15. I’m very curious to hear an answer to how it was possible to understand that initial question without seeing the person’s lips moving….

    But I’d like to hear it from HER…perhaps she could answer here?

  16. That is so inspiring.  Sometimes we take for granted what we already have, like hearing then we see someone who appreciates it more than we do and we realize there is so much we have to be thankful for.

  17. It seems, as @jjeff1 said, that this is her blog: http://sarahchurman.blogspot.com/ This post is about her reaction to the new implant: http://sarahchurman.blogspot.com/2011/09/my-ear-in-his-heart.html and she talks about how difficult it is, but at the same time, she seems to be loving it.

  18. Thanks for the links @boingboing-ab08e490dd18cee04dc982dd93dbf2e0:disqus  and @twitter-97810306:disqus  ! Its nice to finally read her blog.

  19. Joyous – but not nearly so joyous as witnessing this young woman react to to the experience herself for the first time – is remembering  that I’m still able to cry.

  20. Hi All,

    Although I don’t work with Cochlear Implant patients I trained in one of the first UK centres and had three weeks placement in another centre. I also have 20 years as an Audiologist & Hearing Therapist.

    Severe/Profound hearing loss does not necessarily lead to strong Deaf speech. With a huge amount of effort and input from parents, professionals and a lot of hard work and intelligence on the part of the child speech can be surprisingly normal.

    If she had had no auditory input whatsoever all her life I would be doubtful about her responses however that is clearly not the case. I suspect her hearing loss has gradually been progressing and her income has also increased to the point where the decision became an easier one to make.

    The implants themselves have also improved dramatically over the years and I would have to say the few switch-on’s I have been privileged to sit in on have mostly been pretty jaw-dropping affairs, even for someone with my background.

    Good on her and yah boo sucks to the ill-informed nay-sayers!

  21. Can someone who could hear before, but went deaf, then got an Esteem cochlear  implant review the sound quality? (I went deaf in one ear after getting both the mumps and measles as a kid and if I go deaf someday I really want two of these things – also, memo to parents, immunize your kids.)

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