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

By Mark Frauenfelder

[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)

Published 8:26 am Fri, Sep 30, 2011

, , ,

About the Author

Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the founding editor-in-chief of MAKE. He is editor-in-chief of Cool Tools and co-founder of Wink Books. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects

67 Responses to “29-year-old woman born deaf hears herself for the first time”

  1. Cory Doctorow says:

    Goodness, that was moving.

  2. Chris Overbeek says:

    That is so cool. Seeing people uncontrollably happy is definitely a wonderful thing.

  3. jarmstrong says:

    Real true joy.  This is just beautiful.

  4. 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!

  5. Nick Schweitzer says:

    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?

    • DisqThis says:

      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”?

    • Chris Overbeek says:

      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.

      • millie fink says:

        Well, there’s thing that I think they call, like, speech therapy?


        • Chris Overbeek says:

          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.

      • Thanks, that explains it then. I also had a look at the comments on youtube but I didn’t spend too long there…

        • 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…

    • She obviously learned speech since she is able to speak.

    • RichardHenderson says:

      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.

    • Geoff G says:

      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.

      • blueelm says:

        Dear god you are ignorant of deafness!

        • blueelm says:

          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.

    • I was thinking the exact same thing, if no one below you has answered this question it’s a huge mind-fuck.

  6. 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.

  7. Tina Boscha says:

    That was really beautiful to watch. Genuine and pure.

  8. 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.

  9. Kazuki says:

    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.

  10. Patrick Byrne says:

    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…

  11. BB used to be a “directory of wonderful things”.

    Glad to see you’re back in that business.

  12. zombiebob says:

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

  13. millie fink says:

    Wow. The things most of us take for granted . . .

  14. Man….thanks for this. This unquestionably made my week. Wonderful.

  15. franko says:

    beautiful. i don’t even know her, but i’m so happy for her. :’ )

  16. SeattlePete says:

    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!”

  17. brainflakes says:

    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

  18. Nathan Green says:

    Good for you!! Nice tats too!!

  19. Benny Profane says:

    Someone get this woman some Aphex Twin, stat.

    • bcsizemo says:

      Just imagine how much more awesome Window Licker would be in that digitized sounding way! 

    • Scott says:

      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!!!!

    • of all the things you could of said, that’s what you went with… genius. 

  20. ahmacrom says:

    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..”

  21. Teller says:

    Just finished listening to that Buddy Rich solo then I see this. Thanks, BB.

  22. Chris Overbeek says:

    @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…

  23. Stef of Ing says:

    Wow – imagine experiencing a new sense for the first time, no – it’s unimaginable!

  24. Mister44 says:

    “Cochlear implants, how the fuck do they work?”

  25. langeslag says:

    This made my day.

  26. Private Private says:

    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.

  27. cymk says:

    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.

    • hypnosifl says:

      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.

      • cymk says:

        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?

        • Chevan says:

          Yes. It’s important to  note that the comment you quoted is to a different video. http://ci-borg.blogspot.com/2006/02/switch-on.html

          It’s also worth noting that in later interviews, she’s satisfied with the implants. There’s a link further up the page.

        • hypnosifl says:

          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.

        • Brainspore says:

          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”.

  28. Katey Corrigan says:

    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.)

  29. elk says:

    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?

  30. Is anyone else having trouble with the Like button not working? The G+ 1up works fine, but the  Facebook Like doesnt seem to stick.

  31. atimoshenko says:

    Beautiful. Genuine happiness is infectious.

  32. boxyroom_22 says:

    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.

  33. jjeff1 says:

    Google led me to Sarah’s blog, where she writes in more detail about the experience of getting the device turned on.


    /not a stalker

  34. Alex Kadis says:

    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.

  35. cymk says:

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

  36. Pat says:

    About two years ago BoingBoing posted about my hearing implant operation.

    Here is the video of the activation where I got to hear my guitar for the first time in years


  37. $16228947 says:

    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.

  38. AudioTherapist says:

    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!

  39. alfredoramosvallenas says:


  40. SCAQTony says:

    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.)

  41. Molly Jacobs says:

     I guess that’s where it gets tricky…a lot of people ARE being pressured. There’s a lot of propaganda on both sides of the argument.

  42. Mark Dow says:

    An inability to understand sign languages is a profound cognitive handicap, by definition.

    What a wonder it would be to be cured of this affliction.

  43. Mark Dow says:

    “…but the destruction of that culture is inevitable as technology improves.”

    No. There are many causes and degrees of deafness, and cochlear implants and other assistive technology do not address the causes or many of the effects.

  44. PiffL says:

    Whatever makes her happy yo.