Cochlear implants (CIs) can facilitate the acquisition of spoken language for deaf children, but challenges remain. Language skills dependent on phonological sensitivity are most at risk for these children, so having an effective way to diagnose problems at this level would be of value for school speech-language pathologists. The goal of this study was to assess whether a nonword repetition (NWR) task could serve that purpose.


Participants were 104 second graders: 49 with normal hearing (NH) and 55 with CIs. In addition to NWR, children were tested on 10 measures involving phonological awareness and processing, serial recall of words, vocabulary, reading, and grammar.


Children with CIs performed more poorly than children with NH on NWR, and sensitivity to phonological structure alone explained that performance for children in both groups. For children with CIs, 2 audiological factors positively influenced outcomes on NWR: being identified with hearing loss at a younger age and having experience with wearing a hearing aid on the unimplanted ear at the time of receiving a 1st CI. NWR scores were better able to rule out than to rule in such language deficits.


Well-designed NWR tasks could have clinical utility in assessments of language acquisition for school-age children with CIs.


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