When a child is born deaf, and then receives cochlear implants, learning to talk is a process of learning how to associate the sounds they can newly hear with the sounds they are able to make with their mouths.
GetTalking is an app being developed by a team of researchers at Swinbourne University, designed to help them do just that. The project was started by Dr Belinda Barnet after her own experience raising her hearing impaired daughter.
"With my own daughter – she had an implant at 11 months old – I could afford to take a year off to teach her to talk. This involved lots of repetitive exercises and time. Now that she can talk I'd like to help other families who may not have that time," Dr Barnet says.
Being developed to run on iPads or other tablets, GetTalking gives infants a bright visual reward for speaking. "When a child has not heard any sound, they don't understand that a noise has an effect on the environment. So the first thing has to be a visual reward for an articulation," Dr Barnet says. "At 12 months children respond well to visual rewards – and even an 'ahhh' or 'ohhh' should get a response from the app."
After the app recognises any kind of speech from the infant it then has to recognise what word the child was trying to say, rewarding them for speaking words and approximations of words. As understanding a baby that doesn’t know how to form words is exceptionally complicated, complex speech recognition software and artificial intelligence is needed.