User Stories

A Polyglot’s Pilgrimage To The Birthplace Of His Cochlear Implants

Kristian Erickson from Alaska has one big passion: studying foreign languages. But his progressive hearing loss made mastering them increasingly difficult – until he got cochlear implants, that is! Getting hearing implants reopened a whole world of languages for him, something that came in handy when he traveled to MED-EL’s headquarters in Austria.

We asked him to tell us more about his love of languages, his hearing loss, and his pilgrimage to the Alps.

For my language requirement in high school, I had to choose from Spanish, French, German, and Latin.

I was passionate about hiking, mountaineering, and skiing, so I registered for German, the language of the Alps.


Mastering New Languages

Learning German wasn’t easy! Moreover, I discovered that the German of my textbooks was different from what was spoken in the heartbreakingly beautiful Alpine valleys of Austria, Switzerland, and Bavaria. I struggled to understand simple phrases in dialects that turned out to be different idioms.

Despite the difficulties, my enthusiasm for German and its many subforms grew. I wondered if I might like other languages, so I added Spanish and French. As well as a bit of Koine Greek and Italian. Today German remains my favorite language, because of its versatility and precision.

My academic interests grew along with my passion for mountains and language. I wrote my master’s thesis about the sound system of the Zürich German dialect, “Züritüütsch”.


Struggles With Hearing Loss

In my beloved homeland of Alaska, I started studying Yup’ik (Eskimo), a sophisticated tongue. But that’s when tragedy struck. I found that I couldn’t hear my tutor when he used typical Yup’ik words employing sounds that are commonly called “hissing”, “rubbing” or even “guttural”.

Back when I was studying Swiss German, I could hear those same labiodental and velar affricates, but now there was silence when the teacher talked. With deep sadness I gave up studying Yup’ik.

The decline toward total hearing loss continued, and soon even ordinary conversation became a struggle.


Choosing Cochlear Implants

Just over three years ago, after many audiological consultations, an Anchorage surgeon told me that if I wanted to return to the world of the hearing, the route would be cochlear implant surgeries.

When it came time to choose the type of device, the surgeon recommended MED-EL. He said that since I was a classical music enthusiast, this firm’s product had the best chance of satisfying music reproduction. When I learned that MED-EL was based in the heart of my beloved Alps, my interest grew.


A Journey Of Thanks

I am ever thankful that he steered me toward MED-EL. The thrill of getting accustomed to the world of CIs and my RONDO external processors continues. Every month is a bit better. I am astonished that I can hear those Yup’ik and Swiss German fricatives and affricates again, not just well, but even better than in my youth.

Last October I took a trip, akin to a pilgrimage, to Innsbruck Austria. For me it was essential to meet with the team that built my hearing implants. On a sunny morning I told them, “Danke! Sie haben mir mein Leben zurückgegeben!” (Thank you! You gave me my life back!)

Thanks, Kristian!


Want to know more about learning languages with a cochlear implant? Here are 8 tips for teaching your child multiple languages.

Interested in having a look inside MED-EL’s manufacturing buildings? Take a look at how our hearing implants are made.

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