Linguist | Youth Central

Johanna, 36

Fact file

Job description: Studies the relationship between the way speech is made and heard in the speech development of children who become deaf before they learn to speak.

Subjects studied: Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Geography, English, French and Gaelic.

Further training: Johanna completed an Honours degree in Chemistry at University of Melbourne (4 years full-time); a Masters degree in Pharmacology at Monash University (2 years full-time); a Degree in Italian at University of Melbourne (3 years full-time); a Postgraduate Diploma of Linguistics, University of Melbourne (2 years full-time); and a PhD in Otolaryngology/Linguistics at University of Melbourne (in progress).

Salary: PhD scholarship of $17,000 a year.


Johanna loves studying the science of language at the Bionic Ear Institute. She is doing research toward her PhD on the way speech and language are learned in deaf children after their hearing is restored by cochlear implants.

The cochlear, or inner ear, decodes information from sound via hair-like cells and sends it to the brain. Despite the cochlear implant having only 24 electric channels available to do the work of about 30,000 hair cells, children learn to speak quite well after receiving the device.

'The cochlear implant is recognised throughout the world as having made a difference to countless people's lives. Much of the research on the implant is done in Victoria. This brings a great deal of prestige to Victoria. My work has the potential to help make a great product better.'

A group of children from Hong Kong is helping Johanna in her study of the tone and intonation which are so much a part of Asian languages. Many deaf speakers of English don't use intonation at all, making their speech flat and difficult to understand. Johanna hopes that application of her emerging knowledge of tone and intonation will help formerly deaf children develop more natural sounding speech.

Blowing stuff up

Far from the linguistic laboratory, Johanna's first degree in chemistry led her into a job as a mining explosives expert for the chemical company ICI. She worked in all areas of mining and travelled Australia. 'But it didn't really grab me in the end,' says Johanna.

While driving the long hauls between mining sites, Johanna started learning Italian from cassette tapes. Not long afterwards, she was back at university studying Italian towards an Arts degree, with some linguistics thrown in.

Now she feels that linguistics, the science of language, provides her with an important link between the arts and sciences.

Job specs

Speech pathologists diagnose, treat and provide management services to people of all ages with communication disorders, including speech, language, voice, fluency and literacy difficulties, or people who have physical problems with eating or swallowing.


  • Establish the exact nature and severity of each client's communication problems, which may require the use of special equipment and tests
  • Plan and carry out treatment and management, taking into account the client's age, past and present social environment, and physical and intellectual abilities
  • Treat children who are unable to communicate effectively due to conditions such as cleft palate, hearing loss, delayed speech or language development, cerebral palsy or emotional disturbances
  • Treat adults whose language, speech or voice has been affected by surgery, disease or disorders of the nervous system, brain damage or hearing loss
  • Help children and adults overcome stuttering
  • Assess and treat children and adults who have difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Act as a consultant to education, medical, dental and other health professionals
  • Provide ongoing counselling, advice and information to clients and families as a part of overall treatment

Personal requirements

  • Good communication skills
  • Good listening and interpersonal skills enjoy language and communication
  • Able to inspire confidence and cooperation
  • Enjoy working with people
  • A patient and tactful approach to people's problems
  • Able to deal with complex and unusual situations

Getting started

Find out more about a career in speech therapy:

Speech Pathology Australia
2nd Floor 11-19 Bank Pl Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9642 4899
Fax: (03) 9642 4922

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