As audiologists at Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center, we are best known for rehabilitating hearing loss. However, we don’t stop at evaluating your hearing. We care about communication. When you come to one of our audiologists for a diagnostic hearing evaluation, we discuss with you your lifestyle and your communication needs. We talk to you about how your specific hearing loss impacts your ability to communicate in a wide range of listening environments. Just as important— we work with family, friends, and other communication partners to help them better understand how to communicate with a loved one who has hearing loss. During May - Better Hearing and Speech Month - we want to discuss how Clear Speech can lead to better hearing. The following strategies can help you improve your communication with family and friends who have a hearing loss.
What is Clear Speech?
Clear Speech is a method of speaking in which the speaker makes a concerted effort to express every word, sentence, and idea in a very precise, accurate, and deliberate way. When you practice Clear Speech with a friend or family member, you don’t shout at them or speak in unnatural ways - like exaggerating sounds, or speaking in a monotone or “sing-song” voice. Rather, you speak slowly and clearly at a slightly elevated - but not strained - volume. It is a way of conveying your message in a clear, purposeful way to help a person with a hearing loss better understand what you said AND avoid the need for repetition.
What is the goal of Clear Speech?
Hearing loss impairs communication by filtering out certain speech sounds, so the individual with hearing loss only hears a portion of the sounds spoken to them. Different types and degrees of hearing loss filter out different speech sounds and different amounts of speech information. The goal of Clear Speech is for the communication partner to employ good speech techniques to help the individual with hearing loss to compensate for the speech sounds filtered out by their hearing loss.
How can I practice Clear Speech?
- Articulate sounds precisely and accurately
- Speak more slowly
- Take clear pauses between phrases and thoughts. This gives the individual with hearing loss time to process key ideas before you continue with your thoughts.
- Increase volume - but only slightly, and avoid speaking where you are straining. When you strain to speak loudly, you are distorting your speech sounds and the way your lips are moving (thus impairing visual lipreading cues).
Examples of Clear Speech:
You may be reading this thinking “I speak clearly, what more can I do?” What many people don’t realize, though, is that English speakers actually don’t speak very clearly - even when we think we are! We often blur words together and blend speech sounds of neighboring words in a sentence. Take a look at the following examples of typical spoken English and the transformation into Clear Speech (Kricos, 2005).
- “She leffer the store onabus”
- Using Clear Speech, the speaker would say - at a modestly elevated vocal volume - “She left for the city on a bus.” The pauses give the individual with hearing loss time to process what has been said - and to understand the meaning of key ideas before the speaker adds further detail. Also Clear Speech avoids blending of sounds like “leffer” in this particular example.
- “The kids ‘r swim’n inthepool.”
- The Clear Speech version would be: “The kids are swimming in the pool.” Once again, strategic pauses in key places help the individual with hearing loss to follow ideas in the sentence. Also, by not blending words and sounds together, you make your ideas more easily understandable to a family or friend with hearing loss.
- “Yermother’ll haftagotothe denistomorrow”
- With Clear Speech, you would say “Your mother will have to go to the dentist tomorrow.” Words like “hafta” are common in spoken English, but they are difficult for the individual with hearing loss. With Clear Speech, you avoid familiar sayings like this to make sure your speech is clear and understandable. It may take some effort to avoid speaking like this, but if you do, you may avoid having to repeat yourself!
- Another Clear Speech tip is to take a pause before and after very important words in a sentence. For example, if you want to ensure an individual with hearing loss hears the correct name in a sentence, take a pause before and after saying the person’s name. The same goes for any very important word in a sentence.
Other Communication Strategies:
In addition to Clear Speech techniques, there are numerous strategies for improving your communication with friends and family members with hearing loss. Below are some ideas:
- Make sure you get the individual’s attention before speaking. This could mean saying his/her name and waiting until he/she makes eye contact with you. Or it could mean gently tapping the person on the shoulder.
- Don’t try to communicate from different rooms in the house! We hear this one a lot when see patients. We know it may feel more convenient to try shouting from another room, but individuals with hearing loss can’t communicate this way!
- Reduce background noise and distractions when communicating. Background noise is very detrimental for individuals with hearing loss. Even background noise that you perceive as soft may make speech understanding more difficult for an individual with hearing loss
- Make sure the individual with hearing loss can see your face. Speak face-to-face with good lighting. Visual cues help a lot!
- If an individual with hearing loss asks for repetition, consider using different words/phrasing when you repeat. Some words are difficult for an individual with hearing loss to hear, so repeating in different words may help.
- Check for understanding. When expressing ideas, you may need to step back to check that the listener is on the same page before continuing on with other ideas.
- Most importantly, be patient! Listening with a hearing loss is hard work.
If you suspect a friend or family member has hearing loss, we want to help! The above tips are a general guide for communicating with a friend or family member with hearing loss, but only a diagnostic hearing evaluation performed by a licensed audiologist can provide individualized recommendations. Call Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center at 216-231-8787 to schedule a consult with one of our experienced audiologists. In the meantime, we encourage you to practice Clear Speech with friends and family members who have hearing loss. This month, better speech is better hearing!