What is it about?

We investigated the effects of background noise level, reverberation time, and talker foreign accent on native and non-native listeners’ speech comprehension, while controlling for English language abilities. Results show that, while higher background noise levels were generally more detrimental to listeners with lower English proficiency, all listeners experienced significant comprehension deficits above ~48 dBA with native English talkers. This limit was lower (above ~38 dBA), however, when the English speech was presented by native Chinese talkers. For reverberation, nonnative listeners as a group performed best with reverberation times up to 0.6 s, while native listeners performed equally well up to 1.2 s. A matched foreign accent benefit has also been identified, where the negative impact of higher reverberation does not exist for non-native listeners who share the talker’s native language.

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Why is it important?

A large number of non-native English speakers may be found in American classrooms, both as listeners and talkers. Our results give guidance on how we should design acoustics in spaces such that the comprehension of English speech by non-native English talkers or heard by non-native English listeners is not impaired.


Many previous studies have focused on speech intelligibility, based on intelligibility of words, phrases, or sentences under noise or excessive reverberation. I believe more investigations on speech comprehension (like this one) are needed, as understanding the content of speech can be more seriously impacted by adverse room acoustic conditions.

Dr. Lily M Wang
University of Nebraska System

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Effects of noise, reverberation and foreign accent on native and non-native listeners' performance of English speech comprehension, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, May 2016, Acoustical Society of America (ASA),
DOI: 10.1121/1.4948564.
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