Speech Recognition in Nonnative versus Native English-Speaking College Students in a Virtual Classroom

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Abstract

Background:

Limited attention has been given to the effects of classroom acoustics at the college level. Many studies have reported that nonnative speakers of English are more likely to be affected by poor room acoustics than native speakers. An important question is how classroom acoustics affect speech perception of nonnative college students.

Purpose:

The combined effect of noise and reverberation on the speech recognition performance of college students who differ in age of English acquisition was evaluated under conditions simulating classrooms with reverberation times (RTs) close to ANSI recommended RTs.

Research Design:

A mixed design was used in this study.

Study Sample:

Thirty-six native and nonnative English-speaking college students with normal hearing, ages 18–28 yr, participated.

Intervention:

Two groups of nine native participants (native monolingual [NM] and native bilingual) and two groups of nine nonnative participants (nonnative early and nonnative late) were evaluated in noise under three reverberant conditions (0.03, 0.06, and 0.08 sec).

Data Collection and Analysis:

A virtual test paradigm was used, which represented a signal reaching a student at the back of a classroom. Speech recognition in noise was measured using the Bamford–Kowal–Bench Speech-in-Noise (BKB-SIN) test and signal-to-noise ratio required for correct repetition of 50% of the key words in the stimulus sentences (SNR-50) was obtained for each group in each reverberant condition. A mixed-design analysis of variance was used to determine statistical significance as a function of listener group and RT.

Results:

SNR-50 was significantly higher for nonnative listeners as compared to native listeners, and a more favorable SNR-50 was needed as RT increased. The most dramatic effect on SNR-50 was found in the group with later acquisition of English, whereas the impact of early introduction of a second language was subtler. At the ANSI standard‘s maximum recommended RT (0.6 sec), all groups except the NM group exhibited a mild signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) loss. At the 0.8 sec RT, all groups exhibited a mild SNR loss.

Conclusion:

Acoustics in the classroom are an important consideration for nonnative speakers who are proficient in English and enrolled in college. To address the need for a clearer speech signal by nonnative students (and for all students), universities should follow ANSI recommendations, as well as minimize background noise in occupied classrooms. Behavioral/instructional strategies should be considered to address factors that cannot be compensated for through acoustic design.

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