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Audiology. 2001 Sep-Oct;40(5):221-44.

Revisiting speech interference in classrooms.

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Ecole d'orthophonie et d'audiologie, Université de Montréal, Quebec, Canada.


A review of the effects of ambient noise and reverberation on speech intelligibility in classrooms has been completed because of the long-standing lack of agreement on preferred acoustical criteria for unconstrained speech accessibility and communication in educational facilities. An overwhelming body of evidence has been collected to suggest that noise levels in particular are usually far in excess of any reasonable prescription for optimal conditions for understanding speech in classrooms. Quite surprisingly, poor classroom acoustics seem to be the prevailing condition for both normally-hearing and hearing-impaired students with reported A-weighted ambient noise levels 4-37 dB above values currently agreed upon to provide optimal understanding. Revision of currently proposed room acoustic performance criteria to ensure speech accessibility for all students indicates the need for a guideline weighted for age and one for more vulnerable groups. For teens (12-year-olds and older) and young adults having normal speech processing in noise, ambient noise levels not exceeding 40 dBA are suggested as acceptable, and reverberation times of about 0.5 s are concluded to be optimum. Younger students, having normal speech processing in noise for their age, would require noise levels ranging from 39 dBA for 10-11-year-olds to only 28.5 dBA for 6-7-year-olds. By contrast, groups suspected of delayed speech processing in noise may require levels as low as only 21.5 dBA at age 6-7. As one would expect, these more vulnerable students would include the hearing-impaired in the course of language development and non-native listeners.

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