What Does Understanding Speech Involve?

Understanding Speech involves good hearing and the ability to process what we hear. Our ears have several highly complex mechanisms that work in harmony to pick up sounds, channel them correctly, and transform them into electrical signals for our brain to interpret.

To understand spoken language, the brain must first decode the various speech signals of the vowels and of the consonants, then decipher words and sentences with this information. This complicated task is made even more difficult when someone has hearing loss!

Three communication barriers exist with hearing loss:

First, soft sounds become difficult to hear.

Secondly, consonants such as t, sh, p, s and th begin to fade. Consonants are higher pitched and spoken more softly than vowels and actually convey most of the clarity and intelligibility that is necessary for understanding. If you were to write a word without the vowels you could probably decipher it, but if you wrote it without consonants you would have serious difficulty. Try reading these words without vowels and without consonants. Do you recognize them?

Without vowels: r_ng    j_ c

Without consonants: O_a_ _e   _ui_e

Maybe if you were a contestant on Wheel of Fortune! Unfortunately life is not a Wheel of Fortune experience. We need to hear in addition to being able to read.

The third and final communication barrier is noise. A good example of noise is a restaurant where the clatter of dishes and voices compete for your attention. Dealing with hearing loss is not just a matter of turning up the volume to understand the speaker; there is so much more to it than that.

With today’s advanced digital hearing technology, hearing aids are no longer just amplifiers, but supercomputers that analyze and shape incoming sound signals, reduce noise and provide you with the clarity you need to understand better in a conversation.