This short blog post by our pal Chev Petersen of Fish Hoek, Cape Town perfectly illustrates the Lombard Effect: Basically, it’s a reflexive action where we raise our voices to a level to overcome background noises, relying on how we hear our own voice to set the level and pitch. When sensorineural hearing loss is present, the person can’t hear their own voice at the proper level, which is why many hearing impaired people talk loudly when they are not wearing their hearing aids.
Interestingly, for the 5% of people who have a conductive hearing loss, the Lombard Effect also comes into play, but in the opposite direction: Because of the mechanical loss, similar to wearing earplugs, these people still hear their own voice via bone conduction at the proper level, but because ambient sounds are attenuated, these people speak softly when it’s noisy — That’s a tip-off to the clinician to pay close attention to the tympanometry and air-bone gaps.
Here’s Chev’s article in its’ entirety:
In our home, you never quite know what to expect from my son…Like Sunday morning after watching movies, I made the bed and asked him to please clean his mess off the floor. His response, an aggressively loud “I’m first parking my bike…”
I really didn’t understand why the sudden change in his demeanour. The one minute everything is okay, and the next he’s shouting at me?
Me: “Why are you shouting at me? All I’m asking is that you clean up this mess”
Kai: Aggressively loud shouting voice “I know. I’m just parking my bike first”
Me: “No need to shout at me Kai. Why you getting so upset?”
Kai: Throwing his bike to the ground, arms folded in front of his chest, he looks me in the eyes “I’m not shouting mom! Remember, I’M DEAF!”
Me: “Excuse me, what did you just say?”
Kai: “I’M DEAF!” Pointing to his ears, I noticed that he is not wearing his hearing aids.
Me: “Hey, don’t you ever use your hearing loss as an excuse for NOT listening to me! If you don’t hear me then you say excuse me mommy, but don’t you use it as an excuse, ever!”
Kai: “I NEVER SAID I DIDN’T HEAR YOU! SOMETIMES I JUST CAN’T HEAR IF MY VOICE IS LOUD OR SOFT. OKAY!”
This stopped me in my tracks! My son was telling me something that I never gave much thought to. How loud/soft does his voice sound to him? How many times have I not mistaken his inability to judge the loudness of his voice for rude behaviour? How many times have I not been at fault…
I savoured the moment. His assertiveness. For the first time he was giving me information about his hearing without any probing from me. Standing in front of me, my assertive 7 year old, advocating for himself and voicing his challenges!
My son, using the term deaf with such conviction, was very new to me. You see he has a hearing impairment (mild/moderate), he is not classified as deaf…but understands that most people ‘get it’ when you use the word deaf.
I picked him up, held him ever so tight, and thanked him for sharing this with me. I told him how proud I am of him advocating for himself, very proud! Then I reassured him that I will let him know when he is using his “shouting voice”. I apologized for not knowing…I apologized for my ignorance…
My first assumption was that he was using his hearing impairment as an excuse to NOT listen to me, even though I knew he heard me. Unbeknown, he struggles with knowing whether his voice is too loud or too soft when he’s not wearing his hearing aids.
I really should know better. I’ve lived with my dad’s deafness for more than two decades. When unaided my dad speaks very loudly and sternly, he may even sound rude to those who don’t know him well. And if his voice is not loud then it is inaudible! Unaided, my dad can’t hear me at all…whereas Kai can still hear me, providing that there is not much noise or distance between us.
Later, I shared this epiphany with my dad and Kai just said “mom, you won’t understand”. My dad looked at him and they smiled at each other, the kind of smile that says “only we will understand”.
- Lombard effect, speech communication and the design of large (public) spaces: Evert P J de Ruiter, academia.edu
- The evolution of the Lombard effect: 100 years of psychoacoustic research: Henrik Brumm and Sue Anne Zollinger; Behaviour, Volume 148, Issue 11-13, pp 1173 – 1198
Kai is an alumnus of the Carel du Toit Centre in Tygerberg, Cape Town. If you are looking to donate hearing aids, batteries, and other supplies to a worthy charity, this is the place: Due to South Africa’s exorbitant import duties, hearing aids are horribly expensive; and only children who have a severe hearing loss are eligible to receive hearing aids from the government, leaving kids who have a moderate loss, such as Kai, in the lurch~