Listening environment

A study by Klatte et al, (2010) showed that background noise had a greater impact on children’s speech perception and listening comprehension than adults, with high levels of classroom noise adversely impacting attainment.

Children are not able to make sense of words they have missed, as their auditory neurological network is not fully developed (Cole and Flexer 2011).

As a young baby in close proximity to a parent's voice becomes an active toddler, the listening environments that are experienced will become more challenging e.g.a pre-school held in an echoey church hall or a birthday party in a sports hall or leisure centre.  The adverse effects of noise and reverberation may result in a reduction in speech recognition by 50% (Finitzo-Heiber & Tillman, 1978). Nursery classrooms have noise levels ranging from 34 to 73dBA (Schafer and Thibodeau 2006).

It is important to overcome three challenges in the listening environment:

1  Distance  The further the speaker is away from the child, the quieter the speech signal will be.  Try and get closer and down to the child’s level. Think carefully about where a child with a hearing loss due to glue ear is seated.The NDCS has produced a video  which has ideas on positioning a child with a hearing loss for teachers working in school.

2  Noise  Try to reduce background noise to a minimum and turn off any unnecessary sound sources.  Close windows and doors when possible to reduce external noise.

A video produced by the NDCS suggests ways of reducing background noise in a classroom.

At home, be aware of the different sources of background noise.  Don't have the television on in the background when you are talking and playing with your child and try to put equipment like a washing machine on, when it will cause least disturbance.

3  Reverberation or echo  In a room with hard surfaces, sound will reflect from the walls, floor and ceiling.  The sound is not absorbed, as it would be in carpets and soft furnishings and the resulting echo reduces speech quality for the listener.   In echoey rooms background noise will be significantly increased (Canning & James 2012).

Minimum standards for the acoustics of school buildings are now in place to improve listening conditions for effective teaching and learning (DfE 2015).  Acoustic changes can be made to classrooms to significantly reduce echo and improve access to the spoken word.

Disability Access Fund (DAF) is available to be used in nursery and pre-school settings if a child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (which may be the case for a hearing aid user) to help to make changes to the listening environment.


A fact sheet entitled 'Creating good listening conditions for learning in education' has been produced by the NDCS providing tips for classroom teachers to improve the listening environment.

The NDCS has produced a short video suggesting how the listening environment can be improved.


    Further information about the listening environment can be read here.



A MESHGuide has been produced which gives further information about Acoustics - hearing, listening and learning.





Canning, D and James, A. (2012) The Essex Study optimised classroom acoustics for all. St Albans. The Association of Noise Consultants.

Cole, E. B., Flexer, C. (2011) Children with hearing loss, developing listening and talking. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.

Department for Education and Skills (2003) ‘Acoustic Design of Schools’, Building Bulletin 93. London: The Stationery Office.

Department for Education (2015) ‘Acoustic design of school: performance standards’, Building Bulletin 93.

Finitzo-Hieber, T., and Tillman, T. (1978) ‘Room acoustics effects on monosyllabic word discrimination ability for normal and hearing-impaired children’. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research. 21 pp. 440–458.

Klatte, M., Lachmann, T. and Meis, M. (2010) ‘Effects of noise and reverberation on speech perception and listening comprehension of children and adults in a classroom- like setting.’ Speech Perception and Understanding 12. pp. 270-82.

MESHGuides (2018) Acoustics – hearing, listening and learning [Online] [Accessed: 27 May 2021].

NDCS (2008) Hear to Learn: [Online] [Accessed: 27 May 2021].

NDCS 2018 Creating good listening conditions for learning in education [Online] [Accessed: 27 May 2021].

Schafer, E. C. and Thibodeau, L. M. (2006) ‘Speech recognition in noise in children with cochlear implants while listening in bilateral, bimodal, and FM-system arrangements’. American Journal of Audiology, (15). pp. 114-126.