The Lombard Effect In Classrooms

Keep the noise down please!

When children engage in collaborative learning’ activities in the classroom, the “cafe effect” produces a rising activity noise level. The ‘Lombard Effect‘ is responsible for this and children are more susceptible to it.

French otolaryngologist Étienne Lombard discovered this psycho-acoustical effect in 1911 whereby speakers alter their vocal production in noisy environments such as a cafe.

We usually adjust our way of talking in noisy environments involuntarily for effective communication. But there are differences in speech intelligibility between adults and children that we need to consider and children in primary schools have specific acoustical needs that aren’t effectively catered for.

Klatte et al (2017) remind us of the importance of good acoustical conditions in classrooms. In their research of 21 classrooms they found,

“children from reverberating classrooms performed lower in a phonological processing task, reported a higher burden of indoor noise in the classrooms, and judged the relationships to their peers and teachers less positively than children from classrooms with good acoustics.”

Acoustics therefore has an impact on well-being and performance but are classrooms for primary school children built to criteria based on children’s speech intelligibility needs? No they are not.

The School Premises Regulations in England state that “The acoustic conditions and sound insulation of each room or other space must be suitable, having regard to the nature of the activities which normally take place therein.”

Well, most of the classrooms I have ever worked in wouldn’t meet that regulation and I’m pretty sure that acoustic engineers are seldom consulted when designing schools.

Although some teachers might be quite happy with the productive ‘buzz’ of their group activities being busy, the Lombard effect might actually be interfering with learning and a child’s happiness quotient. Noise can equal stress.

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