The potential effects of acoustical environment on speech understanding are especially important as children enter school where students’ ability to hear and understand complex verbal information is critical to learning. However, this ability is compromised because of widely varied and unfavorable classroom acoustics. The extent to which unfavorable classroom acoustics affect children’s performance on longer learning tasks is largely unknown as most research has focused on testing children using words, syllables, or sentences as stimuli. In the current study, a simulated classroom environment was used to measure comprehension performance of two classroom learning activities: a discussion and lecture. Comprehension performance was measured for groups of elementary-aged students in one of four environments with varied reverberation times and background noise levels. The reverberation time was either 0.6 or 1.5 s, and the signal-to-noise level was either +10 or +7 dB. Performance is compared to adult subjects as well as to sentence-recognition in the same condition. Significant differences were seen in comprehension scores as a function of age and condition; both increasing background noise and reverberation degraded performance in comprehension tasks compared to minimal differences in measures of sentence-recognition.

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