Objectives: Speech perception difficulties experienced by children in adverse listening environments have been well documented. It has been suggested that phonological awareness may be related to children's ability to understand speech in noise. The goal of this study was to provide data that will allow a clearer characterization of this potential relation in typically developing children. Doing so may result in a better understanding of how children learn to listen in noise as well as providing information to identify children who are at risk for difficulties listening in noise.
Design: Thirty-six children (5 to 7 yrs) with normal hearing participated in the study. Three phonological awareness tasks (syllable counting, initial consonant same, and phoneme deletion), representing a range of skills, were administered. For perception in noise tasks, nonsense syllables, monosyllabic words, and meaningful sentences with three key words were presented (50 dB SPL) at three signal to noise ratios (0, +5, and +10 dB).
Results: Among the speech in noise tasks, there was a significant effect of signal to noise ratio, with children performing less well at 0-dB signal to noise ratio for all stimuli. A significant age effect occurred only for word recognition, with 7-yr-olds scoring significantly higher than 5-yr olds. For all three phonological awareness tasks, an age effect existed with 7-year-olds again performing significantly better than 5-yr-olds. However, when examining the relation between speech recognition in noise and phonological awareness skills, no single variable accounted for a significant part of the variance in performance on nonsense syllables, words, or sentences. However, there was an association between vocabulary knowledge and speech perception in noise.
Conclusions: Although phonological awareness skills are strongly related to reading and some children with reading difficulties also demonstrate poor speech perception in noise, results of this study question a relation between phonological awareness skills and speech perception in moderate levels of noise for typically developing children with normal hearing from 5 to 7 yrs of age. Further research in this area is needed to examine possible relations among the many factors that affect both speech perception in noise and the development of phonological awareness.