Certain members of my family are very hard for me to hear. Part of it is no fault of their own — their voices are in the frequency range where my hearing loss is greatest. But I do often wonder if there isn’t more that they could do to project and enunciate their speech to make it easier for me to hear.
In fact, I think other people often have trouble hearing them too. But when I ask them about it, they say they are speaking at a normal volume and sometimes ask me if maybe the batteries on my hearing aids are getting low. Lovely.
On one particularly frustrating afternoon, I decided to settle this recurring argument once and for all. I pulled out my handy decibel reader on my smart phone and let science be our guide. This way we would have actual data to add to the discussion.
As my family members spoke to me from across the room, I monitored the volume of their voices. The measurements fluctuated wildly, ranging between 50-70 decibels. Not surprisingly, I could hear the 70 decibel speech much better than the 50 decibel speech.
This span of loudness might not seem very wide, but since decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, it is an extremely large range. The rule of thumb is that for each 10 decibels, sounds are twice as loud. This means that voices at 70 decibels are 4 times louder than those at 50 decibels. You can read more about the science behind this here.
My decibel reader labels 70 decibels as normal conversation, but many other sources label it around 60 decibels, so to be fair, I started pointing out every time my family members’ speech dipped below 60 decibels. Sometimes their speech dipped below that level only for part of a sentence, but it was enough to make the meaning hard for me to understand.
My family was not thrilled with my new trick. They made excuses. “Well, we are across the room so of course it is quiet,” they said. “How accurate is this app anyway?” they wanted to know. I admit the calibration is probably not perfect, but it is fairly accurate, and the act of measuring alone was clearly having an impact on their behavior.
The visual reinforcement of the decibel reader made such an impression, I began placing it in the middle of the table at dinner time. It takes up a little bit of space on the table, but it has helped everyone to stay better focused on speaking in a clear and audible voice. I plan to keep doing this until it becomes unnecessary.
They say it takes 30 days to form a habit. I certainly hope my family’s clearer speaking pattern becomes a lasting one.
Readers, how do you remind your family to speak so you can hear them?
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