Effects of listener training on speech perception

A listener-oriented approach on improving intelligibility for speakers with dysarthria.

This research is based on the vision of utilizing a listener’s role for communicative success, noting that communication involves speaker-listener interactions. Specifically, I evaluated the benefit of familiarization, a training method in which listeners receive brief exposure to dysarthric speech, as potential intervention in dysarthria management. Using the UA Speech corpus data, my research evaluated different familiarization methods that have been separately used in prior work, by examining word and consonant intelligibility in short- and long-term effects.

Major scientific findings are the following:

  • Findings underscore the flexibility of speech perception and point to a general cognitive-perceptual process in which listeners engage when they are faced with atypical speech (e.g., synthetic speech, foreign-accented speech, and disordered speech).
  • The active condition, which provides listeners with written material during training, was superior to other conditions in both word and consonant intelligibility, in terms of not only the degree but also the rapidness of improvement.
  • The active condition showed a long-term effect, supporting the claim that perceptual learning is not a temporary adjustment but a long-lasting effect. However, the long-term effect was not present for all speakers, which calls for research on methods that can further enhance the longevity of familiarization effects.

In addition, a custom standalone web-based experimental interface was developed using HTML, JavaScript and PHP scripting language, which allows quick and easy expansion or modification of experimental components for future research. The interface is built in such a way that listeners can use it independently during an entire experimental session, with the vision of a self-serve-format application in the subsequent projects.

To further investigate the functional value of a listener-focused approach for the management of dysarthria, I participated in a local NSF I-corps program at the U of I. Through this program, I interviewed clinicians and conversation partners of people with speech disorder, who affirmed not only the communicative benefits but also socio-emotional and educational benefits of listener training.