Banana and speech – how could the two possibly relate?

Don’t worry, “A banana a day keeps the speech lady away” is not a real saying so how could a banana be relevant in the field of speech pathology? We are actually talking something commonly known as the ‘speech banana’. Sharing an interest in this are audiologists, as the speech banana refers to the banana shape that you see in audiograms. 

What is the speech banana?

The Speech Banana is a visual tool for describing where the sounds used in everyday human speech occur on an audiogram. An audiogram is a graphical representation of a person’s hearing acuity at a range of frequencies and loudness levels and it generally charted with a frequency level (in Hertz on the x-axis and decibel level (dB) on the y-axis. Every sound measured has a particular frequency and amplitude. When mapped out on a graph, these phonemes form an almost banana-like shape hence, the “speech banana”.

banfamily

Loudness Levels of Common Sounds (in decibels)
-10 dB
10 dB
20 dB
40-60 dB
Leaves rustling
Breathing
Whisper
Conversation
80 dB
90 dB
110 dB
Rush hour traffic
Food blender
Chain Saw
120 dB
120 dB
140 dB
Rock band
Airport
Shotgun blast

People with normal hearing acuity can also hear sounds outside of the speech banana. These sounds include ambient natural sounds such as a rustling of leaves in the wind or birds chirping. Artificial sounds outside of the speech banana can include music and mechanical noises (e.g., automobiles, lawn mowers).

Why do speech pathologists and audiologists use the speech banana?

Audiologists are primarily concerned with hearing loss that occurs within the speech banana because it can slow the development of a child’s language and speech abilities, and this in turn can profoundly interfere with learning. Hearing loss within the speech banana can also hinder communication capabilities in adults, as in elderly people with age-related hearing loss. A child may be able to hear certain low frequency sounds such as [m] but not hear higher frequency sounds such as /s/ and /sh/ even with the use of hearing aids.  Missing those sounds may change their understanding of what is being said.

For example, knowing that a child’s unilateral (hearing loss in one ear) conductive hearing loss is moderate to severe (65dB/7db), you realize that she can hear dogs barking, phones ringing and lawnmower sounds when looking at the “speech banana” chart, but she may not be able to hear the /f/, /s/ and /th/ sounds when certain words are presented to her during conversation as these pitches are typically recognized within a normal 20dB range of hearing.

Common examples of hard-to-hear words to use around people with high frequency hearing loss:

First, fast, nice, bath, things, thirsty, past, months, eighth, and mouth

How can you and your family use the speech banana?

If your child has an identified hearing loss, show your friends and family what sounds your child has difficulty distinguishing between and hearing on the below audiogram with the speech banana.  This can help them learn to say certain sounds a little louder, or speak into their better hearing ear or to speak directly in front of them so that they can help determine what they are saying.

What can I do if I am worried about my child’s hearing?

jason-rosewell-60014-unsplash

  1. Speak to your GP – they can check in your child’s ear to see if there is any inflammation or blockages that may be affecting your child’s hearing.
  2. Get a hearing test. Australian Hearing is one of the major only clinics in Australia that provide hearing tests for children (3 years +) however not all clinics provide this service so you will need to check. For children below 3 years of age, you will most likely need to get a referral to the children’s hospital through your GP.

I was inspired to write this post after listening to this No Filter podcast where Mia Freedman interview Melinda Hildebrandt – a mother of Amelia who is diagnosed as deaf and autistic. Melinda talks about how Amelia’s lack of speech and language development was one of the red flags that led to the diagnosis of hearing loss and how her deafness has affected her speech. A fascinating listen to any parent.

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