Speech-on-speech masking with variable access to the linguistic content of the masker speech for native and nonnative English speakers

Lauren Calandruccio, Ann R. Bradlow, Sumitrajit Dhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Masking release for an English sentence-recognition task in the presence of foreign-accented English speech compared with native-accented English speech was reported in Calandruccio et al (2010a). The masking release appeared to increase as the masker intelligibility decreased. However, it could not be ruled out that spectral differences between the speech maskers were influencing the significant differences observed. Purpose: The purpose of the current experiment was to minimize spectral differences between speech maskers to determine how various amounts of linguistic information within competing speech affect masking release. Research Design: A mixed-model design with within-subject (four two-talker speech maskers) and between-subject (listener group) factors was conducted. Speech maskers included native-accented English speech and high-intelligibility, moderate-intelligibility, and low-intelligibility Mandarin-accented English. Normalizing the long-term average speech spectra of the maskers to each other minimized spectral differences between the masker conditions. Study Sample: Three listener groups were tested, including monolingual English speakers with normal hearing, nonnative English speakers with normal hearing, and monolingual English speakers with hearing loss. The nonnative English speakers were from various native language backgrounds, not including Mandarin (or any other Chinese dialect). Listeners with hearing loss had symmetric mild sloping to moderate sensorineural hearing loss. Data Collection and Analysis: Listeners were asked to repeat back sentences that were presented in the presence of four different two-talker speech maskers. Responses were scored based on the key words within the sentences (100 key words per masker condition). A mixed-model regression analysis was used to analyze the difference in performance scores between the masker conditions and listener groups. Results: Monolingual English speakers with normal hearing benefited when the competing speech signal was foreign accented compared with native accented, allowing for improved speech recognition. Various levels of intelligibility across the foreign-accented speech maskers did not influence results. Neither the nonnative English-speaking listeners with normal hearing nor the monolingual English speakers with hearing loss benefited from masking release when the masker was changed from native-accented to foreign-accented English. Conclusions: Slight modifications between the target and the masker speech allowed monolingual English speakers with normal hearing to improve their recognition of native-accented English, even when the competing speech was highly intelligible. Further research is needed to determine which modifications within the competing speech signal caused the Mandarin-accented English to be less effective with respect to masking. Determining the influences within the competing speech that make it less effective as a masker or determining why monolingual normal-hearing listeners can take advantage of these differences could help improve speech recognition for those with hearing loss in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-366
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Audiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Bilingualism
  • Informational masking
  • Speech perception


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