Audiovisual Speech Processing in Relationship to Phonological and Vocabulary Skills in First Graders

J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2021 Dec 13;64(12):5022-5040. doi: 10.1044/2021_JSLHR-21-00196. Epub 2021 Nov 4.


Purpose: It is generally accepted that adults use visual cues to improve speech intelligibility in noisy environments, but findings regarding visual speech benefit in children are mixed. We explored factors that contribute to audiovisual (AV) gain in young children's speech understanding. We examined whether there is an AV benefit to speech-in-noise recognition in children in first grade and if visual salience of phonemes influences their AV benefit. We explored if individual differences in AV speech enhancement could be explained by vocabulary knowledge, phonological awareness, or general psychophysical testing performance.

Method: Thirty-seven first graders completed online psychophysical experiments. We used an online single-interval, four-alternative forced-choice picture-pointing task with age-appropriate consonant-vowel-consonant words to measure auditory-only, visual-only, and AV word recognition in noise at -2 and -8 dB SNR. We obtained standard measures of vocabulary and phonological awareness and included a general psychophysical test to examine correlations with AV benefits.

Results: We observed a significant overall AV gain among children in first grade. This effect was mainly attributed to the benefit at -8 dB SNR, for visually distinct targets. Individual differences were not explained by any of the child variables. Boys showed lower auditory-only performances, leading to significantly larger AV gains.

Conclusions: This study shows AV benefit, of distinctive visual cues, to word recognition in challenging noisy conditions in first graders. The cognitive and linguistic constraints of the task may have minimized the impact of individual differences of vocabulary and phonological awareness on AV benefit. The gender difference should be studied on a larger sample and age range.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Noise
  • Speech Intelligibility
  • Speech Perception*
  • Vocabulary*