Sample English Essays on Speech Perception in Monolinguals and Bilinguals

Speech perception is the act of hearing, interpreting and understanding sounds of language. This process varies among different people, with some having a higher speech perception than others. This studies seeks to highlight and understand how human listeners recognize speech sounds. The listeners have been categorize into two groups-monolingual and bilingual. In definition, a monolingual is a person who fluently understand one language [1], while a bilingual fluently understands two language (citation). The comparison of the two groups can help develop a better approach for improving speech perception in general.

To compare the level of perception among the two group of listeners, two techniques are commonly used. These techniques are, testing in noise and in normal conditions. The former involves selecting test subjects then evaluating their ability to recognize speech in the presence of background noise (citation), while the latter is testing in a quiet environment. When the two groups of listeners are tested in noise, monolinguals have advantage over bilinguals [1]. In normal or favorable conditions the result of the two groups are similar [1].

The results of the Speech Perception in Noise (SPIN) Tests for bilinguals in many studies is between 65 and 60 dB SPL (citation). These tests were performed to a group of early English bilingual speakers (Those who acquired English as a second language before age of 6). The results puts the bilingual at a deficit position when compared to the monolingual [2]. And the results are poorer to bilinguals who acquired a second language at an advance stage of their life (adult life). According to this findings it is conclusive to say that monolinguals have better speech perception and therefore are at an advantage point when compared to bilinguals.

According to an article by Schmidtke in the Frontiers in psychology, the brain of an individual records each encounter with a word [3]. And the ability to trace the word for the purpose of recognition depends on the exposure to a language. Bilinguals are a large exposure to different languages so the ability to recognize a word in one language is difficult. For monolinguals the situation is different. Because they are exposed to one particular language, the ability to recognize a word is high. This is due to frequent encounter to the word which improves the phonetics representation in the memory.

Ease of Language Understanding Model (ELU)

The ELU model provides a framework for explaining the difference in speech understanding in noise (SUN) among different listeners (Ronnberg et al., 2013). In an attempt to study the level of understanding a particular language, a working theory was developed on working memory capacity as a major role. The greater the WMC, the easier the ability to understand a language. The concepts of ELU are wide in explanation and for the purpose of this study, the scope is limited to bilingual and monolingual listeners. The working memory capacity of bilinguals is lower as compared to the monolinguals. Because of their ability to speak two languages, their word memory is limited and their low WMC [4].

Language selectivity

Language selectivity is common among bilinguals. While this does not directly affect speech perception, it contributes in form of attitudes towards different languages. There is a long standing debate on whether bilinguals actually do select language of utterances before speaking it. In Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Kroll argued that it is difficult to understand language selection due to lack of single locus of selection. The conclusion made was that selection was dependent on many factors that varies widely in relation to the experience of the bilinguals [5].

Based on the discussed literature it can be concluded that speech perception is high in monolingual listeners as compared to bilinguals in an unfavorable conditions like a noise. An example of a classroom can be used in order to properly explain this situation. In a class setting, there a lot of external factors that affects a learner ability to understand a lesson [6].




  1. Tabri, Dollen & Chacra, Kim & Pring, Tim. (2011). Speech perception in noise by monolingual, bilingual and trilingual listeners. International journal of language & communication disorders / Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists. 46. 411-22. 10.3109/13682822.2010.519372.
  2. Stuart, A., Zhang, J., & Swink, S. (2010). Reception thresholds for sentences in quiet and noise for monolingual English and bilingual Mandarin-English listeners. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 21(4), 239-248.

  1. Schmidtke, J. (2016). The bilingual disadvantage in speech understanding in noise is likely a frequency effect related to reduce language exposure. Frontiers in Psychology, 7,Article ID 678.
  2. Astheimer, L. B., Berkes, M., & Bialystok, E. (2016). Differential Allocation of Attention during Speech Perception in Monolingual and Bilingual Listeners. Language, cognition and neuroscience31(2), 196–205. doi:10.1080/23273798.2015.1083114
  3. Kroll, J. F., Bobb, S. C., & Wodniecka, Z. (2006). Language selectivity is the exception, not the rule: Arguments against a fixed locus of language selection in bilingual speech. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9(2), 119-135.

  1. Lu‐Feng Shi. (2018). Assessing Perception and Comprehension in Bilingual Adults, The Listening Bilingual, (129-149),