Listening in groups - Telethon Speech & Hearing
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Listening in groups

Group settings are challenging listening environments

We know for older children and adults with hearing loss, listening in a group setting is tricky. Group settings are harder to follow than interactions with one speaker. In groups of multiple speakers, it’s difficult for people with a hearing loss to determine who’s talking and where they are positioned.

Noisy group situations often result in those with a hearing loss missing out words and having to “fill-in-the-gaps”. This can be mentally exhausting, resulting in what we call listening fatigue. This is the case for older children and adults with a hearing loss who already have an established language system. For our little ones, who are early on in their listening and spoken language journey, it is even more challenging as they are still learning to listen and are still acquiring language.

With this in mind, we need to ensure that group setting are as successful as possible for our children. Groups do provide valuable opportunities for children to practice their functional listening skills in a larger environment and interact socially. We can support our children in the group context by doing the following:

  1. Ensuring good access to sound. Always make sure hearing technology is working appropriately before going into a group setting.
  2. Get down onto your child’s level and stay close to to provide the best access to speech sounds. The farther you are away from your child’s ear and hearing devices the harder it is for their brain to receive full auditory information. Where possible stay within 3 feet of your child when talking to them, especially in noisy situations. If your child has better hearing in one ear, position yourself on that side.

However, don’t restrict them to only one location. Move with your child to activities they are interested in, get down on their level and join in the play. Not only does this offer the best sound reception, it creates wonderful opportunities for engagement and learning.

  1. Cue your child to listen. Before talking to your child or before something important is about to be said (e.g. during the mat) make sure you have their attention first by cueing them to listen. Point to your ear and say “Listen” to let them know something to listen for is about happen.
  2. Reducing background noise during important listening situation. Those with a hearing loss find it difficult to block out background noise the way those with normal hearing can. During important listening time like mat session or group learning activities take steps to reduce the amount of background noise by limiting the number of people speaking to one at a time and reducing movement. When multiple speakers are talking it does create background noise making it difficult for children to listen, attend and engage.

Another way we can limit background noise in groups is by keeping the number of people in the room to a minimum. 


Preparing your child for what is going to happen in any group setting is useful. Talk about what they might do and what or who they may see. In the case of group learning settings talk about the theme. For example, the theme in our groups recently was wild animals. Talk about the animals they might see in the room (e.g. “Roar! Oh wow I see a lion! It has a big mane!”.

You might even visit our library and find some books that relate to the current theme to read at home. Preparation and pre-teaching of vocabulary children may come across during the group setting helps them to “Fill-in-the-gaps” if they miss something as they get older which, we mentioned at the beginning.

If you have any particular concerns about your child’s listening or engagement during groups setting chat to your child’s Speech Pathologist or audiologist.