KUMAGAYA, Saitama -- A free smartphone app that enables users to practice speaking clearly and slowly in a way that is easy for individuals with hearing loss to understand even when the speaker is wearing a mask has been created by an audiology consulting company based in eastern Japan.
The app, developed by Otodesigners Co. in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, allows users to record themselves saying everyday phrases like "Please tell me your phone number." Users then received feedback on the clarity of their speech using a five-level scoring system. They can also obtain more specific advice, such as, "You're speaking too fast," and "Take care when pronouncing hard 'G' sounds." People using the app can also keep practicing their speech by comparing audio of a model speaking example with a recording of their own voice that has been altered to simulate how they are heard by an elderly person.
Our sense of hearing is said to gradually deteriorate after peaking in our 20s, leading people to become unable to catch words or distinguish between them when they are spoken quickly, even when they can hear the sounds of these spoken words. Some 15 million people in Japan are estimated to have age-related hearing losses.
Shinichi Sakamoto, representative director of Otodesigners Co., said, "There are even people in their 40s who have difficulties hearing phrases during everyday conversation, but in many cases those individuals are not aware of the problem."
Sakamoto has conducted research with Kyoto Koka Women's University on the way elderly people hear speech. They assessed how well elderly people heard 10 phrases frequently used in hospitals, with four potential scores: "can hardly hear anything" (1 point), "can only hear fragments, such as the end of words" (2 points), "can't hear some words" (3 points), and "can mostly hear everything" (4 points).
It found that the average score from the 13 senior volunteers who cooperated in the research was 2-plus points when they listened to students in their 20s speaking normally. When another round of assessments was held after the students had received lessons from Sakamoto on how to produce slow and clear speech, the average score of every individual increased to 3-plus points. A similar trend was also seen when the students spoke while wearing masks.
Sakamoto advised, "There are many cases where you're not speaking as slowly as you think, even if you're making a conscious effort to slow down. Also, when enunciating words, people tend to emphasize vowels, but it's important to pronounce consonants clearly." He added, "I'd like to help create a society that's easy to live in, with each person speaking in a way that is easy to understand."
The smartphone app can be downloaded from app stores via the links on the company's website at https://www.otodesigners.com/omoiyari.html (in Japanese).
(Japanese original by Reiko Oka, Kumagaya Bureau)