There is plenty of evidence that masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, masks also muffle sound, making speech more difficult to understand. In addition, masks diminish our ability to benefit from visual cues such as seeing the other person’s lips and facial expressions. While it’s obvious that masks are necessary to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge that they can also make communication even more challenging for the non-native speaker. Here are a few different ways that masks can affect communication, and tips for how to communicate more effectively while wearing one.
How Coronavirus Safety Measures Impede Communication
Face masks and social distancing can make communication more difficult:
Speech information gets quieter the further away we stand, so following social distancing guidelines can make the speech of another person sound softer.
It can be harder for us to focus our attention on the other person’s speech because there may be sounds in the environment that compete with the message we’re trying to hear.
The physical barrier created by masks muffles speech. Masks essentially serve as low pass filters, impacting primarily high frequency sounds that make up many consonants, such as “f”, “s” “sh” and “th”, which are important for the clarity of our speech.
Both masks and communicating from a distance can make it harder for us to rely on visual cues such as facial expressions and lip reading.
How to Communicate Effectively While Practicing Social Distancing
Here are some practical tips to help you communicate while wearing a mask and maintaining at least six feet between you and the person you’re speaking with:
Make sure you have your communication partner’s attention when speaking. Good eye contact is even more important than usual.
Make sure there are no physical barriers between you and the person you’re speaking with.
If you’re outdoors, be mindful of other sounds in the environment (including other people talking), and consider waiting a moment if needed before continuing to speak. Move to a quieter place if you can.
Talk a little louder (but don’t shout), and enunciate clearly.
Slightly slow down the rate of your speech. Allowing a little more space between your words can help the listener better understand you.
Nod when appropriate to acknowledge you are listening and understanding.
Smile with your eyes!
While speaking and listening is undoubtedly more difficult due to COVID-19, it isn’t impossible. Being patient with both yourself and your speaking partner, slowing down your speech, and nodding to indicate comprehension can all help you get your message across.
Are you a non-native speaker of English?
Do you speak English with a strong or heavy accent? Do you find communicating with a face mask or from a distance even more challenging? Accent modification training can help you improve the clarity of your speech. Modifying an accent so that your message is understood more easily and quickly by others can go a long way in helping you improve the effectiveness of your communication. Accent modification training can be a good investment for the non-native speaker who finds that others struggle to understand their speech. This is especially true if you are a professional looking to advance your career or a job seeker trying to enter the job market.
**Contact us to find out more about Accent Modification Training and to see whether it’s right for you!