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The term “speech banana” can bring many funny images to mind, for instance a banana-shaped hearing instrument, but isn’t correct.Speech banana is a reference to the sounds in an audiogram – a visual representation of a person’s hearing acuity within a range of frequencies and loudness levels. In an audiogram, you generally see the frequency ( in Hertz) on the x axis, and the loudness (which is measured in Decibels) on the vertical axis.

The term ‘speech banana’ arises from the banana-shaped collection of points on the audiogram that arises when human speech is examined. The spoken sound of all of the letters of the alphabet, aside from q, w, x, and y, fall inside the speech banana, as do the widespread letter pairs ng, th, sh and ch.

People with normal hearing will also hear sounds that fall outside this speech banana area – including higher-frequency sounds such as a mosquito or a glass breaking and lower-frequency sounds such as a fog horn or tubas – but the sounds most important to human interaction are the sounds of people speaking. Hearing impairment often affects this speech banana area, resulting in people having trouble hearing the letter combinations th, ch, sh, and ng.

When hearing impairment affects the frequencies and volumes inside the speech banana it interferes with person-to-person communications. This is exactly why hearing specialist will typically concentrate on that range. Whether the individual is young or old, if they are having trouble hearing sounds within that frequency and volume range, they are almost by definition having trouble hearing speech, and thus have problems communicating effectively with others.

This is one good reason why hearing checks using audiograms are required in the schools of several states – to detect possible hearing problems early in life, when they can be more easily solved. Since this range of sounds is so critical to communications it is the range that most hearing aids are programmed and tuned to perform best in. Irrespective of whether you presently use hearing aids or not, give us a call if you have concerns about your hearing ability in the critical speech banana range.