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Activity title

Speech Understanding of English language in Native and non-Native speakers/listeners in NATO with and without Hearing Deficits

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Human Factors and Medicine

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Blast Injury, Communication Reliability, Communication Skills, Hearing Aids, Hearing Impairment, Hearing Loss, Military Fitness, Occupational Health, Rehabilitation, Reintegration


Acoustic communication (Speech and hearing) is one of the most important abilities for soldiers to perform their tasks. Misunderstandings can cause fatal accidents or lead to errors in decision making. Within NATO coalitions, communications take place between native and non-native English-Speakers and English-Listeners. Communicating in a non-native language between speakers and listeners with even the best of language skills can be difficult, and variations in the levels of language training, environmental noise, operational acuity, and adjunct communication gear can make reasonable speaker/listeners non-functional at communicating. The NATO setup imposes inherent communications risks which need to be analyzed to develop rules for a reliable multilingual Auditory Communication between participating nations. Most communication in the military takes place using the transfer of acoustic information (Speaking- Listening): Radio-transmission is used in virtually all communication chains, and almost always by speaking and listening mode. The quicker information is needed, the more likely it will be conveyed through acoustic transmission. Visual or tactile communication requires line of site, or close proximity and involves averting focus or weapon contact to pass along non-verbal communication. Written communication is time consuming and requires special equipment (printers; monitors) that is not always available. Englilsh is the default language for NATO communication. Most NATO soldiers have other-than-English native tongues, and extent of language training in the English language (written, reading, listening abilities) is highly heterogeneous depending on many factors (School English education; exposure to English; general educational level; and many more). Military vocabulary and Tactical operational language and communication modes are not often taught in school systems. Even among native English speaking soldiers communications is endangered by dialects, pronunciation, slang, education etc. It is self-evident that communication miscues can pose serious life threatening risks to Military personnel, Military weapon systems, and may lead to errors in decision making decreasing unity of effort and overall operational performance. In a typical NATO situation a French soldier communicates with a German or Polish soldier in English. From the linguistic point of view this adds a degree of difficulty that threatens communication efficacy. The pronunciation of English words by French soldiers, for example, is less clear than from native English speakers, and the auditory differentiation ability of French-spoken English phonemes by a German or Polish soldier is reduced in comparison to their ability to understand a native English speaker. Therefore the reliability of communication is at greater risk. Hearing loss due to combat injuries is a common sequelae of military training and military operations, to a greater extent than even post traumatic stress disorders (in many countries were data are available). It is an increasingly common health problem in any population. Hearing loss will further degrade communication quality. The CSO 229 recommended a concept for a NATO-wide Database, to assess hearing function. One of the aims of the database, was to provide adequate data to assess hearing function and performance. The CSO 229 group proposed this TAP as the next step to reduce communication risks for soldiers.


The RTG will define standards for acoustic communication based on a soldier’s linguistic and hearing abilities. NATO must therefore analyze this risk area to identify, mitigate, and optimize potential threats to communication that will resolve NATO army abilities to exchange information without errors. To address this problem, operational military specific speech tests need to be developed for cross-examination across all participating NATO nations. Such operational speech tests delivered in typical military noise environments are superior to standard speech tests performed in quiet or white noise settings in their ability to identify specific risk areas of communication failure. The tests need an audiogram to identify the normal hearing population and to classify the hearing impaired soldiers. The triple figure test in both native and English languages is almost independent from English language knowledge and can show auditory English differentiation abilities among the various countries. The validated standard speech tests in quite surroundings (Native language vs English) enables determination of the auditory differentiation abilities for coalition members with a higher level of English language knowledge/training. The validated standard speech tests in noisy surroundings (Native language vs English) enables determination of advanced auditory differentiation abilities in settings closer to the real life situations in the field that may correlate better with operational performance. Such operational testing attempts to predict real-world military function and provides the most specific data on communication risk by non-native speakers/listeners. It will also demonstrate the risk and increase in hearing effort required when English-speaking soldiers communicate with non-native English speakers at various education levels, and will recommend training and guidance to enhance soldiers’ communication readiness and function.


The RTG will cover the following topics in the delivered report: - Recommendations for assessing communication quality in international settings o Development of international comparable, multilingual speech tests for all soldiers o Development of tests for communication quality in NATO context o Development of military specific back ground noise standards in speech tests o Development of complex multilingual hearing tests using real-life environmental military noise o Fulfilling routine (network-based) hearing screening o Defining “soldiers at risk” for communication errors. o Standards for screening and surveillance for “soldiers at risk”, reflecting non-native speakers/listeners o Recommendation for Definition and Implementation of National Military Audiology Centers (Hearing centers of Excellence) o Establishment of a continuous experts conference (2-3 years cycle) o Recommendation for further Workgroups (RTO): - - 1. Treatment of injuries of the hearing system (current status and future concepts)  Conservative or surgical treatment, incl implants  Auditory and vestibular Rehabilitation programs - 2. Technical Hearing restoration and protection (“return to duty” requirements), e.g.  Implants (full implants; cochlea implant; middle ear implants)  hearing aids and hearing protective devices  integration in communication appliances - 3. Further recommendations for Military fitness for duty, e.g.  Medical, occupational and technological challenges  Hearing impaired soldiers  Hearing training concepts  Fit for military equipment and job requirements in non-native speakers

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