To start with an attempt at weak humor, the “speech banana” isn’t related to the classic vaudeville skit, “Speak up…I can’t hear you…I’ve got a banana in my ear.” The “speech banana” is a distinctive design appearing on an audiogram. Audiograms are plots of sound frequency (on the horizontal axis) and volume (on the vertical axis). In a hearing evaluation, each test sound is defined by its volume and frequency and can be plotted on a chart.

The phrase ‘speech banana’ arises from the banana-shaped group of dots on the audiogram that arises when human language is analyzed. Almost the entire alphabet and the majority of letter combinations (such as ch, sh, th and ng) fall into the speech banana range on an audiogram. The primary exceptions are the letters q, w, x, and y.

For those who have normal hearing, you can hear sounds within this area, but can also hear higher-frequency sounds such as leaves rustling or birds chirping and lower-frequency sounds such as thunder or machinery. However the sounds that are most vital to our ability to communicate with other individuals are the sounds we make when speaking. Hearing loss often affects this speech banana region, resulting in people having difficulty hearing the letter combinations ch, sh, th and ng.

This is the reason audiologists are most concerned by hearing loss inside the range represented by the speech banana. If an audiogram exposes that a person has hearing loss within the speech banana range, it is practically certain that they are having oral communication difficulties.

The speech banana is considered so vital to healthy hearing that many school districts have required audiograms for their students in order to identify and treat hearing impairments early, espcially those impacting communications. This is also one of the reasons why it’s so important to have your hearing aids properly programmed and adjusted by a professional audiologist or hearing specialist, who can make sure that you are hearing sounds within this speech banana area clearly. In case you have any questions about your hearing in the speech banana range – with or without hearing aids – give us a call.

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