English Language Learners (ELL)

FrontRow improves ELL comprehension up to 60%

FrontRow Classroom Audio improves ELL comprehension and participation

English learners in amplified classrooms improve dramatically in literacy growth, spelling and comprehension.

Non-native English students have difficulty understanding their teacher even under ideal classroom listening conditions. Background noise and sitting far from the teacher — unavoidable conditions in many classrooms — make it even harder. In fact, the speech perception accuracy and listening effort of children who are not-native English speakers is similar to children who have 25-40dB hearing losses.

Can a FrontRow classroom audio system (also known as voice amplification and classroom soundfield) overcome barriers for English Language Learners?

That's what Carl Crandell and other researchers at the University of Florida wanted to find out. They tested the word perception of 20 native Spanish speaking students in classrooms with and without a FrontRow sound system.

The result: ELLs in FrontRow classrooms were understanding up to 60% better than children in the non-amplified classrooms. According to Crandell, "amplification significantly improved the perceptual abilities of ESL children."

By ensuring that the teacher's voice is clarified and evenly distributed around the classroom, FrontRow classroom audio systems can be tremendously helpful to ELLs — who have particularly strong speech perception difficulties when seated in the middle or rear of the classroom.

In addition, FrontRow's unique OptiVoice technology makes it even easier to understand. How? It starts with one simple fact: Consonant sounds carry about 75% of the meaning in speech. Unfortunately these very weak consonant sounds get distorted or destroyed by classroom noise. OptiVoice protects vital consonants, so kids in the whole class easily hear the difference between 'cap' and 'cat'.

Further Reading

ESL teachers agree that FrontRow improves listening and learning behaviors.

Student's ability to focus on instruction, pay attention, discriminate auditorilly, and stay on task all show improvement when using a FrontRow system. "Don't take mine away!" says Elyce Longazelle, 4th-grade bilingual teacher at Farmers Branch Elementary in Farmers Branch, Texas. "I use it all the time! Spelling grades have come up!"

Studies of classroom audio benefits for students learning English

A variety of studies have indicated that adults and children learning English as a Second Language (ESL) demonstrate more difficulty in discriminating words accurately when there is background noise (Crandell, 1990; Crandell & Smaldino, 1995; Crandell, Smaldino & Flexer, 1995; Mayo & Florentine, 1997; Nabelek & Nabelek, 1994). Mayo & Florentine (1997) further found that children who acquired English at an earlier age had less difficulty with speech discrimination in noise than did children learning English at an older age.

Classroom audio amplification has been shown to produce improvements in speech perception scores of up to 30% for children learning ESL when noise is present (Crandell, 1994; Crandell, 1996). Vincenty-Luyando (2000) compared monolingual school children (English speaking) and bilingual children (Spanish speaking) in their speech perception accuracy in a real classroom with typical classroom noise levels introduced, with and without sound field amplification. Bilingual students demonstrated significantly poorer phoneme discrimination abilities in the presence of noise (63% vs 76% for monolingual children). Under the highest noise conditions, all children’s scores combined improved by 19% with the introduction of sound amplification. Differences in phoneme identification scores with and without sound amplification were statistically significant, although monolingual and bilingual children did not differ in the amount of improvement seen.

Special benefits for aboriginal and native students

There is ample evidence to suggest that Aboriginal children experience a higher incidence of recurrent otitis media and related conductive hearing loss. In fact, the highest rates of chronic otitis media in the world are found in Inuit, First Nations and Metis populations of Canada, Alaska and Greenland, with incidence rates as high as 40 times those of southern communities (Bluestone, 1998; Bowd, 2005, see review by Baxter, 1999). Aboriginal children in Australia and New Zealand similarly demonstrate a very high incidence of otitis media (McPherson, 1990; Nienhuys, Boswell, & McDonnell, 1994; Massie, Theordoros, McPherson & Smaldino, 2004); Nienhuys (1994) reported that 50 to 80% of Aboriginal children have sufficient middle ear related hearing loss to have an adverse effect on learning. American Indian children show incidence rates of otitis media of 3 times that of other populations (Hunter, Davey, Kohtz, & Daley (2007). Eriks-Brophy & Ayukawa (2000) suggest that complicating the fact that otitis media is extremely common in Aboriginal children is the fact that traditional amplification for hearing aids is typically not used consistently due to problems with acceptance and with maintaining and repairing working hearing aids in extremely isolated communities with limited resources.

Classroom audio is a classroom intervention which may help to address this high incidence of hearing loss. Two Canadian studies have investigated the use of this whole class audio technology with Aboriginal children. Eriks-Brophy & Ayukawa (2000) found an improvement of 16.2% in speech discrimination scores for children with hearing loss when sound field amplification was used, and an improvement of 9.7% for children with normal hearing. Teachers also reported measurable improvements in on-task behaviors for children with hearing loss with the use of sound field amplification, and anecdotally, described increased attention in large group activities, more rapid student response times, less need for repetition, improved listening skills and decreased teacher fatigue at day’s end. Pinard (2006) studied efficacy of sound field amplification for First Nations children in Nova Scotia, Canada and found hearing loss incidence to range from 12 to 25% of students screened, from mild to moderate hearing loss levels.

Implementation of classroom sound amplification resulted in significant increases in teacher reported scores on the Screening Instrument for Targeting Educational Risk (SIFTER), with the greatest changes seen for children with hearing loss compared to normal hearing classmates (although lack of a comparison unamplified control group was a limitation of this study). This researcher also noted that greater improvements in student performance were associated with number of hours the systems were used per day.

A study in New Zealand of schools with overall a 35% Maori population indicated significant improvement in standardized test scores of listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and reading vocabulary following one year of sound amplification use in the classrooms (Heeley, 2004). A particular focus of this study was changes in phonological awareness skills, which showed statistically significant improvement in ten subskills of phonological awareness for children in amplified classrooms vs control groups in unamplified classrooms. Anecdotal teacher comments in amplified classrooms included lower noise levels in the classroom, increased on-task behaviour, reduced disruptive behavior, improved understanding of instruction and student cooperation, and reduced vocal strain. As New Zealand school districts categorize schools on a socioeconomic status (SES) scale, this data was available for analysis; results show that, although not statistically significant, overall student score improvements in low SES schools were greater than for those in higher SES schools.

Massie, Theodoros, McPherson & Smaldino (2004) found increases in classroom communicative interactions, increases in number of child initiated interactions, and statistically significant changes in teacher evaluations of attention and class participation. Massie & Dylan (2006) in a study of 12 classrooms with a majority of students from Aboriginal heritage or learning English as a Second Language, found increases in numbers of skills mastered over a term in the areas of reading, writing and numeracy associated with sound field amplification use.

Page (1995) also reported positive teacher reports related to implementation of classroom sound amplification in 4 schools in Aboriginal communities and in schools with high proportions of Aboriginal students; similar positive anecdotal reports were found for Aboriginal kindergarten students by Dowell (1995). Flexer (2000) studied sound field amplification in first grade classrooms in Utah with 85% of its student population from Native American heritage. In five years prior to sound field use, only 44 to 48% of students scored at the “basic” level of a standardized reading test; following implementation of sound field amplification for 7 months, 74% of children scored at the basic level.


Baxter, J. (1999). Otitis media in Inuit children in eastern Canada Arctic – an overview, 1968 to present. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 49(1), S165-S168.

Bowd, A. (2005). Otitis media: health and social consequences for aboriginal youth in Canada's north. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 64(1), 5-15.

Crandell, C. (1994). Use of sound field amplification with ESL students. Presented at the American Academy of Audiology annual meeting. Richmond ,VA.

Crandell, C. (1996). Effects of sound field FM amplification on the speech perception of ESL children. Educational Audiology Monograph, 4, 1-5.

Dowell, J. (1995). Trial of sound-field amplification system. Proceedings of the Otitis Media NSW Conference 1995-Its Implications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. New South Wales Department of Health, New South Wales Department of School Education, New South Wales Board of Studies.

Eriks-Brophy, A. and Ayukawa, H. (2000). The benefits of sound field amplification in classrooms of Inuit students of Nunavik: A pilot project. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 31, 324-335.

Flexer, C. (2000). The startling possibility of sound field. Advance for Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists, 10(36), 5, 13.

Heeney, M. (2004). Creating enhanced learning environments: The benefits of sound field amplification systems. Retrieved from http://www.oticon.org.nz/pdf/soundfieldresearch.pdf

Hunter, L., Davey, C., Kohtz, A., & Daley, D. (2007). Hearing screening and middle ear measures in American Indian infants and toddlers. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 71(9), 1429-38.

Massie, R., Theodoros, D., McPherson, B. and Smaldino, J. (2004). Sound-field amplification: Enhancing the classroom listening environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 33, 47-53.

Massie, R., & Dillon, H. (2006a). The impact of sound-field amplification in mainstream crosscultural classrooms: Part 1 educational outcomes. Australian Journal of Education, 50(1), 62- 78.

Massie, R., & Dillon, H. (2006b). The impact of sound-field amplification in mainstream crosscultural classrooms: Part 2. Teacher and child opinions. Australian Journal of Education, 50(1), 78-95.

Mayo, L., & Florentine, M. (1997). Age of second-language acquisition and perception of speech in noise. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 40(3), 686-693.

McPherson, B. (1990). Hearing loss in Australian Aboriginals: A critical evaluation. Australian Journal of Audiology, 12, 67-78.

Nabelek, A., & Nabelek, I. (1994). Room acoustics and speech perception. In J. Katz (Ed.), Handbook of Clinical Audiology (4th ed., pp. 624-37). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

Nienhuys, T. (1994). Aboriginal conductive hearing loss for life. Australian Language Matters, 2(1), 8-9.

Nienhuys, T., Boswell, J., & McConnell, F. (1994). Middle ear measures as predictors of hearing loss in Australian Aboriginal children. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 30, 15-27.

Page, S. (1995). Dual FM sound field amplification: A flexible integrated classroom amplification system for mild to moderate conductive hearing loss. Unpublished manuscript.

Pinard, L. (2006). Prevalence of otitis media and hearing loss and effects of sound-field FM amplification among First Nations elementary school children. Masters thesis, Dalhousie University, Canada.

Vincenty-Luyando, M. (2000). The effect of noise and sound-field FM amplification upon the speech perception abilities of bilingual and monolingual students. PhD dissertation, The University of Connecticut.

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