Talking Too Loudly or Softly?
Why it's happening, and what to do about it
Do people routinely tell you to "speak up?"
Or perhaps you're told to "take it down a notch."
In either case, it can be a jarring experience to learn that you're not speaking
at what others consider to be a normal volume level.
In this post we'll cover why this happens and what to do about it.
The hearing and speaking feedback loop
Your ears provide an important feedback loop to your brain while you are talking.
Let’s say that you want to talk about Sally selling seashells on the seashore.
As you say all of those “sh” sounds, your ears tell your brain that you’re articulating those sounds correctly.
If something sounds slushy about those “sh” sounds, the motor planning parts of your brain can adjust your speech muscles to make those “sh” sounds sharper.
That is the hearing and speaking feedback loop, and it's something we're all doing, all the time.
When the feedback loop is broken—sometimes due to hearing loss—people may speak less clearly, with excessive nasality, or at an abnormal volume.
If you speak too loudly
We've all been in noisy environments where we had to speak up in order to be heard.
Our ability to automatically make our voices louder in these situations is known as the Lombard Effect.
Raising our voices in those environments is of course, normal.
But if you're raising your voice in other environments and people are making comments to you, it may be a sign that you're not hearing yourself as well as you should be.
You may have sensorineural hearing loss—here's how to find out for sure.
It's the most common type of hearing loss and is usually the result of aging or prolonged exposure to loud noise.
If you speak too softly
Humor me for a moment.
Take your fingers and plug up your ears.
Talk to yourself for a few seconds.
Notice how your voice sounds louder, even a bit boomy?
When something is blocking your ears, your voice sounds louder to you.
This phenomenon is called the occlusion effect.
And if your voice sounds loud to you, what do you naturally do?
Lower it of course.
As a result, others tell you that you're speaking too softly.
A conductive hearing loss is a type of problem where something blocks the path of sound into your ear.
It could be ear wax, an ear infection, or your inner ear bones not working properly.
Often, conductive hearing loss can be treated.
Once the cause of a conductive hearing loss is treated, your voice volume should return to normal.
What to do about it
If you are concerned that you may be talking at an inappropriate volume, it's time to schedule a hearing test.
They're quick, painless, inexpensive, and actually kind of fun.
The results of your test will indicate if you have a hearing loss, what kind of loss it is, and what preventative measures or treatment options are available.
Get a Hearing Test
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Do hearing aids help?
We know what you're thinking...
Whoa whoa whoa, hearing aids!?
Yes—hearing aids may help.
Remember the hearing and speaking feedback loop mentioned at the top of this article?
Well, if you have a hearing loss that can't be corrected, hearing aids are the only way to correct the feedback loop and help you regulate your voice properly.
We get that hearing aids are a "hard no" for many people, but you'd be surprised how discreet, comfortable, and smart modern hearing aids are.