Maintaining Communication in Masks

by Naomi Brick – Speech & Hearing Therapist


If you are anything like me, trying to talk to someone when wearing a mask can be incredibly annoying! There are a few reasons for this, which we’ll get to just now. The conversation (pun intended) I’d like to have with you today is about what we can do to make these conversations less awkward.


There are a few reasons conversing with masks on our faces is difficult:

  • The voice of the speaker becomes slightly muffled ,especially with the 3 layer and thicker material masks. This affects volume of voice and voice quality. Social distancing impacts on this too.
  • Visual cues, i.e. mouth movements, are covered. We all depend on lip reading to some degree to facilitate hearing, so not seeing someone’s mouth makes it harder to understand words.
    For those with any hearing loss or processing issues this is even harder
  • Masks cover more of the face than simply the lips making facial expressions much harder to decode. Facial expressions provide important information regarding the message being conveyed. Jokes and sarcasm are much harder to pick up on when facial expression is missing.
  • Many conversations are had in shops and other places where there is background noise. Background noise refers to all the sound distractions in the environment such as music, other  conversations and traffic.

The combination of all of the above makes easy flow of conversation difficult for most of us!
So, what can we do when we are in conversation, to help us understand and be understood better.

# Request clarification regarding the information you did not hear so that only the key
information is repeated. Instead of “what?” “huh” please repeat”, make your query more directed eg. Sorry, I didn’t get the amount.

# If possible reduce background noise e.g. switch off the radio, move to a quieter spot

# Increase your voice volume (ie speak a little louder, but not shout),
reduce your rate of speech (ie. speak a little slower) and check in with your listener that you are being heard/understood.

# Make sure that both you and your communication partner are facing each other.
Sound (and speech sounds) travels forwards. So facing each other will help reduce unnecessary noise loss.

# Consider getting a mask with a clear panel over the mouth.
If you are often inconversation with people who have a degree of hearing loss or auditory processing difficulties these can be helpful. While these are not fool proof, they do provide slightly more information for the listener.

# Be patient (with yourself and others)

If you are struggling with most masked conversations, even in quiet environments, please consider having your hearing tested by an audiologist. The body is amazing and its possible that you’ve been relying on visual and non-verbal cues to help you hear, when in fact the beginnings of a hearing loss are present