Service Members in Coalition Environments Can Learn Quickly to Recognize Non-Native Speech  

United States

Research into better understanding the challenges facing operators in noisy warfare coalition environments for service members who have hearing impairments and those who do not, has led to the discovery that service members are able to improve their recognition of native and non-native accented English speech within a short period of time. With practice, service members show robust retention of learning. 


Rebecca Bieber, Au.D., Ph.D., an HJF Research Audiologist at the National Military Audiology and Speech Center, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, is working with a group of international researchers who are trying to better understand the challenges facing operators in warfare coalition environments and learn how to help them overcome auditory challenges, such as communication with non-native speakers or in noisy environments. She is leading ongoing efforts to develop rapid training to improve communication readiness before personnel are deployed to coalition operations.  

During coalition warfare, efficient and effective communication is crucial among international teams. Personnel in situations with very high levels of noise are at risk for communication breakdowns, which can have serious impacts on the mission. These noisy and international language environments can be even more of a challenge for personnel with hearing impairments. 

“One critical thing that we have found as we conduct this research is robust learning for non-native accented speech,” Bieber said. “We see this on both shorter and longer time scales. In one study where we had participants listen to a large number of sentences over several days, we saw substantial improvements in speech recognition from day to day, with participants maintaining performance from the end of one session to the start of the next. We found this quite promising: it seems like, within a short period of time, service members can rapidly improve their ability to understand non-native accented English speech.”  

Dr. Bieber has been conducting this research since beginning her employment with HJF in 2021. Currently, follow-on work continues at different stages—with a nearly completed follow-on study in Israel where data are being analyzed and another one in Canada where data are beginning to be collected. Additionally, two other follow-on studies in France and Germany are still in development phases.   

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government. 


About HJF: 

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF), now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is a global nonprofit organization with the mission to advance military medicine. HJF’s scientific, administrative and program operations services empower investigators, clinicians, and medical researchers around the world to make discoveries in all areas of medicine. HJF serves as a trusted and responsive link between the military medical community, federal and private partners, and the millions of warfighters, veterans, and civilians who benefit from military medicine. For more information, visit