Advantages and Disadvantages of the Activation of Top-Down Processing in Speech Comprehension Speech comprehension is how we interpret messages that we hear. This is often presented to us in dialogue where we can see and interact with the other party, but we must also be able to understand speech in other mediums such as over the telephone, through the media, or over a tannoy announcement in a supermarket or on public transport for example. Top down processing describes how we infer meaning when information is missing. When listening to speech, there are often sounds, words or phrases that are inaudible, for example in a noisy environment. It is believed that we fill in the gaps by adding information based on what we know. (Pinker, 2000). It is generally accepted that top down processing is activated in speech comprehension (Pinker, 2000), (Brown, 2006) and (Zekveld, Heslenfeld, Festen and Schoonhoven, 2006). This paper outlines the advantages and disadvantages of the process, which lead to successful and sometimes unsuccessful comprehension of speech. Any error in the research examples would be considered disadvantages if it was a result of top down processing. This would serve to warn teachers, speech therapists and those who develop audiology equipment to be cautious of encouraging or eliciting this skill. The importance of discussing the advantages and disadvantages of top down processing is that therapists and educators can learn how best to enhance speech comprehension. For students of language and people with hearing impairment, knowledge of how to promote speech comprehension is of particular importance Cognitive research will support the description of the processes taking place and present evidence of success and failure in speech comprehension. Goh (2000) carried out a study on the challenges of listening comprehension for English language students proposes the promotion of top down processing in order to enhance understanding speech from a general perspective. She actually discourages students from focusing on the unknown word and has them pay less attention to individual words, to gain a better understanding of the context. Evidence of top down processing in neuroimaging, which is believed to illustrate the areas of the brain that are active during speech processing, will be presented. Speech is an uninterrupted flow with no boundaries and phonemes run into each other, changing form in elision. It is rapid and speech segmentation can be a challenge. (Pinker, 2000) Coarticulation occurs when in speech, sounds are merged into each other. The flowing nature of speech requires speakers to physically prepare for sounds in advance, by moving from one phoneme to the next. This means that the listeners needs to use context and where available, speech reading to infer meaning. Goh (2000) postulates that students sometimes experience problems when they are unable to effectively activate top down processing and when they are not fully aware of how they would best learn. It is suggested that training on metacognition, where the learner begins to analyse their own learning styles and how they achieved success would support the development of language learning. This would mean that the student is taught how to consciously consider what they already know and draw inference, but also, to understand the importance of drawing inference and letting go of the importance of accurately knowing the meaning of the word. For English language learners, there could be cultural implications in inferring meaning. Learner autonomy can affect how well students are able to activate top down processing (Usuki 2001) and further knowledge of how to promote this skill for certain students could help the activation of top down processing. Evidence of activity in Broca’s area of the brain during speech comprehension has been depicted in neuroimaging, suggesting that this area is active during top down processing (Zekveld et...
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