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Impact of COVID-19 on how we communicate with each other

  • Date

    Fri 24 Jul 20

Woman wearing mask

Two Essex researchers have secured British Academy funding to investigate the impact COVID-19 has had on how we communicate with each other.

The economic, social and cultural effects of this global health crisis are far reaching and the British Academy invited humanities and social science researchers to bring their specific insights to bear on the pandemic to enrich our understanding and response to the crisis.

Dr Faith Chiu, a Lecturer in our Department of Language and Linguistics, and Dr Eva Gutierrez, a Lecturer from our Department of Psychology, were both successful in winning the prestigious British Academy Special Research Grants: COVID-19 Awards.

COVID-19 has dramatically reshaped our speech communication. Face-to-face communication often involves both parties wearing face coverings which can distort speech as well as hide visual clues. Another challenge is conversations via teleconferencing where there can be background noise and transmission delays.

Dr Chiu, an expert in speech and hearing sciences, will be carrying out a multi-language study of speech perception in adverse listening conditions and investigating language performance during mask-distorted speech.

“There is more international collaboration than ever before which means many people are not communicating in their native language, and there is a heavy reliance on teleconferencing technology,” explained Dr Chiu. “This pandemic has presented many new challenges to our listening experience, and with a better understanding of how individuals are adapting to the challenge, we will be able to inform communication guidance to ensure information can be passed on efficiently and effectively, especially in remote settings, during COVID-19 and beyond.”

Dr Gutierrez’s research will focus on the challenges experienced by deaf and hard of hearing people during COVID-19. The project will measure the impact of the lack of deaf-friendly communication strategies during the crisis using accessible, multi-language online surveys.

“Deaf people rely on visual communication (sign language and lipreading) and struggle to read at an age appropriate level,” explained Dr Gutierrez. “Their current access to vital information has been reduced due to several factors including lack of sign language interpreting and people communicating wearing face-masks.”

The study will also aim to identify which of the compensatory measures to address these issues have been successful and the findings of this research will inform future policies and provide guidelines for disseminating information and setting up remote working.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Christine Raines said: “I am delighted that two of our academics have won prestigious British Academy Special Research Grants: COVID-19 Awards, to provide new insights to help with our understanding of the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic.”