The Lombard Effect: What is it, and how does it impact ECEC?
The Sector > Quality > Professional development > The Lombard Effect: What is it, and how can it influence your practice in ECEC?

The Lombard Effect: What is it, and how can it influence your practice in ECEC?

by Christopher Bradshaw

June 17, 2024

Have you ever noticed what happens to a group of people who might sit down together at a Café and begin talking? They start off quiet, but you might notice that as time passes, there is a gradual rise in the level of noise coming from the group.


As time continues to pass, the noise level just gets increasingly louder until the waiter must intervene because the group are practically shouting!


This ‘café’ effect is known as the Lombard Effect, and is a result of an unintentional response to a loud environment whereby the speaker subconsciously keeps raising their voice just to be heard. 


These reactions are accidental, and although the speaker never intended to do so, they are now shouting. 


One of the most interesting aspects of the Lombard Effect is that even when the environment returns to a more normal noise level, the Lombard Effect (speaking at a loud volume) can continue to persist for some time.


The Lombard Effect can be seen in learning environments all across the country, with educators falling prey to its trap, increasing their speaking volume in a bid not only to be heard, but also to hear themselves in conversation in the same way as they would be in a quieter environment. 


Effective communication


There is a body of evidence which shows that there needs to be up to a 10dB difference between a reasonable background noise and the spoken words in conversation for the communication itself to be effectively transmitted.


When you combine this information, and the unintentional consequences of the Lombard Effect, educators find themselves in a complex position.

It is recommended that educators avoid the constant increasing use of verbal instructions or redirections, as these have very little impact on managing the rising noise level effects.


Instead, I recommend visual provocations to accompany a clear yet calm verbal instruction. Using these visual signals can provide ‘natural resistance’ to the Lombard Effect. Over time children can learn to inhibit their Lombard responses when in a noisy environment. 


Reducing group sizes, planning environments intentionally


Reducing group sizes during routine times or group learning opportunities can limit the presence of the Lombard Effect, as can intentionally planning an indoor/outdoor learning program, greatly increasing the amount of space provided for the children. 


Careful creation of quiet and restful spaces both indoors and outdoors could also assist in allowing for a space for children to rest and relax, acting as a place of regulation.


OHS implications

Noise within early childhood educational settings needs to be carefully considered by those who have responsibility for the occupational health and safety (OH&S) of others. 


There can be significant OH&S concerns for educators who can at times be exposed to peak noise levels of 140dB or averaged daily doses of over 80dB. 


These levels exceed Australian WHS regulations and pose a preventable risk to both educators and the children in their care. 


As such, every effort should be made to respond to noise levels in learning environments to prevent “a runaway Lombard Effect” situation.

Christopher Bradshaw is the CEO of Making Education, a business which provides training by educators, for educators. He holds both a Diploma and Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, along with a Master of Education in Leadership and Management, and qualifications in Training and Assessment.


He is also the Director of Education and Development for KingKids Early Learning, an approved provider with five services in Victoria. 

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