Dialectal Effects on a Clinical Spanish Word Recognition Test

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American Spanish dialects have substantial phonetic and lexical differences. This study investigated how dialectal differences affect Spanish/English bilingual individuals’ performance on a clinical Spanish word recognition test.


Forty Spanish/English bilinguals participated in the study—20 dominant in Spanish and 20 in English. Within each group, 10 listeners spoke the Highland dialect, and 10 spoke the Caribbean/Coastal dialect. Participants were maximally matched between the 2 dialectal groups regarding their demographic and linguistic background. Listeners were randomly presented 4 lists of Auditec Spanish bisyllabic words at 40 dB SL re: pure-tone average. Each list was randomly assigned with a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of quiet, +6, +3, and 0 dB, in the presence of speech-spectrum noise. Listeners responded orally and in writing.


Dialect and language dominance both significantly affected listener performance on the word recognition test. Higher performance levels were obtained with Highland than Caribbean/Coastal listeners and with Spanish-dominant than English-dominant listeners. The dialectal difference was particularly evident in favorable listening conditions (i.e., quiet and +6 dB SNR) and could not be explained by listeners’ familiarity with the test words.


Dialects significantly affect the clinical assessment of Spanish-speaking clients’ word recognition. Clinicians are advised to consider the phonetic features of the dialect when scoring a client’s performance.

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