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Freshers sometimes speak almost inaudibly, even after asking them to speak loudly. Now, with facemasks, it's even worse, I am not allowed to approach them too much, and it demands a lot of energy to be able to hear them sometimes. What strategies do you suggest?

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    What sort of answer are you expecting besides "Ask them politely?" – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 6 '20 at 18:16
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    @AzorAhai--hehim Having frequently experienced the same issue, I usually ask politely two times, but when they still don't raise their voice, I raise mine and become much less polite. Usually this is enough ;-) – Massimo Ortolano Oct 6 '20 at 18:25
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    Publicly thank the students who do speak loudly, every time they speak. – JeffE Oct 6 '20 at 18:39
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    I simply tell them I cannot hear them and ask them to repeat it louder, until I hear it. Usually at the 3rd time it's loud enough for you to understand and I thank them for getting it right (cf. @JeffE). It's a shyness that they have to overcome and they have to get the feedback that they are not exaggerating. – Captain Emacs Oct 6 '20 at 21:04
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    academia.stackexchange.com/questions/156284/… – user130321 Oct 7 '20 at 5:31
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If students do not speak loudly when directly asked to speak loudly, it probably means they do not know how to speak loudly. This is not intuitive because most people think everyone knows how to speak loudly naturally, but I suspect many people misunderstand the mechanics of speaking loudly. In particular, people think they speak loudly by moving their ribs, when actually the need to move their abdominal muscles. Show your students where those muscles are and have them practice moving them to make a loud sound. This will help students control their volume.

You might also ask the music or theater department for advice.

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  • +1 (I'd have written something along the same lines, but worse.) I'll add: The OP doesn't mention the context, I think asking/answering a question is assumed in the above answer. In the OP's position and in the context of the above answer, I'd suggest doing a demo. Of a one-to-one private conversation at the front of the room (or with yourself for covid safety). With someone in the front row. With someone in the back row. To the whole room. Perhaps ask students to raise their hands when they can hear. Ask a couple of students to give it a try. – user2768 Oct 8 '20 at 9:57
  • I'd perhaps open the demo with: "Sometimes I struggle to hear some of you. Now, that might be my old age. <<pause for giggles>> I really want to hear you all, so I'm going to demonstrate how our voices travel." By assuming responsibility for the problem, students that talk too quietly will feel at ease and won't blame themselves, whilst understanding the need to project their voices. (Or they just assume it's your problem, not theirs...) – user2768 Oct 8 '20 at 10:00
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Program your laptop computer or smartphone to continuously plot over the last few minutes the loudness (in decibels) of the sound heard by its microphone. If a student says something you can't make out - bring the app to the foreground, show that the sound wasn't loud enough, and ask them to repeat so as to reach the desired level on the plot.

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    This sounds like a great way to get students to stop asking anything for fear of embarrassment. – David Scott Oct 8 '20 at 6:56
  • @David Scott Oh, good point, David. – Philosopher of science Oct 8 '20 at 11:38

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