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APD & ESL connection

If you’re listening to podcasts, YouTube videos, or even TikToks, and always had the subtitles on even before it was cool, you just might have a good reason for that.

Processing audio in your SECOND language is already difficult. But… Is it possible it’s harder for you than it should be?

I’m pretty sure I have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). Does someone you love have it too?

What’s APD?

APD is a disorder of the brain mechanisms that preserve, refine, analyze, modify, organize, and interpret information from sounds, resulting in difficulties with:

  • Auditory discrimination- differentiating sounds and pitches
    • Pronunciation
      • Can you hear the difference between /p/ and /b/ and /d/?
      • What about sounds in English that you don’t have in your first language?
    • Blending sounds
      • Which consonant clusters are difficult for you to catch? /bl/ /tr/ /ths/?
    • Connected Speech
      • Do you have trouble finding the breaks between words in Connected Speech in English?
    • Syllable stress
      • Does your stressed syllable have a higher pitch than the others?
      • Can you find secondary stress in compound words?
    • Rhythm
      • Do your stressed words go up in pitch?
      • Do you have trouble picking out the key words of phrases?
    •  Intonation
      • Do you sound monotone in English?
      • Do people not always catch your jokes because of a lack of intonation?
  • Temporal processing- Recognizing the timing of sounds
    • Syllable stress
      • Is your stressed syllable longer than the others?
      • Is the stressed syllable louder and more intense than the others?
    • Connected Speech
      • Do you have trouble with linking, gliding, blending, and assimilating words smoothly?
    • Rhythm
      • Are your stressed words taking up more time and are louder, while the unimportant words are reduced and softer?
    • Sound order
      • For example, if someone says ’cat’, might you catch the word ‘act’ instead?
    • One sound hiding another sound
      • Do you have a hard time being able to focus on audio while music with lyrics is playing?
  • Binaural processing- How the brain uses timing and intensity information from both ears at the same time
    • Knowing where a sound is coming from and what direction the sound is moving.
      • In a large room, is it hard to know who’s speaking?
    • Difficulty prioritizing sound in noisy environments, or in another language.
      • If there’s music playing, do you find yourself looking directly at someone’s mouth?

APD is also called

“Central Auditory Processing Disorder”

“Language Processing Disorder”

“Auditory Information Processing Disorder”

You can have problems with:

  • Central auditory processing, the brain processing and labeling acoustic signals as they travel through the auditory nerve after leaving the cochlea.
  • Phonemic processing- having trouble differentiating sounds, finding the breaks between words, etc…
  • Linguistic processing- difficulty interpreting meaning to the sounds.

APD is NOT hearing loss!

APD is not due to peripheral hearing loss, including:

  • Outer or middle ear hearing loss (Conductive)
  • Cochlea or auditory nerve hearing loss (Sensorineural)
  • Hidden hearing loss (auditory neuropathy and synaptopathy)

What’s it like for me?

It’s almost like I have ‘dyslexia of the ears’, even though you hear just fine.

People sometimes get frustrated with me, because I’m always asking “What?” and they think I’m not paying attention.

It makes listening in my other languages (Spanish, French, and Arabic) even more difficult!

In fact, I’m hyper focused on what people are saying and how they say it.

So, I guess my APD has made me a better accent coach!

Some red flags:

  • Ask ‘what?’ all the time

(but also responding before they repeat, as if they actually did hear) by the time they answer, I’ve actually pieced it together. It’s not a problem with my ear, but how I process (or don’t) what I’m hearing!

  • Having a hard time following multiple steps (given orally)

(but writing down instructions help)

  • Being highly super artistic- This might be an indication of an overdeveloped right brain (which you can see on scans)
  • History of ear infections
  • You might also think back to when you were young and how you listened, or if you enjoyed rhyming games
  • Dyslexia
  • Unintegrated primitive reflexes

Some causes:

  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Mold toxicity
  • Food sensitivities
  • Head injury
  • Lyme disease
  • Stealth infection

Some ways to make it better on your own

  1.  Take notes! Notice what’s going on with your auditory processing! Pay extra attention to similarities and differences when you’re processing auditory information in your 1st and your other languages!
    • Does it feel like the volume is always up too loud, or never loud enough?
    • Do you prefer watching videos with the subtitles?
    • Do you find yourself writing things down because your short-term memory isn’t great?
    • Do you ask ‘What?’ all the time, even if it’s just a stalling technique to give you time to respond?
    • Do you feel anxious or drained after being in a noisy crowd? Or perhaps tune out completely?
    • How does your brain work right now? Is visual information better?
    • Are you exposed to heavy metals?
    • Try an elimination diet! See if certain foods are causing you inflammation, which makes it difficult to process auditory information.
  2. Do things more visually! Watch the video version of the podcast instead of the audio only version.
  3. Talk openly to people around you about your difficulty. Ask for the subtitles. Ask for people to write down instructions in a message or wait while you jot down a list.

Talk to a professional

Get help with Heavy Metal Detoxing- it SHOULD NOT be handled on your own!

Find out more about APD for yourself, your children, your friends, and your family.


On the other side, if you’re speaking a second language, and someone asks you “What?”, it might be that they have a hard time processing. We as speakers can remember that sometimes it’s not US that is making a mistake, and be compassionate to help the listener understand.

Do you tick a lot of these boxes but not have a diagnosis of APD? Don’t get too hung up on the label. Instead, focus on what you can do even if you just suspect APD.

Before pursuing any corrective interventions, the number one thing you can do is raise your awareness for your auditory processing (and those around you).

APD awareness day is April 4th each year to highlight the effects and challenges associated with living with auditory processing disorders.

What now?

  1. Join me in celebrating APD Awareness Day by telling a friend about it!
  2. Listen to my full podcast episode about Auditory Processing Disorder with Lorraine Driscoll (with transcripts, of course)!
  3. Better yet, watch the video version with subtitles!
  4. Check out the articles about APD on Lorraine’s Website, Building Better Brains
Bianca @ Accent Coach Bianca

I serve the world by empowering people to speak English with confidence in their accent. My enthusiasm results in people feeling like they fit in better socially, and getting better work opportunities.

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