Recognizing speech in difficult listening conditions requires considerable focus of attention that is often demonstrated by elevated activity in putative attention systems, including the cingulo-opercular network. We tested the prediction that elevated cingulo-opercular activity provides word-recognition benefit on a subsequent trial. Eighteen healthy, normal-hearing adults (10 females; aged 20–38 years) performed word recognition (120 trials) in multi-talker babble at +3 and +10 dB signal-to-noise ratios during a sparse sampling functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment. Blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) contrast was elevated in the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, and frontal operculum in response to poorer speech intelligibility and response errors. These brain regions exhibited significantly greater correlated activity during word recognition compared with rest, supporting the premise that word-recognition demands increased the coherence of cingulo-opercular network activity. Consistent with an adaptive control network explanation, general linear mixed model analyses demonstrated that increased magnitude and extent of cingulo-opercular network activity was significantly associated with correct word recognition on subsequent trials. These results indicate that elevated cingulo-opercular network activity is not simply a reflection of poor performance or error but also supports word recognition in difficult listening conditions.