The listener: No longer the silent partner in reduced intelligibility

Beth W. Zielinski*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


In this study I investigate the impact of different characteristics of the L2 speech signal on the intelligibility of L2 speakers of English to native listeners. Three native listeners were observed and questioned as they orthographically transcribed utterances taken from connected conversational speech produced by three L2 speakers from different L1 backgrounds (Korean, Mandarin, and Vietnamese). Where the listeners experienced difficulty in identifying the speaker's intended words, the features of the speech signal they relied on were identified, and links were made between the difficulties they experienced and the way in which the features in question varied from standard English phonology. Regardless of the speaker they were listening to, when attempting to identify the speaker's intended words, all three listeners relied heavily and consistently on the speaker's syllable stress pattern (the number and pattern of strong and weak syllables), and more consistently on segments in strong syllables than those in weak syllables. Both non-standard syllable stress patterns and non-standard segments misled them into wrongly identifying a speaker's intended words, but for all three speakers, it was non-standard segments in strong syllables that misled those most often. These findings have implications for L2 listeners wanting to improve their English listening skills, as well as for L2 speakers wanting to improve their intelligibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-84
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Foreign accent
  • Intelligibility
  • Listening
  • Speech perception


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