Listener Proficiency and Shared Background Effects on the Accentedness, Comprehensibility and Intelligibility of Four Varieties of English


  • Jette G. Hansen Edwards The Chinese University of Hong kong
  • Mary L. Zampini Le Moyne College
  • Caitlin Cunningham



Proficiency; intelligibility; accentedness; comprehensibility; varieties of English


This study examines the impact of Hong Kong listeners’ English language proficiency on the intelligibility and perceived accentedness and comprehensibility of speakers of English from Hong Kong, China, Singapore and the United States. The study had two main aims: (1) to examine how proficiency impacts listeners’ perceptions of how accented and comprehensible different varieties of English are and how this differs from speech intelligibility; (2) to examine whether listeners benefited from a shared background effect differently by proficiency level. The research findings have pedagogical implications as they can improve understanding of which proficiency levels may benefit most from instruction and how a shared background may mitigate proficiency effects. They also help researchers understand the extent to which listeners’ own English proficiency impacts their evaluations of the speech characteristics of other speakers of English, an area of research that is still relatively unexplored.

Author Biographies

Jette G. Hansen Edwards, The Chinese University of Hong kong

Professor and Chair, Department of English, Head, Graduate Division of English, Fellow, CW Chu College, Co-editor, Asian Journal of English Language Teaching (AJELT).

The Chinese University of Hong Kong
3F Fung King Hey Building
Shatin, NT HKSAR

Caitlin Cunningham

Associate Professor

Department of Mathematics

Le Moyne College


Author(s) (2018a) Published manuscript.

Author(s) (2018b) Published manuscript.

Bates, D., Mächler, M., Bolker, B. and Walker, S. (2015) Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software 67: 1-48. doi:10.18637/jss.v067.i01

Bent, T. and Bradlow, A. R. (2003) The interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 114.3: 1600-1610. doi:

Derwing, T. M. and Munro, M. J. (1997) Accent, intelligibility and comprehensibility: Evidence from four L1s. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 19.1: 1-16.

Derwing, T. M. and Munro, M. J. (2013) The development of L2 oral language skills in two L1 groups: A 7-year study. Language Learning 63.2: 163-185. doi: 10.1111/iang.12000

Derwing, T. M. and Munro, M. J. (2015) Pronunciation Fundamentals: Evidence-based Perspectives for L2 Teaching and Research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Deterding, D. (2010) Norms for pronunciation in Southeast Asia. World Englishes 29.3: 364-377. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-971X.2010.01660.x

Gu, M. (2011) Language choice and identity construction in peer interactions: Insights from a multilingual university in Hong Kong. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 32.1: 17-31.

Gu, M. (2014) From opposition to transcendence: The language practices and ideologies of students in a multilingual university. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 17.3: 310-329.

Hayes-Harb, R., Smith, B. L., Bent, T. and Bradlow, A. R. (2008) The interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit for native speakers of Mandarin: Production and perception of English word-final voicing contrasts. Journal of Phonetics 36.4: 664-679.

Hung, T. T. N. (2000) Towards a phonology of Hong Kong English. World Englishes 19.3: 337-356.

IELTS. (2015, April 17). Retrieved March 7, 2019, from

Kachru, B. B. (1985) Standards, codification, and sociolinguistic realism: The English language in the outer circle. In R. Quirk and H. Widdowson (eds.) English in the world: Teaching and learning of language and literature 11-30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kang, O., Moran, M. and Thomson, R. (2019) The effects of international accents and shared first language on listening comprehension tests. TESOL Quarterly 53.1: 56-81.

Kirkpatrick, A., Deterding, D. and Wong, J. (2008) The international intelligibility of Hong Kong English. World Englishes 27: 359-377. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-971X.2008.00573.x

Kirkpatrick, A. and Saunders, N. (2005) The intelligibility of Singapore English: A case study in an Australian university. In D. Deterding, A. Brown, and E. L. Low (eds.), English in Singapore: Phonetic Research on a Corpus 153-162. Singapore: McGraw-Hill Education (Asia).

Krautt, R. and Wulff, S. (2013) Foreign-accented speech perception ratings: A multifactorial case study. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 34.3: 249-263.

Li, D. (2009). Researching NNSs’ views toward intelligibility and identity: Bridging the gap between high moral grounds and down-to-earth concerns. In F. Sharifan (ed.) English as an international language: Perspectives and pedagogical issues 81-118. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Lindemann, S. and Subtirelu, N. (2013) Reliably biased: The role of listener expectation in the perception of second language speech. Language Learning 63.3: 567-594. DOI: 10.1111/lang.12014

Matsuura, H. (2007) Intelligibility and individual learner differences in the EIL context. System 35: 293-304.

Matsuura, H., Chiba, R. and Fujieda, M. (1999) Intelligibility and comprehensibility of American and Irish Englishes in Japan. World Englishes 18.1: 49-62.

Munro, M. J. (2008) Foreign accent and speech intelligibility. In J. G. Hansen Edwards and M. L. Zampini (eds.) Phonology and second language acquisition 183-218. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Munro, M. J. and Derwing, T. M. (1995) Foreign accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning 45.1: 73-97. DOI: 10.1111/0023-8333.49.s1.8

Munro, M. J. and Derwing, T. M. (2001) Modeling perceptions of the accentedness and comprehensibility of L2 speech: The role of speaking rate. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 23: 451-468.

Munro, M. J., Derwing, T. M. and Morton, S. L. (2006) The mutual intelligibility of L2 speech. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 28: 111-131. DOI: 10+10170S0272263106060049

O’Brien, M. G. (2014) L2 learners’ assessments of accentedness, fluency, and comprehensibility of native and nonnative German speech. Language Learning 64.4: 715-748.

Sewell, A. (2013) Language testing and international intelligibility: A Hong Kong case study. Language Assessment Quarterly 10.4: 423-443.

Snow, D. (2008) Cantonese as written standard? Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 18.2: 190-208.

Tan, Y. Y. and Castelli, C. (2013) Intelligibility and attitudes: How American English and Singapore English are perceived around the world. English World-Wide 34.2: 177-201. DOI: 10.1075/eww.34.2.03tan

Tauroza, S. and Luk, C. M. (1997) Accent and second language listening comprehension. RELC Journal 28.1: 54-71.

Tsui, A. B. M. and Bunton, D. (2000) The discourse and attitudes of English language teachers in Hong Kong. World Englishes 19.3: 287-303. DOI: 10.1111/1467-971X.00180

van Wijngaarden, S. J. (2001) Intelligibility of native and non-native Dutch speech. Speech Communication 35: 103-113.

Wang, H. and van Heuven, V. J. (2015) The interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit as bias toward native-language phonology. i-Perception 6.6: 1-13. doi: 10.1177/2041669515613661




How to Cite

Hansen Edwards, Jette G., Mary L. Zampini, and Caitlin Cunningham. 2019. “Listener Proficiency and Shared Background Effects on the Accentedness, Comprehensibility and Intelligibility of Four Varieties of English”. Journal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech 1 (2):333–356.