Second language speech production: Investigating linguistic correlates of comprehensibility and accentedness for learners at different ability levels

Kazuya Saito, Pavel Trofimovich, Talia Isaacs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Citations (Scopus)


The current project aimed to investigate the potentially different linguistic correlates of comprehensibility (i.e., ease of understanding) and accentedness (i.e., linguistic nativelikeness) in adult second language (L2) learners' extemporaneous speech production. Timed picture descriptions from 120 beginner, intermediate, and advanced Japanese learners of English were analyzed using native speaker global judgments based on learners' comprehensibility and accentedness, and then submitted to segmental, prosodic, temporal, lexical, and grammatical analyses. Results showed that comprehensibility was related to all linguistic domains, and accentedness was strongly tied with pronunciation (specifically segmentals) rather than lexical and grammatical domains. In particular, linguistic correlates of L2 comprehensibility and accentedness were found to vary by learners' proficiency levels. In terms of comprehensibility, optimal rate of speech, appropriate and rich vocabulary use, and adequate and varied prosody were important for beginner to intermediate levels, whereas segmental accuracy, good prosody, and correct grammar featured strongly for intermediate to advanced levels. For accentedness, grammatical complexity was a feature of intermediate to high-level performance, whereas segmental and prosodic variables were essential to accentedness across all levels. These findings suggest that syllabi tailored to learners' proficiency level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) and learning goal (comprehensibility or nativelike accent) would be advantageous for the teaching of L2 speaking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-240
Number of pages24
JournalApplied Psycholinguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Feb 2
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics

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