Where does a 'foreign' accent matter? German, Spanish and Singaporean listeners' reactions to Dutch-accented English, and standard British and American English accents

PLoS One. 2020 Apr 29;15(4):e0231089. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231089. eCollection 2020.

Abstract

How well L2 English is understood and how L2 English speakers perceive one another within varying communication contexts has been studied relatively rarely, even though most speakers of English in the world are L2 speakers. In this matched-guise experiment (N = 1699) the effects of L1 and L2 English accents and communication context were tested on speech understandability (intelligibility, comprehensibility, interpretability) and speaker evaluations (status, affect, dynamism). German (N = 617), Spanish (N = 540), and Singaporean listeners (N = 542) were asked to evaluate three accents (Dutch-accented English, standard British English, standard American English) in three communication contexts (Lecture, Audio Tour, Job Pitch). The main finding is that the Dutch-accented English accent was understood as well as the two L1 English accents. Furthermore, Dutch-accented English evoked equally positive evaluations to the two L1 English accents in German listeners, and more positive evaluations than the two L1 English accents in Spanish and Singaporean listeners. These results suggest that accent training aimed at achieving an L1 English accent may not always be necessary for (Dutch) English language learners, especially when they are expected to mostly interact with other L2 speakers of English. More generally, our results indicate that L2 English speakers' understanding and their evaluation of L1 and L2 Englishes would not seem to reflect traditional language norms. Instead, they seem to reflect the socio-cultural embedding of a language norm in a Lingua Franca English speech community that does not view accent varieties as a hindrance to successful communication.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Speech Intelligibility*
  • Speech Perception* / physiology
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.