Comprehensibility and intelligibility

Talks by Christian Jensen (University of Copenhagen) & Jette G. Hansen Edwards (The Chinese University of Hong Kong).

Comprehensibility, lecture recall and attitudes in English-medium instruction

Christian Jensen

In this talk I will present an experiment on the relationship between lecture comprehension in English-medium instruction and attitudes towards the speaker/lecturer. Recent studies by Howard Giles, Marko Dragojevic and associates have shown that attitudes towards speakers with non-native accents may be negatively affected by reduced “processing fluency”, or difficulties understanding the lecture – and not just by group stereotyping. In our experiment we added noise to samples from one native speaker of Standard American English and one non-native speaker (Japanese English) and hypothesized that noise would have the largest effect on the non-native speaker (who had been demonstrated to be less comprehensible in previous research). A listening experiment with 89 Danish university students yielded unexpected results, however, and the talk invites discussion on possible explanations for these results.

The impact of listeners’ shared background, international experience, and proficiency on the intelligibility, accentedness, and comprehensibility of Asian Englishes 

Jette G. Hansen Edwards

This talk will examine the impact of three listener factors – shared background, international experience, and proficiency – on the accentedness, comprehensibility, and intelligibility ratings for four varieties of English: Hong Kong English, China English, Singapore English, and American English. As such, this talk will contribute to the growing body of research on the intelligibility of English as a lingua franca in Asia. The talk presents data from three studies, all of which employ the same speaker data from 20 speakers (5 each from Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and the United States). Twenty-second excerpts from two tasks (reading and conversation) were embedded into an online questionnaire. Three separate groups of listeners were asked to rate and evaluate each of the 40 (20 speakers x 2) extracts on accentedness, comprehensibility, intelligibility: 1. 105 listeners with the same background as the speakers (Singapore, Hong Kong, USA, and China), to examine the effect of shared background; 2. 30 raters each from the US and Hong Kong, half of whom had extensive international residency experience (6+ months in Asia for the US listeners and 6+ months in an English-speaking country for the Hong Kong listeners), to examine the effect of international experience; and 3. 80 listeners from Hong Kong placed at 5 different English proficiency levels, to examine the impact of proficiency. Pedagogical implications for models and methods for teaching English in Asia will be discussed in relation to the findings.