English is used as a lingua franca not only throughout Asia, but also in Inner Circle countries for academic purposes. Due to wide variation in L2 English speech, however, mutual intelligibility is an increasing concern. Since accentedness does not necessarily correlate with intelligibility and results have been mixed as to the benefit of interlanguage match, a study focused on the academic context investigated the extent to which Mandarin-accented English was intelligible to L1 Mandarin listeners, as compared to Koreans and Americans, and whether intelligibility varied by talker segmental accuracy and listener L1 and word familiarity. Participants included 6 male graduate students (Chinese & American) as talkers and 64 male and female graduate students (Chinese, Korean, & American) as listeners. In a counter balanced word-recognition-in-noise experiment, listeners were presented with 60 sentences with 3 to 4 key words each which they were asked to transcribe. Intelligibility was determined by the accuracy of the key word transcriptions. Listeners then rated their familiarity with known key words on an increasing 5-point Likert scale. A series of logistic regression mixed effects models revealed that listener L1 and word familiarity were significant predictors of intelligibility, but that talker segmental production accuracy was not. A clear benefit for interlanguage match was found for the Mandarin L1 listeners with Mandarin-accented English as compared to the Korean listeners, however, American listeners still performed better. Analyses of mistranscribed Mandarin-accented English words revealed different areas of difficulty by listener L1. While front vowels and diphthongs were problematic for all listeners, Chinese listeners found different consonants in different word positions to be unintelligible as compared with Korean listeners. Improving intelligibility for Chinese and Korean interlocutors in ELF and EAP contexts should therefore include a combination of speech perception training in native and nonnative varieties of English as well as vocabulary building.
Concordia Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, 2014, p. 240-260