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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2019

Kazuya Saito*
University College London
Mai Tran
Birkbeck, University of London
Yui Suzukida
University College London
Hui Sun
Birkbeck University of London
Viktoria Magne
University of West London
Meltem Ilkan
Birkbeck, University of London
*Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Kazuya Saito, University College London, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, United Kingdom WC1H 0AL. E-mail:


The current study examines how second language (L2) users differentially assess the comprehensibility (i.e., ease of understanding) of foreign-accented speech according to a range of background variables, including first language (L1) profiles, L2 proficiency, age, experience, familiarity, and metacognition. A total of 110 L2 listeners first evaluated the global comprehensibility of 50 spontaneous speech samples produced by low-, mid-, and high-proficiency Japanese speakers of English. The listeners were categorized into two subgroups according to a cluster analysis of their rating scores: lenient and strict. Results showed that while the lenient listeners appeared to rely equally on many linguistic areas of speech during their judgments, the strict listeners were strongly attuned to phonological accuracy. Analysis of the background questionnaire data revealed that more lenient listeners likely had higher levels of awareness of the importance of comprehensibility for communication (metacognition); regularly used L2 English in professional settings (experience); and had L1s more linguistically close to the target speech samples, Japanese-accented English (L1-L2 distance).

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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We are grateful to two anonymous SSLA reviewers and the journal editor, Luke Plonsky, for their constructive feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript. This study was funded by Birkbeck Additional Research Grant.



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