Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-jqctd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-03-02T05:53:10.603Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


The Role of Appropriateness, Fluency, Variation, Sophistication, Abstractness, and Sense Relations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 August 2015

Kazuya Saito*
Birkbeck, University of London
Stuart Webb
University of Western Ontario
Pavel Trofimovich
Concordia University
Talia Isaacs
University of Bristol
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kazuya Saito, Birkbeck, University of London, The Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, 30 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DT, UK. E-mail:


This study examined contributions of lexical factors to native-speaking raters’ assessments of comprehensibility (ease of understanding) of second language (L2) speech. Extemporaneous oral narratives elicited from 40 French speakers of L2 English were transcribed and evaluated for comprehensibility by 10 raters. Subsequently, the samples were analyzed for 12 lexical variables targeting diverse domains of lexical usage (appropriateness, fluency, variation, sophistication, abstractness, and sense relations). For beginner-to-intermediate speakers, comprehensibility was related to basic uses of L2 vocabulary (fluent and accurate use of concrete words). For intermediate-to-advanced speakers, comprehensibility was linked to sophisticated uses of L2 lexis (morphologically accurate use of complex, less familiar, polysemous words). These findings, which highlight complex associations between lexical variables and L2 comprehensibility, suggest that improving comprehensibility requires attention to multiple lexical domains of L2 performance.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Adolphs, S., & Schmitt, N. (2003). Lexical coverage of spoken discourse. Applied Linguistics, 24, 425438.Google Scholar
Baayen, R. H., Piepenbrock, R., & Gulikers, L. (1995). CELEX. Philadelphia, PA: Linguistic Data Consortium.Google Scholar
Bosker, H. R., Pinget, A.-F., Quené, H., Sanders, T., & de Jong, N. H. (2013). What makes speech sound fluent? The contributions of pauses, speed and repairs. Language Testing, 30, 159175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cook, V. (Ed.). (2002). Portraits of the L2 user. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crossley, S., & McNamara, D. (2013). Applications of text analysis tools for spoken response grading. Language Learning & Technology, 17, 171192.Google Scholar
Crossley, S. A., Salsbury, T., & McNamara, D. S. (2009). Measuring L2 lexical growth using hypernymic relationships. Language Learning, 59, 307334.Google Scholar
Crossley, S. A., Salsbury, T., & McNamara, D. S. (2010). The development of polysemy and frequency use in English second language speakers. Language Learning, 60, 573605.Google Scholar
Crossley, S. A., Salsbury, T., & McNamara, D. S. (2014). Assessing lexical proficiency using analytic ratings: A case for collocation accuracy. Applied Linguistics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1093/applin/amt056 Google Scholar
Crossley, S. A., Salsbury, T., McNamara, D. S., & Jarvis, S. (2011). What is lexical proficiency? Some answers from computational models of speech data. TESOL Quarterly, 45, 182193.Google Scholar
Crowther, D., Trofimovich, P., Isaacs, T., & Saito, K. (2015). Does speaking task affect second language comprehensibility? Modern Language Journal, 99, 8095.Google Scholar
De Bot, K. (1996). The psycholinguistics of the output hypothesis. Language Learning, 46, 529555.Google Scholar
De Jong, N. H., Steinel, M. P., Florijn, A. F., Schoonen, R., & Hulstijn, J. H. (2012). Facets of speaking proficiency. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 34, 534.Google Scholar
Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2009). Putting accent in its place: Rethinking obstacles to communication. Language Teaching, 42, 476490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2013). The development of L2 oral language skills in two L1 groups: A seven-year study. Language Learning, 63, 163185.Google Scholar
Derwing, T. M., Rossiter, M. J., Munro, M. J. & Thomson, R. I. (2004). L2 fluency: Judgments on different tasks. Language Learning, 54, 655679.Google Scholar
Ellis, N., & Beaton, A. (1993). Psycholinguistic determinants of foreign language vocabulary acquisition. Language Learning, 43, 559617.Google Scholar
Færch, C., & Kasper, G. (1984). Two ways of defining communication strategies. Language Learning, 34, 4563.Google Scholar
Field, J. (2005). Intelligibility and the listener: The role of lexical stress. TESOL Quarterly, 39, 399423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Foster, P., Tonkyn, A., & Wigglesworth, G. (2000). Measuring spoken language. Applied Linguistics, 21, 354375.Google Scholar
Gass, S. M., & Mackey, A. (2006). Input, interaction and output: An overview. AILA Review, 19, 317.Google Scholar
Gatbonton, E., & Segalowitz, N. (2005). Rethinking the communicative approach: A focus on accuracy and fluency. Canadian Modern Language Review, 61, 325353.Google Scholar
Goldschneider, J. M., & DeKeyser, R. M. (2001). Explaining the “Natural Order of L2 Morpheme Acquisition” in English: A Meta-analysis of multiple determinants. Language Learning, 51, 150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hahn, L. (2004). Primary stress and intelligibility: Research to motivate the teaching of suprasegmentals. TESOL Quarterly, 38, 201223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hulstijn, J. H., Schoonen, R., De Jong, N. H., Steinel, M. P., & Florijn, A. (2012). Linguistic competences of learners of Dutch as a second language at the B1 and B2 levels of speaking proficiency of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Language Testing, 29, 203221.Google Scholar
Isaacs, T., & Thomson, R. I. (2013). Rater experience, rating scale length, and judgments of L2 pronunciation: Revisiting research conventions. Language Assessment Quarterly, 10, 135159.Google Scholar
Isaacs, T., & Trofimovich, P. (2012). Deconstructing comprehensibility: Identifying the linguistic influences on listeners’ L2 comprehensibility ratings. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 34, 475505.Google Scholar
Iwashita, N., Brown, A., McNamara, T., & O’Hagan, S. (2008). Assessed levels of second language speaking proficiency: How distinct? Applied Linguistics, 29, 2949.Google Scholar
Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Jiang, N. (2007). Selective integration of linguistic knowledge in adult second language acquisition. Language Learning, 57, 133.Google Scholar
Kang, O., Rubin, D., & Pickering, L. (2010). Suprasegmental measures of accentedness and judgments of English language learner proficiency in oral English. Modern Language Journal, 94, 554566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koizumi, R. (2012). Vocabulary and speaking. In Chapelle, C. (Ed.), The encyclopedia of applied linguistics (pp. 17). Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
Koizumi, R., & In’nami, Y. (2012). Effects of text length on lexical diversity measures: Using short texts with less than 200 tokens. System, 40, 554564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kormos, J. (2006). Speech production and second language acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Laufer, B., & Nation, P. (1995). Vocabulary size and use: Lexical richness in L2 written production. Applied Linguistics, 16, 307322.Google Scholar
Lennon, P. (1990). Investigating fluency in EFL: A quantitative approach. Language Learning, 40, 387417.Google Scholar
Levis, J. (2005). Changing contexts and shifting paradigms in pronunciation teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 39, 367377.Google Scholar
Long, M. H. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In Ritchie, W. C. & Bhatia, T. K. (Eds.), Handbook of language acquisition. Vol. 2: Second language acquisition (pp. 413468). New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Lu, X. (2012). The relationship of lexical richness to the quality of ESL learners’ oral narratives. Modern Language Review, 96, 190208.Google Scholar
Lyster, R. (2007). Learning and teaching languages through content: A counterbalanced approach. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mackey, A., Gass, S., & McDonough, K. (2000). How do learners perceive interactional feedback? Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 22, 471497.Google Scholar
MATLAB (Version 8.1) [Computer software]. (2013). Natick, MA: The Mathworks Inc.Google Scholar
McCarthy, P. M., & Jarvis, S. (2010). MTLD, vocd-D, and HD-D: A validation study of sophisticated approaches to lexical diversity assessment. Behavior Research Methods, 42, 381392.Google Scholar
McNamara, D. S., Graesser, A. C., McCarthy, P. M., & Cai, Z. (2014). Automated evaluation of text and discourse with Coh-Metrix. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Munro, M. J., & Derwing, T. M. (1999). Foreign accent comprehensibility and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning, 49, 285310.Google Scholar
Munro, M., & Derwing, T. (2006). The functional load principle in ESL pronunciation instruction: An exploratory study. System, 34, 520531.Google Scholar
Nation, I. S. P., & Webb, S. (2011). Researching and analyzing vocabulary. Boston, MA: Heinle.Google Scholar
Ochs, E. (1979). Transcription as theory. In Ochs, E. & Schieffelin, B. B. (Eds.), Developmental pragmatics (pp. 4372). New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Patkowski, M. (1980). The sensitive period for the acquisition of syntax in a second language. Language Learning, 30, 449472.Google Scholar
Piske, T., MacKay, I., & Flege, J. (2001). Factors affecting degree of foreign accents in an L2: A review. Journal of Phonetics, 29, 191215.Google Scholar
Read, J. (2000). Assessing vocabulary. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Saito, K. (2015). Experience effects on the development of late second language learners’ oral proficiency. Language Learning, 65(3).Google Scholar
Saito, K., Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2015). Second language speech production: Investigating linguistic correlates of comprehensibility and accentedness for learners at different ability levels. Applied Psycholinguistics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1017/S0142716414000502 Google Scholar
Saito, K., Trofimovich, P., Isaacs, T., & Webb, S. (in press). Re-examining phonological and lexical correlates of second language comprehensibility: The role of rater experience. In Isaacs, T. & Trofimovich, P. (Eds.). Interfaces in second language pronunciation assessment: Interdisciplinary perspectives. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Salsbury, T., Crossley, S. A., & McNamara, D. S. (2011). Psycholinguistic word information in second language oral discourse. Second Language Research, 27, 343360.Google Scholar
Schmitt, N. (1998). Tracking the incremental acquisition of a second language vocabulary: A longitudinal study. Language Learning, 48, 281317.Google Scholar
Schmitt, N. (2008). State of the art: Instructed second language vocabulary acquisition. Language Teaching Research, 12, 329363.Google Scholar
Schmitt, N., & Meara, P. (1997). Researching vocabulary through a word knowledge framework: Word associations and verbal suffixes. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 1736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stadthagen-Gonzalez, H., & Davis, C. J. (2006). The Bristol norms for age of acquisition, imageability, and familiarity. Behavior Research Methods, 38, 598605.Google Scholar
Tavakoli, P., & Foster, P. (2010). Task design and second language performance: The effect of narrative type on learner output. Language Learning, 58, 439473.Google Scholar
Trofimovich, P., & Baker, W. (2006). Learning second-language suprasegmentals: Effect of L2 experience on prosody and fluency characteristics of L2 speech. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28, 130.Google Scholar
van Zeeland, H., & Schmitt, N. (2013). Incidental vocabulary acquisition through L2 listening: A dimensions approach. System, 41, 609624.Google Scholar
Varonis, E. M., & Gass, S. (1982). The comprehensibility of nonnative speech. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 4, 114136.Google Scholar
Verspoor, M., & Lowie, W. (2003). Making sense of polysemous words. Language Learning, 53, 547586.Google Scholar
Webb, S., & Rodgers, M. P. H. (2009). The vocabulary demands of television programs. Language Learning, 59, 335366.Google Scholar
Wilson, M. D. (1988). The MRC psycholinguistic database: Machine readable dictionary, Version 2. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 20, 611.Google Scholar
Winke, P., Gass, S., & Myford, C. (2013). Raters’ L2 background as a potential source of bias in rating oral performance. Language Testing, 30, 231252.Google Scholar
Yao, Z., Saito, K., Trofimvich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2013). Z-Lab [Computer software]. Retrieved from (Accessed on August 1, 2013).Google Scholar
Yuan, F., & Ellis, R. (2003). The effects of pre-task planning and on-line planning on fluency, complexity and accuracy in L2 monologic oral production. Applied Linguistics, 24, 127.Google Scholar
Zareva, A. (2007). Structure of the second language mental lexicon: How does it compare to native speakers’ lexical organization? Second Language Research, 23, 123153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar