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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 November 2018

Kym Taylor Reid*
Concordia University
Pavel Trofimovich
Concordia University
Mary Grantham O’Brien
University of Calgary
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kym Taylor Reid, Department of Education, Concordia University (FG 5.150), 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W., Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3G 1M8. E-mail:


This study examined whether social bias manipulation can influence how naïve multiage listeners evaluate second language (L2) speech. Sixty native English-speaking listeners (Montreal residents) rated audio recordings of 40 Quebec French speakers of L2 English for five dimensions of oral performance (accentedness, comprehensibility, segmental accuracy, intonation, flow) using 1,000-point continuous scales. Immediately before rating, 20 listeners heard critical comments about Quebec French speakers’ English language skills, while 20 heard positive comments. Twenty listeners (baseline group) received no manipulation. Compared to baseline listeners, positively oriented listeners (younger and older) rated four of five dimensions more favorably. However, listeners’ behavior diverged under negative bias. Compared to age-matched baseline listeners, younger listeners upgraded speakers while older listeners downgraded speakers for all targeted measures. Findings cast doubt on the relative stability of L2 speech ratings and point to the importance of social context and generational differences in untrained rater assessments of L2 speaking performance.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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This study was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to the second and third authors. We are deeply grateful to Zeshan Yao for his programming assistance and to the anonymous reviewers and the editor, Susan Gass, for the insightful comments and suggestions that helped us refine this article.

The experiment in this article earned Open Data and Open Materials badges for transparent practices. All data and materials are available at



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