Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 899–911 | Cite as

Unfamiliar Accented English Negatively Affects EFL Listening Comprehension: It Helps to be a More Able Accent Mimic

  • Yu-Lin Cheng


In this study, EFL learners who listened to four short context-rich audio files each delivered in an unfamiliar English accent were required to produce best-attempt transcriptions and accent imitation recordings. Results indicate that exposure alone does not suffice to eliminate accent impact on EFL listeners. Importantly, results from one-way ANOVA analyses reveal between-participants differences in residual accent impact, vocabulary knowledge, and quality of accent imitation. Results from a linear mixed-effects model analysis, while suggesting that other unidentified factors may also assist EFL listeners in processing unfamiliar accented English, demonstrate that the more able mimics cope more successfully with unfamiliar accents than the less able mimics. Counter-intuitively, vocabulary knowledge is rejected as a predictor for success in reducing accent impact. A logical explanation for this particular finding is that a larger vocabulary repertoire aids listeners where there is no interference from unfamiliar accents. Given these findings, to better prepare EFL listeners for the English-as-an-International-Language world, training should include both listening to a variety of native and non-native accents and performing accent imitation (reproduction) exercises to further expand listeners’ phonological-phonetic flexibility.


EFL Accent impact Chinese-L1 Accent imitation 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. Adank, P., Evans, B. G., Stuart-Smith, J., & Scott, S. K. (2009). Comprehension of familiar and unfamiliar native accents under adverse listening conditions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 35, 520–529.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Adank, P., Hagoort, P., & Bekkering, H. (2010). Imitation improves language comprehension. Psychological Science, 21, 1903–1909.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baddeley, A. (1992). Working memory. Science, 255, 556–559.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Baese-Berk, M., Bradlow, A. N., & Wright, B. A. (2013). Accent-independent adaptation to foreign accented speech. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 133, EL174–EL180.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bent, T., & Holt, R. F. (2013). The influence of talker and foreign-accent variability on spoken word identification. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 133(3), 1677–1686.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Botting, N., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2001). Non-word repetition and language development in children with specific language impairment (SLI). International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 36(4), 421–432.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bradlow, A. R., & Bent, T. (2008). Perceptual adaptation to non-native speech. Cognition, 106, 707–729.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarke, C. M., & Garrett, M. F. (2004). Rapid adaptation to foreign accented English. Journal of Acoustic Society of America, 116, 3647–3658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clopper, C. G., Pisoni, D. B., & de Jong, K. (2005). Acoustic characteristics of the vowel systems of six regional varieties of American English. Journal of Acoustic Society of America, 118, 1661–1676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cristia, A., Seidl, A., Vaughn, C., Schmale, R., Bradlow, A., & Floccia, C. (2012). Linguistic processing of accented speech across the lifespan. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 3, 479. Scholar
  11. Dlaska, A., & Krekeler, C. (2013). The short-term effects of individual corrective feedback on L2 pronunciation. System, 41, 25–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Flege, J. E. (1984). The detection of French accent by American listeners. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 76, 692–707.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Floccia, C., Goslin, J., Girard, F., & Konopczynski, G. (2006). Does a regional accent perturb speech processing? Journal of Experimental Psychology in Human Perception and Performance, 32, 1276–1293.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gass, S., & Varonis, E. (1984). The effect of familiarity on the comprehensibility of nonnative speech. Language Learning, 34, 66–85.Google Scholar
  15. Gathercole, S. E., Willis, C. S., Baddeley, A. D., & Emslie, H. (1994). The Children’s test of nonword repetition: A test of phonological working memory. Memory, 2, 103–127.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hayes-Harb, R., Smith, B., Bent, T., & Bradlow, A. (2008). The interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit for native speakers of Mandarin: Production and perception of English word-final voicing contrasts. Journal of Phonetics, 36(4), 664–679.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Hu, C. F. (2014). Adapting to atypical word forms in young EFL learners. English Teaching and Learning, 38(4), 1–25.Google Scholar
  18. Janse, E., & Adank, P. (2012). Predicting foreign-accent adaptation in older adults. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 1563–1585.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Keuleers, E., & Brysbaert, M. (2010). Wuggy: A multilingual pseudoword generator. Behavior Research Methods, 42, 627–633.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Labov, W., & Ash, S. (1997). Understanding Birmingham. In C. Bernstein, T. Nunnally, & R. Sabino (Eds.), Language variety in the south revisited (pp. 508–573). Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  21. Major, R. C. (2007). Identifying a foreign accent in an unfamiliar language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 29, 539–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Major, R. C., Fitzmaurice, S. F., Bunta, F., & Balasubramanian, C. (2002). The effects of nonnative accents on listening comprehension: Implication for ESL assessment. TESOL Quarterly, 36, 173–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mason, H. M. (1946). Understandability of speech in noise as affected by region of origin of speaker and listener. Speech Monographs, 13, 54–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Munro, M. J. (1995). Non-segmental factors in foreign accent: Ratings of filtered speech. S tudies in Second Language Acquisition, 17, 17–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Munro, M. J., & Derwing, T. G. (1995). Processing time, accent and comprehensibility in the perception of native and foreign-accented speech. Language and Speech, 38, 289–306.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Munro, M. J., Derwing, T. M., & Burgess, C. S. (2003). The detection of foreign accent in backwards speech. In M.-J. Sole, D. Recasens, & J. Romero (Eds.), Proceedings of the 15th international congress of phonetic sciences (pp. 535–538). Barcelona: University Autonoma de Barcelona.Google Scholar
  27. Murphy, J. M. (2014). Intelligible, comprehensible, non-native models in ESL/EFL pronunciation teaching. System, 42, 258–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nolan, F., & Grabe, E. (1996). Preparing a voice line-up. Forensic Linguistics, 3, 74–94.Google Scholar
  29. Omori, M. (2007). The effect of short-term exposure on familiarity with accented English for Japanese EFL learners. Asian EFL Journal, 9(3), 137–155.Google Scholar
  30. Rodero, E. (2012). A comparative analysis of speech rate and perception in radio bulletins. Text & Talk, 32(3), 391–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. The International Dialects of English Archive. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  32. The Listening Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  33. The Speech Accent Archive. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  34. Truseneye92. (2012). The English language in 30 accents. Retrieved from
  35. Vandergrift, L., & Baker, S. (2015). Learning variables in second language listening comprehension: An exploratory path analysis. Language Learning, 65, 390–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Weber, A., & Pöllmann, K. (2010). Identifying foreign speakers with an unfamiliar accent or in an unfamiliar language. In New Sounds 2010: Sixth International Symposium on the Acquisition of Second Language Speech (pp. 536–541). Poznan, Poland: Adam Mickiewicz University.Google Scholar
  37. Wells, J. C. (1982). Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zhang, L. J., & Rahimi, M. (2014). EFL learners’ anxiety level and their beliefs about corrective feedback in oral communication classes. System, 42, 429–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishNational Dong Hwa UniversityHualien CountyTaiwan

Personalised recommendations