On the Irrelevance of Sounds and Prosody in Foreign-Accented English

  • Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska
Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)


The author argues that current research on phonetic priorities in ELT, with its focus on segments and prosody, is misguided and that emphasis should be shifted towards learners’ training in the production of words whose idiosyncratic erroneous rendition does not result from their inability to articulate foreign sounds correctly, but which is caused by various interference factors (e.g. Disney pronounced by many Polish learners as [ˈdjisnej]). It is argued that the use of such severely distorted items (local errors) has grave consequences for linguistic communication, more serious than segmental and suprasegmental inaccuracies (global errors) and should, therefore, be pedagogically prioritized. In order to verify this claim, two experiments have been carried out in which 40 native-speakers of English were asked to assess two phonetic versions of the same passage: one produced by a Polish learner of English with poor segmental and suprasegmental pronunciation, but no major phonological distortions of words, and another recording made by a speaker with the correct rendition of segments and prosodies, but with several seriously mispronounced words, common in Polish English. The assessment concerned the samples’ degree of comprehensibility, foreign-accentedness and annoyance for the listeners. The experimental data show that on all three counts the participants’ judgements were more severe in the case of the version with local errors than with global errors. The same results were obtained in the second experiment in which the samples’ intelligibility was examined in a dictation test.


Local Error Global Error Intelligibility Score Foreign Accent Spelling Pronunciation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper could be completed due to the help received from Graz Kalenik and Dariusz Bukowski, to whom I am deeply grateful.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maria Curie-Skłodowska UniversityLublinPoland

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