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More Japanese Scholar in London

In this post, as the title suggests, I will introduce another article by Dr. Kazuya Saito. First, though, I’d like to touch on a question that arose regarding my last post. The abstract to one of the articles mentioned claimed, “Results suggested that explicit instruction had a significant effect on comprehensibility especially in the sentence-reading task, although a significant reduction in foreign accent was not obtained in any contexts.” The question that arose was: How did the subjects’ comprehensibility improve if their accents did not improve?


Well, Saito’s understanding of accent and comprehensibility draws on other scholars, like Derwing and Munro. In an article from Language Teaching, Derwing and Munro consider pronunciation to consists of three constructs. I quote:



We understand ACCENTEDNESS as how different a pattern of speech sounds compared to the local variety. In effect, then, everyone has an accent and it doesn’t necessarily impinge on communication – but sometimes it does.

We define COMPREHENSIBILITY as the listener’s perception of how easy or difficult it is to understand a given speech sample. This dimension is a judgment of difficulty and not a measure of how much actually gets understood. Our research shows that comprehensibility ratings correspond to the amount of time, or the effort it takes to process utterances, even if they are perfectly understood in the end.


The key here is that comprehensibility is not a measure of how much is understood, but of how difficult it was to understand. This is critical to their definition because:


We’d like to make it clear that INTELLIGIBILITY, our third construct, is distinct from the other two. We define intelligibility broadly as the degree of a listener’s actual comprehension of an utterance.


What they are pointing out about pronunciation is that “accent is about difference, comprehensibility is about the listener’s effort, and intelligibility is the end result: how much the listener actually understands.”


So, another native speaker of English could say to me: Eye Arrou. Goo ovair thair und luke een tha booket. I would judge his accent as strong (of course, if we were on his home turf it would be me with the accent). I’d give him a low comprehensibility score because it took effort, concentration, for me to understand, but I did understand, perfectly, so his intelligibility score would be high. I’d say, “I’m fine thanks,” and go look in the bucket.

The point is a number of scholars make the distinction between accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility.

If you want to investigate this on your own: Derwing, T. and Munro, M. (2011) The Foundations of Accent and Intelligibility in Pronunciation Research . Language Teaching. DOI: 10.1017/S0261444811000103



About the recent article I read – I’ll keep it short. The title is:

Individual Differences in Second Language Speech Learning in Classroom Settings: Roles of Awareness in the Longitudinal Development of Japanese Learners’ English /ɹ/ Pronunciation

The article was published in Second Language Research (



The research this article discusses focuses on the role of awareness in second language learners’ acquisition of L2 sounds. The study bit off a bit more than it could chew. It was testing Japanese speakers acquisition or the /l/-/r/ distinction over the course of a university semester. That is challenging.


There was some success, however, and what struck me – since I have been saying it for years – is the importance of being able to hear the sounds. Saito says:

“…indicates that the explicit phonetic knowledge of learners relevant to acquisition should be conceptualized on a perceptual basis (whether they can hear the perceptual properties of English /ɹ/) rather than based on articulatory configuration (whether they know how to produce English /ɹ/).”


That is, hearing the sounds is more important than knowing how the sounds are articulated.

Please, don’t think I am saying articulation practice is not necessary. It is, but hearing the sounds is fundamental.

And guess what – b4 does just that. Our videos focus on teaching the sounds of English. Check them out at: They are of absolutely critical importance.


There is also a new Udemy course available. It is two hours of downloadable video.

Title: Learning and Teaching the Sounds of English

Author: Jim Jensen


3 Responses to More Japanese Scholar in London

  1. Jim, thanks for that clarification about accentedness, vs. comprehensibility, vs. intelligibility.

    For me, it all seem to kind of overlap too much for the distinction to be meaningful–until you gave your example (Eye Arrou. Goo ovair thair). Suddenly it all popped into clear focus!

  2. I know what you mean.

  3. I know what you mean

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