Not by Ear, but by Sight

If pronunciation teaching is aimed at achieving native-like proficiency, it’s a futile business. However if reasonable intelligibility is the target in pronunciation instruction, it’s a fruitful, promising quest.

The problem now is: how do we gauge reasonable intelligibility? There’s an interesting factor known as the interlocutor’s familiarity and attitudes towards the speaker that has to be considered. Do the listener’s attitudes affect how intelligible the speaker is?

Studies on how the hearer’s attitude affect the speaker’s intelligibility

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Rubin let his two groups of subjects listen to a tape-recorded mini-lecture by a native speaker of U.S. English with little regional accent. In one group, they listened to the lecture with a picture of an Asian supposedly delivering the lecture. In the other group, the listeners were shown a photo of a Caucasian as the supposed lecturer.Can you guess the result?

The group shown the Asian photo rated the lecture lower on comprehensibility, and having heavier accent than the other group shown the caucasian photo, despite the fact that both groups heard the same lecture.

Another less crude test on the relationship between intelligibility and the listener’s attitude was done by Lindemann through a map-completion task between Korean non-native speakers and native speakers. He evaluated who among the native speakers have positive and negative attitudes towards Non-native speakers. Then he divided them into two groups performing the same task of completing the map through the directions given by non-native speakers to measure their intelligibility.

The native speakers with positive attitudes towards Koreans found themselves successful in completing the task while those with negative attitudes felt they have failed the task.

Could it be true that no matter how accurate the pronunciation is, the nonnativeness of the speaker is somehow caught by sight and not by ear?

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