Melissa Baese-Berk

1290 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403

Popular version of 3pID2
Presented Wednesday afternoon, December 4, 2019
178th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, San Diego, CA

Communication is critically important in society. Operations of business, government, and the legal system rely on communication, as do more personal ventures like human relationships. Therefore, understanding how individuals understand and produce speech is important to understand how our society functions. For decades, researchers have asked questions about how people produce and perceive speech. However, the bulk of this prior research has used an idealized, monolingual speaker-listener as it’s model. Of course, this model is unrealistic in a society where, globally, most individuals speak more than one language and frequently communicate in a language that is not their native language. This is especially true with the rise of English as a lingua franca, or common language of communication – currently, non-native speakers of English outnumber native speakers of the language.

Real-world communication between individuals who do not share a language background (e.g., a native and a non-native speaker of English) can result in challenges for successful communication. For example, communication between individuals who do not share a native language background can be less efficient than communication between individuals who do share a language background. However, the sources of those miscommunications are not well-understood.

For many years, research in this domain has focused on how to help non-native listeners acquire a second or third language. Indeed, an industry of language teaching and learning apps, classes, and tools has developed. However, only in the last decade has research on how a native listener might improve their ability to understand non-native speech begun to expand rapidly.

It has long been understood that myriad factors (both social and cognitive) impact how non-native languages are learned. Our recent work demonstrates that this is also true when we ask how native listeners can better understand non-native speech. For example, a variety of cognitive factors (e.g., memory abilities) can impact how listeners understand unfamiliar speech in general. However, it is also the case that social factors, such as listeners’ attitudes, also impact perception of and adaptation to unfamiliar speech. By better understanding these factors, we can improve education and dialog around issues of native and non-native communication. This has implications for businesses and governmental organizations dealing with international communication, as well as individuals who work across language boundaries in their professional or personal relationships.

In this talk, I address issues of communication between native and non-native speakers in their capacities as speakers and listeners. Specifically, I describe the current state of knowledge about how non-native speakers understand and produce speech in their second (or third) language, how native speakers understand non-native speech, and how both parties can improve their abilities at these tasks. I argue that awareness of the issues informing communication between native and non-native speakers is required to truly understand the processes that underlying speech communication, broadly.

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