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Can Listeners Adapt to a Foreign Language? January 8, 2009

Posted by lyndastucky in Communication.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I just found an interesting study about what happens when people hear a foreign accent for the first time.  The research suggests that when we first hear a foreign language, there is a delay in word identification,  but then we adapt to it.  When we hear someone speak with an accent, we temporily have a state of perturbation in reaction times and the amount of perturbation is dependent upon the listener’s expectations (and perhaps his/her flexibility).  Finally, the study suggests that repeated exposure to an accent does not necessarily improve our comprehension.  (From the  Journal of Psycholinguistics)

This is interesting because although listener comprehension does not improve with exposure, intelligibility of an accent can improve as a speaker gains more exposure to the language.  That’s important because if the speaker can improve the way he or she speaks, the listener will be able to comprehend the message easier! 

What is your experience with speaking the language or listening to others who speak with a foreign accent?



1. Maricris - January 9, 2009

It is interesting to see that I’m no expert but my analysis of adapting to a foreign language was right. Exposure – repeated at that- and Immersion. Thank you for visiting my blog and sharing your own Expertise on the subject. That blog is dedicated to chronicling my little journey here in the US and never expected much traffic but I’m glad that you found it. I sure welcomed your visit with much appreciation!

2. Jay Speyerer - January 9, 2009


Your post brings up a question: why is is less difficult to understand a foreign accent in person than it is on the phone? Or is that just me?


3. lyndastucky - January 9, 2009

You are absolutely right! It is harder to understand a person with a foreign accent on the phone. It’s because you don’t have the visual cues (can’t read lips) so you are relying solely on your hearing to receive the message. Different phones may have better reception and that may be a factor, too. And there is always the possibility that your hearing is less than it once was. (See an audiologist if you suspect a problem.)

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