Exploring multilingual speakers’ perspectives on their intelligibility in English

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Multilingual speakers’ ability to communicate effectively and intelligibly in the language of their country of residence is crucial to their participation. This study explored multilingual speakers’ motivations for improving their intelligibility in English and their perceptions of potential barriers and facilitators to enhancing intelligibility. Participants were multilingual students and staff at 14 Australian universities. Extended response data from 137 survey responses were combined with seven semi-structured interviews, thematically analyzed using the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health as a conceptual framework, and coded using NVivo software. Three overarching themes were: motivations, barriers, and facilitators. Themes that emerged under motivations were meeting their own and others’ expectations and career aspirations. Themes that emerged under barriers to intelligibility were lack of self-awareness of reduced English intelligibility, use of ineffective strategies (e.g., fast speech rate to disguise pronunciation difficulties), language differences, lack of opportunity to practise English, participants’ perceptions of others’ negative attitudes to their English skills, and challenging conversational partners. Facilitators to intelligibility were emotional support from others, beneficial strategies (e.g., confirming listener understanding), and opportunities to practice. The results highlight the importance of supporting multilingual speakers’ efforts to improve their English intelligibility. An environment with barriers such as lack of opportunity to practise English may restrict an individuals’ performance and participation, while facilitators such as support from others may increase participation. This study will inform the understanding of speech-language pathologists engaged in intelligibility enhancement, as well as SLPs working with multilingual speakers in any context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-144
Number of pages12
JournalSpeech, Language and Hearing
Issue number3
Early online date27 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Grant Number

  • DP180102848


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