We’ve talked about the importance of intelligibility before. Intelligibility is an objective measure of whether your speech is understood. We all want to be intelligible and it is often a key goal for our clients.
But what about your comprehensibility?
Your comprehensibility is how simple (or hard) it is for a native-listener to understand what you are saying. In other words, how hard does a native English speaker have to focus on what you are saying to make sense of it?
You might be completely intelligible when friends or colleagues pay close attention to what you are saying. But you might not be comprehensible to a job interviewer or shop assistant who doesn’t put in the effort to listen to you carefully.
We know that things like grammar, pronunciation, prosody and speaking rate can affect your comprehensibility. We also know that, unfortunately, people’s prejudices – e.g. against a certain accent or dialect – can cause some people to mark down a person’s comprehensibility, even if they are (objectively) intelligible.
Why does this matter?
In a 2006 study, researchers found that a person’s ethnicity did not affect their employability if their accent was mild (see citation below). This supports an earlier study that found people from a number of backgrounds can be effective communicators – even if they speak with a different speech style.
The study also showed that people with accents or dialects that required listeners to work hard to comprehend what they were saying were less likely to be employed than people who were easily comprehended.
The study was small (only 3 speakers) and limited in lots of ways (e.g. it had no control group). But it suggests that speakers with an accent that makes it hard for others to comprehend them may benefit from accent modification therapy. Ideally, therapy should focus on aspects of their accent that make it most difficult for other people to comprehend them.
Carlson, H.K., & McHenry, M.A. (2006). Effect of accent and dialect on employability. Journal of Employment Counseling, 43(2), 70-83.
- “What did you say?” 10 evidence-based ideas to help others understand your speech
- Who we help: meet Rakesh and Alice
- Common pronunciation challenges for people who do not speak English as a first language: fact sheets
- It’s not your accent that’s holding you back
- When it’s hard to slow down: 4 evidence-based ways to slow down your speech rate and increase your intelligibility
- Embrace your accent and speak clearly – lessons from a Global Investment Bank
- Which kind of English is the best? (Hint: none of them)
Banter Speech & Language is owned and managed by David Kinnane, a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the Spalding Method for literacy, the Lidcombe and Camperdown Programs for stuttering, and Voicecraft for voice disorders. David is also a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification.
David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. David is a Practising Member of Speech Pathology Australia and a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP).