Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Applied Linguistics Review

Editor-in-Chief: Wei, Li

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 1.286

See all formats and pricing
More options …

Rethinking perceptions of fluency

Anja Marie Dressler / Mary Grantham O’BrienORCID iD: http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5873-4013
Published Online: 2017-10-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0026


The term “fluency” is used in two different ways in relation to second language speech. Whereas laypeople often equate fluency with proficiency in a given language, researchers define fluency as a speaker’s ease or fluidity in producing spoken language at a specific time point. This discrepancy in definitions has been problematic, especially when relying on ratings provided by naïve raters. This study seeks to determine whether “fluency” ratings differ from “fluidity” ratings assigned to 48 speech stimuli produced by native and non-native speakers of German. Samples were rated by participants from three distinct listener groups: native German listeners, second language (L2) German listeners, and non-speakers of German. On the surface, results reveal no significant differences along the two continua (“fluency” or “fluidity”). All groups rated native speakers as more fluent, and second language listeners were harshest in their ratings. Nonetheless, L2 listeners who rated speech samples along the “fluency” scale relied upon speech measures not associated with ease of speaking when compared with L2 listeners who rated the same samples for “fluidity.” Although listeners in all groups were most sensitive to speakers’ speech rate and use of filled pauses, native listeners and non-speakers relied more on temporal measures when they rated speech along the “fluidity” scale. These combined results thus indicate that “fluidity” may be the better term to use in future research relying on naïve listeners’ ratings of perceived fluency.

Keywords: fluency ratings; fluidity ratings; German as a second language; speech measures; rater background


  • American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 2012. ACTFL proficiency guidelines. https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/public/ACTFLProficiencyGuidelines2012_FINAL.pdf

  • Baker-Smemoe, W., D. P. Dewey, J. Bown & R. A. Martinsen. 2014. Does measuring L2 utterance fluency equal measuring overall L2 proficiency? Evidence from five languages. Foreign Language Annals 47(4). 707–728. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Blin, L., O. Boeffard & V. Barreaud. 2008. WEB-based listening test system for speech synthesis and speech conversion evaluation. Proceedings of the 6th International Language Resources and Evaluation Conference, 2270–2274. Marrakesh.Google Scholar

  • Bosker, H. R., A.-F. Pinget, H. Quene, T. Sanders & N. H. de Jong. 2012. What makes speech sound fluent? The contributions of pauses, speed and repairs. Language Testing 7(30). 159–175. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Byun, T. M., P. F. Halpin & D. Szeredi. 2015. Online crowdsourcing for efficient rating of speech: A validation study. Journal of Communication Disorders 53. 70–83. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Chen, H. 2010. Second language timing patterns and their effects on native listeners ’ perceptions. Concentric: Studies in Linguistics 2. 183–212.Google Scholar

  • Cooke, M., J. Barker & M. L. G. Lecumberri. 2013. Crowdsourcing in speech perception. In M Eskenazi, G-A Levow, H. Meng, G. Parent & D. Suendermann (eds.), Crowdsourcing for speech processing: Applications to data collection, transcription and assessment, 137–172. Somerset, GB: Wiley.Google Scholar

  • de Jong, N. H., M. P. Steinel, A. Florijn, R. Schoonen & J. H. Hulstijn. 2012. Linguistic skills and speaking fluency in a second language. Applied Psycholinguistics 34. 1–24. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Derwing, T. M. & M. J. Munro. 2009. Comprehensibility as a factor in listener interaction preferences: Implications for the workplace. Canadian Modern Language Review/ La Revue Canadienne Des Langues Vivantes 66(2). 181–202. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Derwing, T. M., M. J. Munro & R. I. Thomson. 2008. A longitudinal study of ESL learners’ fluency and comprehensibility development. Applied Linguistics 29(3). 359–380. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Derwing, T. M., M. J. Rossiter, M. J. Munro & R. I. Thomson. 2004. Second language fluency: Judgements on different tasks. Language Learning 54(4). 655–679.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Eskenazi, M. 2013. The basics. In M. Eskenazi, G-A Levow, H. Meng, G. Parent & D. Suendermann (eds.), Crowdsourcing for speech processing: Applications to data collection, transcription and assessment, 11–33. Somerset, GB: Wiley.Google Scholar

  • Eskey, D. E. 2014. Meanwhile, back in the real world … : Accuracy and fluency in second language teaching. TESOL Quarterly 17(2). 315–323. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Goethe Institut. 2004. Einstufungstest. http://www.goethe.de/cgi-bin/einstufungstest/einstufungstest.pl

  • Gut, U. 2009. Non-native speech: A corpus-based analysis of phonological and phonetic properties of L2 English and German. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.Google Scholar

  • Isaacs, T. & R. I. Thomson. 2013. Rater experience, rating scale length, and judgments of L2 pronunciation: Revisiting research conventions. Language Assessment Quarterly 10(2). 135–159. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Isaacs, T. & P. Trofimovich. 2011. Phonological memory, attention control, and musical ability: Effects of individual differences on rater judgments of second language speech. Applied Psycholinguistics 32(1). 113–140. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Iwashita, N., A. Brown, T. McNamara & S. O’Hagan. 2008. Assessed levels of second language speaking proficiency: How distinct?. Applied Linguistics 29. 24–49.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Kang, O. 2010. Relative salience of suprasegmental features on judgments of L2 comprehensibility and accentedness. System 38(2). 301–315. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Kang, O. 2012. Impact of rater characteristics and prosodic features of speaker accentedness on ratings of international teaching assistants’ oral performance. Language Assessment Quarterly 9(3). 249–269. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Kennedy, S., J. A. Foote & L. K. Dos Santos Buss. 2015. Second Language Speakers at University: Longitudinal Development and Rater Behaviour. TESOL Quarterly 49(1). 199–209. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Kormos, J. & M. Dénes. 2004. Exploring measures and perceptions of fluency in the speech of second language learners. System 32(2). 145–164. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Kunath, S. & S. Weinberger. 2010. The wisdom of the crowd’s ear: Speech accent rating and annotation with Amazon Mechanical Turk. Proceedings of the NAACL HLT 2010 Workshop on Creating Speech and Language Data with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, 168–171. Association for Computational Linguistics, Stroudsburg, PA.Google Scholar

  • Lennon, P. 1990. Investigating fuency in EFL: A quantitative approach. Language Learning 40(September 1989). 387–417.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Major, R. C. 2007. Identifying a foreign accent in an unfamiliar language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 29(4). 539–556. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Munro, M. J. & T. M. Derwing. 2015. A prospectus for pronunciation research in the twenty-first century: A point of view. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation 1(1). 11–42. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • O’Brien, M. G. 2014. L2 learners’ assessments of accentedness, fluency, and comprehensibility of native and nonnative German speech. Language Learning 64(4). 715–748. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Pinget, A.-F., H. R. Bosker, H. Quene & N. H. de Jong. 2014. Native speakers’ perceptions of fluency and accent in L2 speech. Language Testing 31(3). 349–365. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Préfontaine, Y. 2013. Perceptions of French fluency in second language speech production. Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue Canadienne Des Langues Vivantes 69(3). 324–348. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Riggenbach, H. 1991. Toward an understanding of fluency: A microanalysis of nonnative speaker conversations. Discourse Processes 14(4). 423–441. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Rossiter, M. J. 2009. Perceptions of L2 fluency by native and non-native speakers of english. Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue Canadienne Des Langues Vivantes 65(3). 395–412. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Segalowitz, N. 2010. The cognitive bases of second language fluency. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Towell, R., R. Hawkins & N. Bazergui. 1996. The development of fluency in advanced learners of French. Applied Linguistics 17(1). 84–119. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Trofimovich, P. & T. Isaacs. 2012. Disentangling accent from comprehensibility. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 15(4). 905–916. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Wilkerson, M. E. 2010. Identifying accent in German: A comparison of native and non-native listeners. Die Unterrichtspraxis 43(2). 144–153.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Wilkerson, M. E. 2013. The sound of German: Descriptions of accent by native and non-native listeners. Die Unterrichtspraxis 46(1). 106–118.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2017-10-31

University of Calgary PURE Award.

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0026.

Export Citation

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.Get Permission

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in