Parameters that Affect the Comfort Levels of Native English Speakers Communicating with Non-Native English Speakers

This study explores how native English speakers (NESs) are affected by the backgrounds of non-native English speakers (NNESs) when it comes to being comfortable interacting with then in English. Speech samples of 12 NNESs were gathered from the Level Achievement Tests conducted at Brigham Young University’s English Language Center. There were six speakers who spoke Spanish as their first language (L1) and six speakers who spoke Chinese as their L1. In each L1 group, there were two Low proficiency speakers, two Mid proficiency speakers, and two High proficiency speakers. The speech samples were included in a Qualtrics survey which was completed by 122 American NES participants. The NES participants listened to each speech sample and rated their comfort level interacting with each NNES speaker in six different communication situations categorized as either formal or casual. The results were statistically analyzed in order to determine the effect of proficiency level, L1, and communication situation on NES comfort levels in NNES interactions. High proficiency speakers were rated significantly higher than Mid proficiency speakers which were in turn rated higher than Low proficiency speakers. Spanish L1 speakers were rated higher than Chinese L1 speakers. The more casual communication situations were ranked higher than the more formal communication situations. A statistical analysis of the interaction between proficiency level and L1 revealed that Spanish L1 speakers were strongly preferred at higher proficiency levels but Chinese L1 speakers were preferred at lower proficiency levels. These results suggest that Spanish L1 speakers have a greater need to be higher than Low proficiency while Chinese L1 speakers have a greater need to achieve High proficiency. NNESs who anticipate being in formal situations should also aim for High proficiency.

Thesis Author: Nymeyer, Kayla Marie

Year Completed: 2015

Thesis Chair: Dewey, Dan P

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