- Charles Sturt PhD research investigated the relationship between multilingual speakers’ English proficiency, intelligibility, and participation in Australian society
- The research provides insights for communities, universities, and individuals, as well as for speech-language pathologists who support multilingual speakers
- The results highlighted the broad range of factors contributing to multilingual speakers’ intelligibility in English
A varied and interesting earlier career led a Charles Sturt University (Charles Sturt) PhD graduate to research that provides a new and significant contribution to knowledge of English language proficiency, intelligibility, and participation by multilingual speakers in Australia.
Doctoral candidate Helen Blake (pictured left) was previously an air traffic controller, an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, and taught English as a second language in places such as Kazakhstan before pursuing her interest in speech pathology.
Dr Blake will receive her PhD at the Faculty of Arts and Education graduation ceremony in Bathurst at 2pm on Thursday 12 December.
The findings of Dr Blake’s research provide insights for communities, universities, and individuals, as well as for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who support multilingual speakers in intelligibility enhancement or other contexts of speech-language pathology in Australia and other language-dominant countries.
Dr Blake’s PhD, ‘English proficiency, intelligibility, and participation of multilingual speakers in Australia’, was conducted in four parts and consisted of seven journal articles (six are published, one is pending), an encyclopedia entry, and an exegesis.
“Proficiency in spoken English has implications for the ability of multilingual speakers to participate in vocational, educational, and social activities in English-dominant countries,” Dr Blake said.
“A key component of spoken language proficiency is intelligibility, a relative measure of how much of an individual’s speech is understood by their listener.
“My doctoral research investigated the relationship between multilingual speakers’ English proficiency, intelligibility, and participation in Australian society, and provided insight into whether Intelligibility Enhancement is an effective intervention to improve English intelligibility in multilingual speakers.”
Multilingual Australians who spoke English very well were more likely to have postgraduate qualifications, full-time employment and higher income than monolingual English-speaking residents and oral English proficiency proved a statistically significant predictor of self-sufficiency in humanitarian migrants, helping them to settle in Australia.
Furthermore, the amount of time multilingual university students spent speaking English in conversations with native speakers had more effect on outcomes than the amount of time they spent studying English. The research showed that multilingual speakers:
- were successfully participating in Australian society, while also contributing to Australia’s economic and social prosperity;
- perceived a strong relationship between their English proficiency and their successful participation in society;
- lacked awareness of their intelligibility and its importance to their spoken language proficiency;
- valued intervention to support their intelligibility in English; and
- achieved positive outcomes after participating in intervention using the Intelligibility Enhancement Assessment and Intervention Protocols
Barriers to intelligible speech included lack of self-awareness of intelligibility and the use of ineffective strategies (e.g. fast speech rate to disguise pronunciation difficulties), while facilitators of intelligible speech were support from others, beneficial strategies (e.g. confirming listener understanding), and opportunities to practice.
The results highlighted the broad range of factors contributing to multilingual speakers’ intelligibility in English (e.g. substitutions/deletions, speaking volume, and time spent using English in conversations).
Motivations for improving intelligibility were career aspirations and meeting their own and others’ expectations.Dr Blake’s PhD thesis was supervised by Charles Sturt University speech pathology academics Professor Sharynne McLeod and Dr Sarah Verdon.