12th Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association

Florence, Italy
August 27-31. 2011

Fluency Changes with General Progress in L2 Proficiency

Jared Bernstein, Jian Cheng, Masanori Suzuki

Pearson, USA

Second language (L2) learners tend to speak slower at every level of linguistic analysis, often in an uneven tempo, with longer pauses at the start and before some words and constructions, than is typical of native speech. As noted by Zhang&Elder [1], native listeners focus on phonological fluency in making judgments about L2 proficiency. Improved understanding of how fluency grows with progress in overall oral proficiency may lead to measures of fluency that would be useful for measuring proficiency itself. Spontaneous speech sampled from populations of L2 speakers of English and Spanish showed orderly, seemingly linear increments in the rates at which words and larger constituents are spoken as a function of human-judged general proficiency level. Results suggest that unit/time fluency measures match native expert perception of oral proficiency, supporting the hypothesis that performance-in-time is a core attribute of speaking proficiency and efficient spoken communication.


  1. Y. Zhang and C. Elder, “Judgments of oral proficiency by nonnative and native English speaking teacher raters: Competing or complementary constructs?,” Language Testing, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 31–50, 2011.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Bernstein, Jared / Cheng, Jian / Suzuki, Masanori (2011): "Fluency changes with general progress in L2 proficiency", In INTERSPEECH-2011, 877-880.