Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Migrant Pronunciation: What do Employers find Acceptable?

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posted on 2021-11-16, 01:36 authored by Pilott, Marty

Many migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds need to look for unskilled and low-skilled work in a range of industries in New Zealand. A number of barriers to employment have been identified, amongst which are numerous reports of migrants’ difficulties with English language. As many of these migrants speak languages which are very different from English they often have accents which native speakers find unfamiliar or hard to understand.  The aim of this thesis was to identify which features of migrant pronunciation are more or less acceptable to employers, so that ESOL professionals can assist migrants more effectively when learning English.  In my literature review, I begin by placing the need for pronunciation teaching in the context of New Zealand’s rapidly increasing ethnic and language diversity, and the barriers to migrant employment. I then describe how proficiency in pronunciation is measured, and how acceptability fits in to these measurements. In the following chapter I discuss what predictions can be made about the features which are likely to cause pronunciation difficulties for current groups of learners. Finally, I review research on the main levels of pronunciation (segmental, prosody and fluency) and how these can be expected to predict Acceptability.  My research questions were:  1. Does pronunciation affect employers’ assessments of the acceptability of migrants for employment? 2. If so, which pronunciation features are the strongest predictors of the assessment? 3. Are there other employer or speaker factors which affect employer ratings of accept-ability?  To address these questions, I obtained speech samples from 40 male and female migrants from a range of L1s. These were rated through an online survey by employers or human resource managers (n=95) from industries employing low-skilled workers in the main centres around New Zealand. In addition, ratings of the speakers’ pronunciation features were obtained from Experienced Raters to use as a baseline for analysis.  The data from the online survey was then analysed to determine which features predicted the employers’ acceptability ratings. Three factors comprising a wide range of pronunciation features, segmental and suprasegmental (the latter divided into prosodic and fluency), were found to be highly significant in the employers’ ratings of acceptability, while most other factors were not. However, parts of the survey found that acceptability was significantly influenced by the employers’ assessment of whether the speaker was a hard worker, and by employers’ judgements about some of the speakers’ pronunciation features.  In addition, judgements of acceptability differed from those of the other global measures of intelligibility, comprehensibility and accentedness, leading to a re-evaluation of what the ultimate goal of pronunciation teaching should be. While the Intelligibility Principle has been emphasised recently, it does not acknowledge the contextual nature of communication. This thesis concludes that Acceptability is a more useful goal for language learners, and that this can be achieved by including all levels of pronunciation including fluency.  This thesis proposes that ESOL pronunciation programmes, which typically focus on developing intelligibility through segmental and some prosodic features, also need to meet acceptability standards by including fluency features from the earliest stages, such as appropriate use of Pausing, Variety, and Smoothness.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Warren, Paul; Calhoun, Sasha; Angela, Joe