Testing the malleability of teachers’ judgments of second language speech
This study examined whether a negative social bias can influence how teachers evaluate second language (L2) speech. Twenty-eight teachers of L2 German from Western Canada – 14 native speakers (NSs) and 14 proficient non-native speakers (NNSs) – rated recordings of 24 adult L2 learners of German across five speech dimensions (accentedness, comprehensibility, vowel/consonant accuracy, intonation, flow) using 1,000-point scales. Immediately before rating, half of NS and NNS teachers heard critical comments about undergraduate German students’ language skills, while the other half heard no biasing comments. Under negative bias, while the NNS teachers provided favorable evaluations across all five measures, NS teachers followed suit for only intonation and flow, downgrading L2 speakers’ accentedness, comprehensibility, and vowel/consonant accuracy. Findings call into question the relative stability of L2 speech ratings and highlight the importance of social context and teacher status as native versus non-native speakers of the target language in assessments of L2 speaking performance.