This study investigates the relationship between nonnative English speaker (NNES) proficiency level and native English speaker (NES) level of comfort interacting with NNES. The purpose of this study was to discover at what proficiency level NESs feel comfortable interacting with NNES. This study also looked at how communicative task and NES demographic variables affected the proficiency expectations NNESs have for NESs. Participants included 120 NESs and 7 NNESs. The NESs listened to sound clips from the 7 NNESs and rated how comfortable they would feel (on a scale of 0-10, 10 indicating very comfortable) interacting with the speaker in a variety of communication tasks. Listeners rated intermediate and advanced level speakers significantly higher than the novice speakers. Additionally, there was not a significant difference between mean ratings for the intermediate and advanced speakers. Communication task was revealed as having a significant main effect on task. Listeners rated that they would feel least comfortable communicating with the speakers over the phone while discussing a customer service issue. They also indicated that they would feel least comfortable interacting with the speakers if they were their boss. Listener demographic variables did not have a significant main effect on overall ratings, but were significant for some tasks when task was analyzed individually. Specifically, age and frequency of interaction with NNES had an effect on some tasks; however the reliability of this result is affected by sample size. These results suggest a threshold relationship between NES comfort ratings and speaker proficiency level. Additionally, the data suggests that task may be more important than proficiency level in some interactions. A larger sample is needed to better understand the role NES demographic variables may play in level of comfort during NES and NNES interaction.



College and Department

Humanities; Linguistics and English Language



Date Submitted


Document Type





immigrants, English proficiency, interaction, proficiency judgments, proficiency level, NES, NNES, native nonnative speaker communication, nonnative speech



Included in

Linguistics Commons