Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer


Vol. 27 No. 1 (2024)

Comprehensibility of conventional and nonconventional expressions in second language French speech

November 30, 2022


This study investigates the effect of conventional and nonconventional expressions on listener comprehensibility. A forty-item comprehensibility test, including conventional expressions, interlanguage attempts, sociopragmatic deviances and alternative grammar constructions produced by French L2 (second language) speakers (N=27) was created. Pronunciation effects were controlled by having a single speaker read aloud the items. Using a 100-point sliding scale, comprehensibility was rated by Quebec French L1 (first language) speakers (N=34). Results showed a significant effect of the four variables on the raters’ scores and a significant difference between them. Conventional expressions were judged the most comprehensible while some alternative grammar constructions seemed not to impose comprehensibility issues. Attempted conventional expressions sharing pragmalinguistics or sociopragmatic resources with the target conventional expression were judged more comprehensible. These findings suggest that comprehensibility can be sensitive to what is familiar and expected by the listener.


  1. Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2009). Conventional expressions as a pragmalinguistic resource: Recognition and production of conventional expressions in L2 pragmatics. Language Learning, 59(4), 755-795.
  2. Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2018) Formulaic language in second language research. In A. Siyanova-Chanturia, & A. Pellicer-Sánchez (Eds.), Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective (pp. 97-112). Routledge.
  3. Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Stringer, D. (2017). Unconventional expressions: Productive syntax in the L2 acquisition of formulaic language. Second Language Research, 33(1), 61-90.
  4. Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Su, Y. (2018). The acquisition of conventional expressions as a pragmalinguistic resource in Chinese as a foreign language. The Modern Language Journal, 102(4), 732-757.
  5. Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Vellenga. H. E. (2012). The effect of instruction on conventional expressions in L2 pragmatics. System, 40(1), 77-89.
  6. Bartning, I., Forsberg Lundell, F., & Hancock, V. (2012). On the role of linguistic contextual factors for morphosyntactic stabilization in high-level L2 French. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 34(2), 243–267.
  7. Beaulieu, S., Forsberg-Lundell, F., & Bejarano. J. (2022). Interlocutors’ judgement of Lx conventional expressions: An exploratory study. Intercultural Pragmatics, 19(5), 597-620.
  8. Bergeron, A., & Trofimovich, P. (2017). Linguistic dimensions of accentedness and comprehensibility: Exploring task and listener effects in second language French. Foreign Language Annals, 50(3), 547-566.
  9. Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Pearson Education.
  10. Boers, F., Eyckmans, J., Kappel, J., Stengers, H., & Demecheleer, M. (2006). Formulaic sequences and perceived oral proficiency: Putting a lexical approach to the test. Language Teaching Research, 10(3), 245–261.
  11. Bygate, M. (2016). Sources, developments and directions of task-based language teaching. The Language Learning Journal, 44(4), 381-400.
  12. Cargile, A. C., & Giles, H. (1998). Language attitudes toward varieties of English: An American Japanese context. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 26, 338–356.
  13. Conklin, K., & Schmitt, N. (2008). Formulaic sequences: Are they processed more quickly than nonformulaic language by native and nonnative speakers? Applied Linguistics, 29(1), 72–89.
  14. Crowther, D., Trofimovich, P., Saito, K., & Isaacs, T. (2018). Linguistic dimensions of L2 accentedness and comprehensibility vary across speaking tasks. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 40, 443-457.
  15. Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2009). Putting accent in its place: Rethinking obstacles to communication. Language Teaching, 42(4), 476-490.
  16. Derwing, T. M., Munro, M. J., & Thomson, R. I. (2007). A longitudinal study of ESL learners’ fluency and comprehensibility development. Applied Linguistics, 29(3), 359-380.
  17. Derwing, T. M., Rossiter, M. J., & Ehrensberger-Dow, M. (2002). “They speaked and wrote real good”: Judgements of non-native and native grammar. Language Awareness, 11(2), 84–99.
  18. Derwing, T. M., Rossiter, M. J., Munro, M. J., & Thomson, R. I. (2004). Second language fluency: Judgements on different tasks. Language Learning, 45(4), 655-679.
  19. Dörnyei, Z., Durow, V., & Zahran, K. (2004). Individual differences and their effects on formulaic sequence acquisition. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), Formulaic sequences: Acquisition, processing, and use (pp. 87-106). John Benjamins.
  20. Edmonds, A. (2013). Une approche psycholinguistique des phénomènes phraséologiques : le cas des expressions conventionnelle. Langages, 1(1), 121-138.
  21. Forsberg Lundell, F., Lindqvist, C., & Edmonds, A. (2018). Productive collocation knowledge at advanced CEFR levels: Evidence from the development of a test for advanced L2 French. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 74(4), 627–649.
  22. Hendriks, B. (2010). An experimental study of native speaker perceptions of non-native request modification in e-mails in English. Intercultural Pragmatics, 7(2), 221-255.
  23. Isaacs, T., & Thomson, R. (2013). Rater experience, rating scale length, and judgments of L2 pronunciation: Revisiting research conventions. Language Assessment Quarterly, 10(2), 135-159.
  24. Jiang, N., & Nekrasova, T. (2007). The processing of formulaic sequences by second language speakers. The Modern Language Journal, 91(3), 433-445.
  25. Kang, O., Thomson, R. I., & Moran, M. (2018). Empirical approaches to measuring the intelligibility of different varieties of English in predicting listener comprehension. Language Learning, 68(1), 115-146.
  26. Kasper, G., & Schmidt, R. (1996). Developmental issues in interlanguage pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18(2), 149-169.
  27. Kecskes, I. (2000). Conceptual fluency and the use of situation-bound utterances. Links and Letters, 7, 145–161.
  28. Kecskes, I. (2015). How does pragmatic competence develop in bilinguals? International Journal of Multilingualism, 12(4), 419-434.
  29. Kennedy, S., & Trofimovich, P. (2008). Intelligibility, comprehensibility, and accentedness of L2 speech: The role of listener experience and semantic context. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 64(3), 459–489.
  30. Kennedy, S., & Trofimovich, P. (2019). Comprehensibility: A useful tool to explore listener understanding. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 75(4), 275–284.
  31. McGuire, M., & Larson-Hall, J. (2017). Teaching formulaic sequences in the classroom: Effects on spoken fluency. TESL Canada Journal, 34(3), 1-25.
  32. Millar, N. (2011). The processing of malformed formulaic language. Applied Linguistics, 32(2), 129-148.
  33. Nattinger, J. R., & DeCarrico, J. S. (1992). Lexical phrases and language teaching. Oxford University Press.
  34. Nguyen, T. T. M. (2008). Criticizing in an L2: Pragmatic strategies used by Vietnamese EFL learners. The use of collocations by advanced learners of English and some implications for teaching. Intercultural Pragmatics, 5(1), 41-66.
  35. Pellicer-Sánchez, A., & Boers, F. (2018). Pedagogical approaches to the teaching and learning of formulaic language. In A. Siyanova-Chanturia, & A. Pellicer-Sánchez (Eds.), Understanding formulaic language: A second language acquisition perspective (pp. 153-170). Routledge.
  36. Prodromou, L. (2007). Bumping into creative idiomaticity. English Today, 23(1), 14–25.
  37. Ruivivar, J,. & Collins, L. (2019). Nonnative accent and the perceived grammaticality of spoken grammar forms. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, 5(2), 269-293.
  38. Saito, K. (2020). Multi- or single-word units? The role of collocation use in comprehensible and contextually appropriate second language speech. Language Learning, 70(2), 548-588.
  39. Saito, K. (2021). What characterizes comprehensible and native-like pronunciation among English-as-a-second-language speakers? Meta-analyses of phonological, rater, and instructional factors. TESOL Quarterly, 55(3), 1-35.
  40. Saito, K., & Liu, Y. (2021). Roles of collocation in L2 oral proficiency revisited: Different tasks, L1 vs. L2 raters, and cross-sectional vs. longitudinal analyses. Second Language Research, 38(3), 1–24.
  41. Saito, K., Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2015). Second language speech production: Investigating linguistic correlates of comprehensibility and accentedness for learners at different ability levels. Applied Psycholinguistics, 37(2), 217-240.
  42. Saito, K., Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2017). Using listener judgements to investigate linguistic influences on L2 comprehensibility and accentedness: A validation and generalization study. Applied Linguistics, 38(4), 439-462.
  43. Saito, K., Webb, S., Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2016). Lexical profiles of comprehensible second language speech. The role of appropriateness, fluency, variation, sophistication, abstractness, and sense relations. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 38(4), 677-701.
  44. Schleef, E. (2013). Glottal replacement of /t/ in two British capitals: Effects of word frequency and morphological compositionality. Language Variation and Change, 25(2), 201-223.
  45. Schmitt, N. (2010). Formulaic language. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), Researching vocabulary: A vocabulary research manual (pp. 117-146). Palgrave Macmillan.
  46. Stengers, H., Boers, F., Housen, A., & Eyckmans, J. (2011). Does chunking foster chunk-uptake? In S. De Knop, F. Boers, & A. De Rycker (Ed.), Fostering language teaching efficiency through cognitive linguistics (pp. 99-117). Mouton de Gruyter.
  47. Taguchi, N., Li, S., & Xion, F. (2013). Production of formulaic expressions in L2 Chinese: A developmental investigation in a study abroad context. Chinese as a Second Language Research, 2(1), 23-58.
  48. Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4(2), 91–112.
  49. Trofimovich, P., Isaacs, T., Kennedy, S., & Tsunemoto, A. (2022). Speech comprehensibility. In T.M. Derwing, M.J. Munro, & R. I. Thomson (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition and speaking (pp. 174-187). Routledge Handbooks.
  50. Wood, D. (2015). Fundamentals of formulaic language: An introduction. Bloomsbury.
  51. Wray, A. (2002). Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge University Press.
  52. Wray, A., & Perkins, M. (2000). The functions of formulaic language: An integrated model. Language and Communication, 20(1), 1-28.
  53. Yi, W. (2018). Statistical sensitivity, cognitive aptitudes, and processing of collocations. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 40(4), 831-856.