Have you ever heard someone say that you have a “heavy” accent? What does that mean? Can you actually measure the weight of someone’s accent? Though you cannot literally measure someone’s accent on a scale, there are ways to determine what affect an accent has on the listener’s ability to understand what is being said.
One of these ways is intelligibility. Intelligibility is the degree to which a speaker can be understood. Scoring a speaker’s intelligibility is a great way to measure progress in their accent modification training program. To do this, your coach will record a speaking sample and transcribe it. They will then calculate the percentage of words that were understood. This is your intelligibility percentage. For example, if the listener understood 80 out of 100 words, your intelligibility would be 80%.
As you become more familiar with someone’s speech, it is common for you to understand that person better over time even if they have not actually changed the way they speak. Therefore, it is best to have an “unfamiliar listener” report on a speaker’s intelligibility. For the initial assessment, the accent modification coach can be the unfamiliar listener. However, after you’ve been working with that person for an extended period of time, which is often several months, they are no longer an unfamiliar listener. Therefore, for an objective measure, it is best for a third party to listen to and transcribe your recording.