Volume 16 (2011) Pages 5-16
We examine previous research studies on listening ability and comprehension as it relates to speech speed; in particular, one study that determined that the average speech speed of sentences in English movies was 5.1 syllables per second and that 93.5% of the speech content was spoken at rates up to 7 syllables per second, and another study that verified that even advanced non-native speakers have increasingly serious problems in hearing and identifying both content and function words in sentences from TV shows spoken at increasingly higher speech speeds, as they missed 21.2% of the words spoken at 6 syllables per second and 32.7% at 7 syllables per second. Using the results of the previous studies, we determine a Word Recognition Ratio of 85%, which indicates how much of the speech in a movie advanced non-native speakers might be able to recognize, given opportunities for repeated listening, and given that there is no unknown vocabulary. We find that this is far from an adequate ratio for comprehension. We caution that measuring listening ability is not the same as measuring listening comprehension. We comment on some factors affecting listening ability and comprehension, and remark on some ideas for improving listening skills.