Honors Program

Project Presenters

Teresa Bárcenas

Title: “Cognitive Processing of Foreign-accented Speech”

Major: CSD/Psychology

Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Jonathan Dalby (CSD)

External Reviewer: Dr. Talia Bugel (ILCS)

Honors Program Council Liaison:  Dr. Becky Jensen (Nursing)


Teresa Bárcenas is a senior undergraduate student graduating in May. She is both a Communication Sciences and Disorder major and a Psychology major. She is also completing a Gerontology Certificate, as well as a Linguistics minor. Teresa plans on attending graduate school for Speech-Language Pathology, with a bilingual concentration in Spanish-speaking populations. She has been accepted into three graduate programs so far: Purdue University, Columbia University, and Portland State University. She has yet to make a decision on which school’s offer to accept. She plans on pursuing a Ph. D. in this field and becoming a university professor. Teresa’s research interests include second-language acquisition and bilingualism, intonation effects of the cochlear implant population, foreign-accented speech, polyglot aphasia, stuttering, and dyslexia.


This study compared the intelligibility of native and foreign-accented American English speech presented in quiet and mixed with two different levels of background noise. Two native American English speakers and two native Mandarin Chinese speakers for whom English is a second language read three 50-word lists of phonetically balanced words (Stuart, 2004).  The words were mixed with noise at three different signal-to-noise levels—no noise (quiet), SNR +10 dB (signal 10 dB louder than noise) and SNR 0 (signal and noise at equal loudness).  These stimuli were presented to ten native American English listeners who were simply asked to repeat the words they heard the speakers say. The response latency, the time taken to respond to the stimuli, was measured.   The results showed that for both native and accented speech, response latencies increased as the noise level increased.  For words identified correctly, response times to accented speech were longer than for native speech but the noise conditions affected both types equally.  For words judged incorrectly, however, the noise conditions increased latencies for accented speech more than for native speech.  Overall these results indicate that processing accented speech requires more cognitive effort than processing native speech.

                Keywords: foreign accent, speech intelligibility, Mandarin Chinese