This study reports on data collected to investigate the effect of various types of familiarity on native speaker comprehension of nonnative speaker speech. We discuss the effects of familiarity with topic, familiarity with nonnative speech in general, familiarity with a nonnative accent in particular, and familiarity with a particular nonnative. Our results indicate that while the most important of these variables is familiarity with topic, the other variables all have a facilitating effect on comprehension. We discuss these findings as they relate to more general notions of comprehensibility.

We also say of some people that they are transparent to us. It is, however, important as regards this observation that one human being can be a complete enigma to another. We learn this when we come into a strange country with entirely strange traditions; and, what is more, even given a mastery of the country's language. We do not understand the people. If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein