Applied linguists have developed complex theories of the ability to communicate in a second language (L2). However, the perspectives on L2 communication ability of speakers who are not trained language professionals have been incorporated neither into theories of communication ability nor in the criteria for assessing performance on general-purpose oral proficiency tests. This potentially weakens the validity of such tests because the ultimate arbiters of L2 speakers’ oral performance are not trained language professionals. This study investigates the perspectives of these linguistic laypersons on L2 communication ability. Twenty-three native and non-native English-speaking linguistic laypersons judged L2 speakers’ oral performances and verbalized the reasons for their judgments. The results showed that the participants focus not only on the linguistic aspects of the speaker’s output but also on features that applied linguists have less paid attention to. Even where speaker’s linguistic errors were acknowledged, message conveyance and comprehensibility of the message contributed to their judgment. The study has implications for language testing and the development of tests reflecting the construct of English as a lingua franca.

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